2014-11-11 04:45:52 UTC
Q. Your name, Sir John, and the name of Gustav Mahler are almost synonymous to audiences wherever you conduct. Do you feel you have been one of the pioneers of what is described as the 'Mahler Renaissance'?
J.B. Yes, I think I may well have been. Actually the original Mahler pioneer was Bruno Walter, but sometimes he lacked the proper facilities. When I came to Berlin for the first time to conduct the Philharmonic Orchestra, I was very surprised to find that these musicians had previously hardly performed any Mahler at all. I then decided to conduct Symphony No.9, which I believe is his greatest in musical substance.
It is a source of great satisfaction that in the meantime, Mahler has become one of the most popular composers in England. Even in Italy, at the Scala, Milan, in Naples and Genoa, in each of these towns, they wanted to hear a Mahler Symphony conducted by me--and they did! Just imagine--in Italy! This made me very happy.
Q. Is there a new readiness on the part of the public to listen to this music in a different way, more attentively than before?
J.B. Previously people did not have much opportunity to hear Mahler. However, it may well be a point of interest that it is ordinary people who start loving Mahler, move by his humanity. Basically it was always the musicologists who have made critical pronouncements on Mahler, on his problems of form and other aspects. At the 1968 London 'Proms' I conducted the Mahler 6. There we had an audience of 7,000 people, many of them young: the majority of those in the arena stood in silence, for over one hour twenty minutes to listen. The next day in Venice, I conducted Symphony No.4. Few in the audience had ever heard the work, but such music touches the emotions. This is the uniqueness of it, that everything comes from the expressiveness of these scores. Mahler had so much to say (it is a long time since a composer had anything essential to say) and much of what he wrote strikes one in its language as new music. I think we agree that today no really great music is written, but good music, very interesting music that one should hear and know.
One of the most distinguished music critics is Sir Neville Cardus. Some ten or 12 years ago he came to see me and said 'John, my boy, you do not know it, but this music was written for you.' So I began to study Mahler symphonies--if you want to conduct Mahler well his music must be under your skin and in your bones. Because I subsequently spent two years studying one of these scores, I have, as it were, enriched myself in doing so, and it is a joy to me in my advancing years that I have found something which, apart from the connoisseurs, is new to people and is also of such mighty dimensions. Mahler's name is no longer a mystery--he has at long last become a monument.
Q. What do you regard as the specific details of Mahler interpretation?
J.B. There were people who laughed at me when I told them that I spent two years studying a Mahler symphony. Of course it does not take me two years to read these scores, but if you prepare for a journey through such immeasurably wide musical spaces, you must know exactly where the musical ideas begin and where they end, and how each fits into the pattern of the whole. In Mahler's symphonies there are many highlights but only one real climax, which one must discover. To do so needs less a simple study of the score than an all-embracing aesthetic reflection--which, incidentally, was also peculiar to Bruno Walter.
--Based on interview given by Sir John Baribirolli to the magazine 'Die Welt'.