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Mahler had different titles for his movements, which were not accepted by Neumeier for his choreography:

Mahler   Neumeier
Section 1   I Yesterday
  Introduction: Pan awakes  
  No 1: Summer is marching in  
Section 2    
  No 2: What the flowers
on the meadow tell me
II Summer
  No 3: What the animals
in the forest tell me
III Autumn
  No 4: What man tells me IV Night
  No 5: What the angels tell me V Angel
  No 6: What love tells me VI What love tells me

In the first part of his ballet, Neumeier gives Jiri Bubenicek the role of the awakening Pan, while the ensemble's dance reminds one of the elements of nature developing out of a big nothing.

John Neumeier (right) at rehearsal. Photo © 2004 Holger Badekow
John Neumeier (right) at rehearsal. Photo © 2004 Holger Badekow

'The young man laments, striving for redemption, until he comes to a breakthrough and victory,' is how Mahler describes the first movement. In accordance with the musical language of military and funeral marches, some thirty men on stage display very martial poses, watched by Pan, who sometimes dances synchronically, sometimes reciprocally. It is reminiscent of initiation rites -- how they form groups of three, build pyramids, seem to invoke a God of war before marching about like military troops. In the end, the young man stands alone in front of the ensemble, having convinced nature and enemies of his predominance.

The first print of the full score opts now for a pause of five minutes. So, before the music of the second movement starts, in the twilight of the stage some dancers appear, moving very slowly, performing a play with light and shadow. The minuet character of the music, and the polka quotations, are displayed by the alternating, more static, poses of individual female dancers, with a pas de deux of male and female to provide a more rustic appearance. As Mahler said, 'It is the most unconcerned thing I have ever written -- as unconcerned as only flowers can be.'

Neumeier is also inspired by flowers. The poses seem to be modelled on a quick-motion camera observing the unfolding of flowerets. Arms point into the air, a female blossom opens out of a male stem.

The most interesting movement, naturally, is the third, containing the posthorn. This is where Mahler fans become fidgety with excitement in expectation of the famous posthorn segment. How will Neumeier translate this most discussed of Mahler's creations?

For some musicologists, the posthorn episode of the third movement is scandalous, breaking the style, or even demonstrative of Mahler's vulgarity. Some see it as a paradigm of Mahler's symphonic work, as a typical example for the versatile language of his music, as a true symbol for the 'Mahler principle'. Formally, the Posthorn episode takes the place of the trio in the would-be scherzo of the third movement. To be precise, there are two Posthorn insertions: the posthorn trio and later the shortened and changed trio within the varied repetition of the scherzo. But why did Mahler choose a posthorn?

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Copyright © 13 July 2004 Sissy von Kotzebue, Germany


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