This morning, I played the very beginning of Wagner’s Die Walkure, followed by Mahler’s Second. I recently attended a performance of Die Walkure. The moment the opera’s exciting “Vorspiel” began, I asked myself why had I never noticed the similarity between this opening and the beginning of Mahler’s second symphony.
You could spend a long time discussing how different these two beginnings are, but the similarity is very striking: tremolo in the violins while the cellos and basses hunt about dramatically. In the Wagner opera, the great hero. Siegmund, is running from vengeful pursuers, looking for a place of rest. In the Mahler, as Mahler himself said, the hero of his first symphony has died, and this movement is his funeral. This hero, or perhaps we listeners, are also engaged in a dramatic search, for the meaning of this hero’s death. (If you’re curious, remember, this symphony is called “the Resurrection”.)