Mahler, the exclamation mark, and John Wayne!

*For an introduction to my whole series on Mahler, with links, click here!*

We’ve had Mahler and Anna May Wong, now for Mahler and John Wayne.

I make but a paltry effort to control my addiction to exclamation marks (!). In my defence I cite Mahler himself— I recall the instructions in his scores as being liberally sprinkled with them. Now that I come to seek instances, they’re not so ubiquitous, but here are some examples:

viel Bogen!

Vorschlage möglichst kurz!

And, like a red rag to a bull for the horns (sic) or clarinets, the immortal

Schalltrichter auf!

Such exclamation marks add a personal touch—we can feel the composer–conductor communicating with his musicians. At the climax of Der Abschied, transcendent finale of Das Lied von der Erde, they suggest awe:

Langsam! ppp!

My search continues for instances of his use of triple exclamation marks!!!

Having drawn attention to Mahler’s use of quintupletsDer Abschied is full of cross-rhythms— time dissolving into the nirvana of

Allüberall und ewig blauen licht die Fernen!
Ewig… ewig…

In this melody, emerging out of mysterious ascending motifs on flutes, the triple time is soon subverted by a duple metre, the quintuplet leading into that most distinctively plaintive of Mahler chords. (from 10.44 on the YouTube link here):

Abschied 2


* * *

Now, you may think those awed exclamation marks make a flimsy and irreverent pretext to cite the famous John Wayne story—but hey:

In rehearsal for The greatest story ever told, the Duke, playing the Roman soldier who spears Jesus on the cross, says rather flatly,
“Truly he was the son of God.”
The director cuts in: “Not like that—say it with awe!”
Obligingly Wayne repeated his line, still deadpan:
“Aw—truly he was the son of God.”

And that links to the notorious vinegar ad.

Searching for a comprehensive analysis of Mahler’s markings, I came across this guide, which is even funnier.

13 thoughts on “Mahler, the exclamation mark, and John Wayne!

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  5. The John Wayne story reminds me of the ‘northern’ joke –
    When his dear, devout wife died, old Stanley thought he’d have a suitable inscription put on her gravestone so asked the monumental mason to inscribe “She was Thine”. When told the work was done he visited the graveyard only to be taken aback to read on Doris’s grave “She was Thin”, so went straight back to the mason and told him “Nay lad, tha’s left off the ‘e’ on our Doris’s stone!”. A few days later he heard the correction had been made so went back to the graveyard only to see on his dear wife’s headstone the inscription: “Ee, she was Thin”

    Liked by 1 person

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