Mahler, the exclamation mark, and John Wayne!

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— 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, 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…

Here’s one over a temporary duple metre within a triple metre (from 10.58 on the video):

Abschiedwith the quintuplet leading into that most distinctively plaintive of Mahler chords.

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

At the rehearsal for The greatest story ever told, the Duke, playing the Roman soldier who speared Jesus on the cross, said rather flatly, “Truly he was the son of God.” The director said, “Not like that, say it with awe!” Obligingly Wayne repeated his line, “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, which is even better.


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

  1. Pingback: Mahler in Chinatown | Stephen Jones: a blog

  2. Pingback: Mahler: quintuplets, and gender | Stephen Jones: a blog

  3. Pingback: Chinese mouth-organs and Irish flutes | Stephen Jones: a blog

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