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David Mahler: Only Music Can Save Me Now

Mahler / Tilles
Release Date: 06/08/2010 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80702-2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit TillesDavid MahlerJulie Hanify
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



D. MAHLER An Alder. A Catfish 1. After Morton Feldman. Deep Water 1. Day Creek Piano Works and The Teams Are Waiting in the Field 1,2,3. A Rose Blossoming for Charles Ives. Frank Sinatra in Buffalo. Only Music Can Save Me Now Nurit Tilles (pn); 1 David Mahler, 2 Julie Hanfy, Read more class="SUPER12">3 Nurit Tilles (voice) NEW WORLD 80702-2 (79:05 Text and Translation)


David Mahler (b.1944) is a part of the American experimental tradition, but a quirky, highly personal variant. Several of the pieces in this collection are closely tied to minimalism, but others have a more romantic sensibility, or explore “classic modernist” tropes (though usually not to the exclusion of other things that may barge in). But it is a certain social and political streak, a desire to make music for others of all sorts, that motivates much of this work, and gives it a distinct flavor. The very first piece, An Alder. A Catfish (2006), embodies this in its plainspoken tonal harmonies, a sense of folk song and hymn, and its surprise emergence of a vocalise near its end. I find myself thinking of certain English composers who’ve embraced more vernacular sources and aren’t afraid of beauty as it’s popularly defined: Gavin Bryars, Howard Skepmton, and in the politics, Cornelius Cardew. But Mahler is very American, and so I also find myself of course thinking of Ives in his idealism and eclecticism, and even Christian Wolff (especially the Wolff of the more recent piano pieces derived from 19th-century labor songs).


After Morton Feldman (1987–88) begins with a spareness and pointillism suggestive of its subject, but morphs into more lush and lyrical arpeggios and tremolos, suggesting a continuance of the Feldmanesque that may be similar in effect but different in its sound. Deep Water (1984) is perhaps even more like Feldman on its surface, but it too has a rapturous intervention of the composer’s voice singing a brief text of his own. The 1971–76 A Rose Blossoming for Charles Ives takes the familiar Praetorius song “Es ist ein Ros’ Entsprungen” and sets it in polytonality that might have been heard from Charles Ives’s parlor. Frank Sinatra in Buffalo (1987–88) is a lyrical cabaret meditation-nocturne without words.


These are shorter, unpredictable, more “occasional” pieces. They’re modest, though deceptive in their slightness. But two other pieces are far more ambitious and leave a powerful impression. Only Music Can Save Me Now (1978) is a set of variations on an unchanging bass. The effect is rather like a Baroque chaconne, the language extremely streamlined and simple, tonal. Some might dismiss it as diluted Czerny, and I think it might be a little too long for its own good, but I still find it touching in an elemental and deadpan way. Its insistence and growing fervor make me believe in its childlike innocence.


A far grander structure is the 1995 Day Creek Piano Works and The Teams Are Waiting in the Field. Written to celebrate the arrival of a grand piano to an artist-farmer friend’s home, it’s a combination of an abstract eight-part piano suite with four short three-part chorales (setting a poem by the 19th-century poet J. M. Neale, to an Elizabethan tune, arranged by the composer). In one sense it seems a hodgepodge, but when one thinks of the circumstances of its commission and premiere, it seems dead-on to me. This juxtaposition of the pure and the practical, the ideal and real, seems very much in Mahler’s ethic.


The piano pieces tend to concentrate, etude-like, on restricted musical activities, sounds, or processes. And two of them I found quite overwhelming in their obsessiveness: “Three Again Two” and “Cascades.” I may never have heard the piano sound more like an infernal machine (except perhaps for the opening and closing of Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues ). It helps that Nurit Tilles plays every piece with a steely precision and energy that starts to feel superhuman, especially in the quarter hour of “Cascades.” (Incidentally, she plays piano in every track; the voices listed in the headnote are always in addition to her, and she joins Mahler and his wife, Julie Hanify, in the a cappella chorales of Day Creek. )


This is quirky, heartfelt, non-dogmatic, and questing music. I like its art.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1.
An alder. A catfish, for voice & piano by David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit Tilles (Piano), David Mahler (Voice)
Written: 2006 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ne 
Length: 4 Minutes 48 Secs. 
2.
After Morton Feldman, for piano by David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit Tilles (Piano)
Written: 1987-1988 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ne 
Length: 6 Minutes 23 Secs. 
3.
Deep Water, for voice & piano by David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit Tilles (Piano), David Mahler (Voice)
Written: 1984 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ne 
Length: 9 Minutes 38 Secs. 
4.
Day Creek Piano Works and The Teams Are Waiting in the Field, song cycle for voice & piano by David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit Tilles (Voice), David Mahler (Voice), Julie Hanify (Voice),
Nurit Tilles (Piano)
Written: 1995 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ne 
Length: 35 Minutes 37 Secs. 
5.
A Rose Blooming for Charles Ives, for piano by David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit Tilles (Piano)
Written: 1971 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ne 
Length: 1 Minutes 49 Secs. 
6.
Frank Sinatra in Buffalo, for piano by David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit Tilles (Piano)
Written: 1987-1988 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ne 
Length: 3 Minutes 35 Secs. 
7.
Only Music Can Save Me Now, for piano by David Mahler
Performer:  Nurit Tilles (Piano)
Written: 1978 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ne 
Length: 15 Minutes 46 Secs. 

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