In purely musical terms, we are in the same place at the end of this march as at the beginning. It starts in a minor then quickly moves to c minor, which in Mahler’s style isn’t a distant movement. When the march has ended and the second part of the movement begins, we get the same low, soft tam-tam note we got at the beginning of the movement. We haven’t gone anywhere! But, as Woods points out so eloquently, “some profound transformations have occurred. We feel changed by what we have experienced. If I could articulate what that change is, we wouldn’t need Mahler.”
Woods discusses this kind of discursive music as just one of Mahler’s many narrative strategies, but it put me in mind of a very different kind of music, one that uses this transformative discursion/stasis as its very essence.
As an undergraduate I fell under the spell of what was then the very new and quickly developing world of minimalism. My first exposure to contemporary classical music had been the experimental music of composers like Stockhausen, Cage, and Lucas Foss (I heard his For 24 Winds at a concert in the summer of 1971 and was immediately hooked on the soundworld of the piece, which I haven’t heard since). A few years later I heard the famous first recording of Terry Riley’s In C and was immediately hooked. I loved the way it sounded and the way it moved, or didn’t move. It’s a soundworld thoroughly imagined, realized, and inhabited, and what more can we want from music?
I soon got my ears on all the minimalism I could find, which was quite a bit, and was most taken with Steve Reich, in particular his music up through Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ. This music embodies the Mahlerian discursions Woods writes so tellingly about, with its delicate balance between process (the setting in motion of ideas and allowing them to play out) and discovery (the in-performance highlighting of the “resulting patterns” that occur as the phasing and other processes play out).
At the end of such pieces (as at the end of the march in “Der Abschied”) we find we haven’y gone anywhere in the strictest musical sense, but we have been moved and changed.