What sort of "resurrection" is Mahler's Second Symphony? Well, the agony of its opening Funeral March, the charm of its Lndler, the irony of its Scherzo, and the simple faith of its Folk Song all lead to the finale's cataclysmic Apocalypse — the end of the world as we know it. And then, after the Apocalypse, comes the Resurrection: the chorus enters alone, singing the words of a German hymn: "Arise, yes, arise will you." The soprano and mezzo soloists join the chorus singing words Mahler himself wrote: "With wings I have won for myself, striving in most passionate love, shall I ascend into the Light."
Lacking Yahweh and the Covenant, it is not what one might expect from a man who was born a Jew. And lacking Christ and the Redemption, it is not what one might expect from a man who later converted to Catholicism. But since there is no reason to believe his conversion was sincere — and every reason to believe he went through it only to get a better job in the Catholic Austrian Empire — why should it be?
So where does all this leave Mahler's Second? As a Resurrection born of immense suffering and enormous grief — the sort of Resurrection one might expect from a man who watched his father, his mother, and seven of his brothers and sisters die; the sort of Resurrection one might expect from a man who revered Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and who absolutely had to believe that there was a purpose to suffering. It is a Resurrection created through immense aspiration and enormous ambition, by a man imbued with the principles of the Enlightenment and suffused by the ideals of Romanticism. It is the sort of Resurrection one might expect from a man who venerated Beethoven and Wagner and who inevitably had to realize his aspiration in the gigantic choral-orchestral apparatus of the fin de sicle. In other words, it is the Resurrection of a man who absolutely had to believe that through suffering, through striving, but, most of all, through most passionate love, he could achieve his own resurrection. And while the apostle Paul might have disagreed with most of Mahler's theology, he would no doubt agree that "the greatest of these is love."
Finally, what kind of Resurrection can we expect from conductor Arie Lipsky, soprano Katherine Larson, mezzo-soprano Deanna Relyea, the players of the Ann Arbor Symphony, and the singers of the University Musical Society Choral Union and Measure for Measure? Despite their immense talent and enormous technique, we cannot expect. We can only have faith and hope that through suffering, through striving, and, most of all, through the most passionate love, they will achieve their Resurrection and, through theirs, ours.
The Ann Arbor Symphony performs Mahler's Resurrection Symphony at Hill Auditorium on Saturday, April 16.