Rafael Kubelík - A life for Gustav Mahler
Hanz Rutz

Naturally the musical life of Rafael Kubelík has not been dominated solely by the musical pronouncements and teaching on suffering of Gustav Mahler. However, when one traces the different lines of this eminent conductor's development, when one asks what artistic and spiritual qualities this musician brought with him from Prague to enable him now to give the whole immense symphonic œuvre of Mahler to the world through the medium of recordings, one soon discovers the sources from which he has drawn the power to serve Gustav Mahler in a manner which bears witness to a real calling. Rafael Kubelík's life as a conductor has been Mahler?orientated from the beginning, and he has come to grips with Mahler's music again and again. These encounters have provided ever new impulses, even for his own development both as a musician in general and as a composer. In this sense Rafael Kubelík has become essentially a Mahler conductor ? although he has also made his mark in many other musical spheres they are ail, if not related, at least congruous with Mahler; it is to Mahler above ail that his musical aspirations have been devoted.

He grew up with Mahler's music, and still remembers the great Mahler impressions of his life. Above ail there were the First Symphony under Bruno Walter, the Seventh under Erich Kleiber, the Second under Fritz Busch, naturally the many Mahler performances under Vaclav Talich, and the Fourth Symphony under Alexander von Zemlinsky. Kubelík has an especially high opinion of the Mahler interpretations of this colleague of Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School.

Kubelík's own Mahler career began in 1946 with the "Song of the Earth". Almost all of Mahler's symphonies followed during the course of the next decade. He regards Amsterdam, with its Concertgebouw Orchestra, as a Mahler center of particular historic importance. Both there and in many other towns of the Old and New World as a guest conductor, but above ail as musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Kubelík steadily grew in stature as a Mahler conductor. Chicago first heard many of Mahler's works at his concerts. Most appropriately, shortly after the end of his period in Chicago, in 1954, he was awarded the Mahler Medal. Everything pointed to the likelihood that Kubelík would be recognized as one of the great Mahler conductors of our time.

This recognition was brought a step nearer when Kubelík became permanent conductor of one of the foremost German orchestras, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. It is true to say that much which Kubelík has been able to achieve in some ten years with this orchestra has prepared, in a certain sense, for the immense task of recording the entire cycle of Mahler's symphonies. Only long years of work with this orchestra, which had been founded after the war by Eugen Jochum and had soon built up an international reputation, could make the vast undertaking possible. All through the years Kubelík has performed a considerable amount of Mahler's music with "his" orchestra. However, the most decisive step by the orchestra, and its conductor, what might be called the final advance to the very heart of Mahler's world, began only about three years ago, when it was decided to present all Mahler's symphonies within the cycle of public concerts given by the Bavarian Radio. That was also the starting signal for the Deutsche Grarnmophon recordings. Each symphony was prepared and given in public concerts, and was only then recorded. All the works, with the exception of the Eighth Symphony, whose dimensions and scoring demand a larger building ? it was recorded in the spacious Congress Hall of the German Museum in Munich, which also serves as a concert hall ? were performed and recorded in one a the same hall, the Herkules-Saal in the Residenz, which is by tradition the "official" Munich concert hall. The constant factors of venue, performing artists and recording staff gave rise to a unified Mahler style which is expected and required of complete cycle of Mahler's symphonies.

Once, when Kubelík was barely twenty and a highly-regarded student of the Prague Conservatoire. Erich Kleiber invited him to take the preliminary rehearsals of Mahler's Seventh Symphony. Kubelík accepted the offer with alacrity, but quickly realized that he was unable to convey Mahler's musical language by means of the baton. When Kleiber returned to take the final rehearsals, Kubelík openly admitted his misfortune. Kleiber asked him: "Didn't you breathe correctly, then?" Kubelík acknowledges today that Kleiber's idea that conducting is, to some extent, an art of "correct" breath control has decisively influenced his musical career.

Undoubtedly in every kind of music-making breathing has a bearing on the musical concept, its interpretation, the presentation of its structure and form, and its inner animation. This is particularly true in connection with the symphonic world of Gustav Mahler. Kubelík possesses to a high degree the ability to understand Mahler's detailed language of signs, interpreting the full meaning of the written musical text and realizing it with the aid of the very numerous performance directions and indications, which often change within a few bars. The technical presentation, transforming the written score into an organic flow of musical sound which is sometimes interrupted and is then set in motion again, together with scrupulous attention to all the dynamic nuances which are so extremely important in Mahler, is the basis of Kubelík's Mahler interpretations. While Mahler was punctilious in the insertion of every detail and nuance into his scores ? this is one proof of the fact that he was a great conductor ? and even sought to anticipate and prevent mistakes or misunderstandings by the orchestral players which his experience led him to expect, Kubelík sees in Mahler's "sign language" first and foremost the basis on which the entire musical structure must be built up. At the same time the technique employed is here, to a greater extent than ever before, the means to comprehend the contents of the music. These contents have been described again and again. The symphonies have been termed documents of suffering. No doubt this is correct, but Kubelík raises their meaning to a higher level, both as a conductor and in conversation. He presents them as eloquent and meaningful manifestos. He is very strongly drawn to the world of Gustav Mahler. This is easily understandable when one knows of the high sense of artistic responsibility, which distinguishes Kubelík both as a conductor and as a composer. Kubelík feels himself a one with Mahler's demand that music should be recognized as a power able to bring about a transformation, a call to mankind to recognize suffering as a preliminary and indeed a prior condition, to happiness. This fellow feeling with Mahler, this urge to address himself to those around him and convince them that sacrifice is necessary to the mastery of life, including release from life itself, determines Kubelík' interpretations of Mahler. As a musician, a conductor ? who has to impress the world as a successful man ? he sees his own life for and with Mahler entirely as a sacrifice, its mainspring that sympathy (in its original meaning of fellow?suffering) which alone gives the right to attain success. These thoughts are Mahler's, and Kubelík inspires his orchestra to share Mahler's convictions. "Only self?denial in the service of Mahler's fervent manifestos allows one to feel and attain true happiness. It is something different, however, which makes these interpretations wholly individual documents in the present-day approach to Mahler ? the fact that both composer and conductor came from the heart of Bohemia is undoubtedly a sign of a very real bond between them. Thus they have in common both their native land and their spiritual out look. Kubelík refers, rightly, to the musical triangle Prague-Vienna-Munich. Musical history is full of examples of the musical congruence of these three cities, the most important in central Europe as regards art and music. His orchestra's south German receptiveness toward Mahler is, according to Kubelík himself, a consequence of a natural frame of mind. The very fact of music-making bears witness to one's ability to express oneself and to transmit the thoughts of others in sound; this orchestra's long years of playing Mahler have given rise of his music, and using them to create tonal intensity. That is evident in these recordings, which, as Kubelík has remarked, bring out many details of the scores for the first time, as such details can easily go unnoticed in the concert hall. They are brought to light by the use of a recording technique, which Kubelík describes as a creative component of the realization of his tonal concepts. Lovers of Mahler all over the world will also undoubtedly welcome his interpretations owing to the fact that the sound world of Gustav Mahler, the last great symphonist bridging the gap between romanticism and the music of our century, has now been preserved in an absolutely authentic form, which only the media of highly developed techniques can attain. Kubelík speaks only with the greatest admiration of his colleagues in the recording control room of the Herkules-Saal in Munich.


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