Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg may be my two favorite classical composers. Berg was a disciple of Mahler, which you can especially hear in Drei Orchesterstücke. What’s kind of funny is that one of Mahler’s claims to fame is that his symphonies are fucking massive, nearly always clocking in at significantly over an hour. Meanwhile, Berg’s Drei Orchesterstücke come in under 20 minutes. And yet, they just evoke each other, in a way that I’m not really learned enough to explain adequately.
Mahler had a talent for taking one idea and carrying it out to every possible manifestation, somehow managing to avoid redundancy. While some have charged that he lacks originality or agency, I think that he did take inspiration from his antecedents (who doesn’t?), but so thoroughly imbued his work with his own personality and ethos that his music creates its own agency.
Anyway, for example, after rediscovering the German folktales Des Knaben Wunderhorn in his twenties, Mahler composed around them for literally the rest of his life. He did stand-alone songs, and you hear the same themes and motifs again and again in his symphonies, and yet, that shit just doesn’t get old. (For me, anyway.) So, he could take a poem and turn it into a three-minute song, and take that same poem/song and extend it into a thirty-five-minute largo, and even extend it into basically a full symphony.
Conversely, Berg’s strength lies in his remarkable ability to distill ideas into their core components. It’s as if he edited relentlessly, taking Les Miserables and somehow refashioning it into a paragraph, and yet retaining everything essential to the work. Or maybe the purest, quadruple reverse-osmosised bottled water.
Basically, Mahler synthesizes, and Berg crystallizes, and despite having very different paradigms, they work through the same shit.
While, for me, undergraduate studies were 100% Mahler, 1L continually confronts me with Berg, and generally does so when I’m least prepared to deal with it. For some strange reason that I really don’t understand, law school, true to cliché, has crystallized my entire being, in that I continually am dropping more and more off of my radar, and am finally learning to focus, intellectually, instead being my traditional, professional dilettante, self.
The constant spectre of intractable issues and funny little puzzles already has proven to be a wonderful, if cruel, way for me to strip away many, and maybe, eventually, nearly all, unessential elements from my life. The process is, frankly, more than a bit sad, in that it has been, is, and will be hurtful to people other than me, but I do appreciate it for catalyzing what should be.
Somewhat paradoxical is the fact that this stripping down has not only helped me remove elements from my life, but also has allowed former passions to rise, resurgent. Eight days ago, I picked up my trusty clarinet for the first time in ages, and it spurned me. “Fuck you, KP,” it said, “for ignoring me for the past two years.” And it hurt. And it was hard. And it was frustrating, and yet exhilarating, because, as hard, and exhausting, and demonizing as the process was, I also found that muscle memory is an insane, wonderful, exhilarating force, that was, and will always be there to comfort me in my darkest hour.
Last night, I tried again, and already it was so much easier, and nicer, and I blew through concerto after concerto, and it all just felt amazing. “Though much is taken, much abides; and though/We are not now that strength which in old days/Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;” and it is quite a big comfort to know that I have retained some humanity, manifested in a silly little instrument with great big works, after all.
Thus far, law school is an exercise in continual ego-crushing. I feel like I’ve been shat on intellectually, emotionally, romantically, and every other way that could damage my formidable self-esteem. But, somebody had to do it, and it’s really not so bad, being put in your place.