Mahler’s 3rd Symphony

By Eric Nicholson

I ease into my air-conditioned seat half an hour before the start
wondering if my insatiable appetite for revelation will be 
satisfied and I'm not completely alone as there are divine voices
in the air and I get to thinking about mundane truth musical recipes 
and cooking times you know really Mahler's yelling eat my score it's one 
great hymn to all existence but also a grenade thrown into a genteel afternoon 
dinner party you know I said my lip hurts it really hurt when I bit into
that apple after breakfast it's a heavy burden when you eat of the fruit
of the tree the after-taste is something else and well it's time to tell 
the truth I couldn't stop blowing my nose loudly and it kept running 
and must have made my skin raw there like can you see its not very 
nice not a great look and it made me realise there's no way
we can be dukkha-deniers today and I've even heard it said 
that the act of cooking is a symbolic representation of the contrivances 
of a corrupt and sinful mind and if you really want to assault your guests' 
noses prepare some fermented shrimp paste no your nose mouth and ears 
are doorways into Gustav's kitchen how come we can't go searching for small 
epiphanies no they come unannounced yes then I thought of Schopenhauer 
really how he literally thought that art was the only redeeming factor
of being human how being human was mostly unremitting unending
angst and disappointment aha but what about the superhuman concoction here
quite a recipe yes six movements where six oracles speak to us summer 
marches in what the meadow flowers tell us what the creatures of the forest 
tell us I like to think of all of the creatures we share the planet with I mean 
we actually evolved from a piece of microscopic protoplasm after all I don't 
consider it's considerate to hack off the fins of millions of sharks 
and let them sink to the bottom of the sea just to satisfy an appetite for shark-fin soup 
but please don't dismiss my concern as being the ravings of A Highly Sensitive Person 
and I know we share seventy percent of our DNA with a banana yes I deeply consider
what the dark night tells us what the morning bells tell us what God tells us 
or if you're an atheists what Love tells us I mean how many thousands of miles 
does a wandering albatross fly in a year consider this is nothing to how 
many hours this guy spent cooking up this paean to all existence his daily battle 
with the mundane hand to mouth life set against the mountains and rivers 
telling him and all of us the story of how the first humans the first very first
humans here listen drumbeats after Homo erectus maybe Neanderthals conjured up 
demons and deities possessed by god-knows-what a muse inspiration no no no 
don't mention that word to anyone you love dancing round a leaping fire it's not 
a conspiracy theory like the moon landings how else do you explain this creation 
the first movement takes up half the whole how else explain the Sistine Chapel 
for Christ's sake and what about that 40,000 yr old reindeer antler with five holes 
bored into it I mean it's like finding a piano on the moon how come these hairy 
bipeds communed with the eternal voice listen at all times of the day and night 
I mean it's like they were in a Quaker Meeting but not if you are a Zen Buddhist 
because then you wouldn't differentiate between the mundane act 
of washing the dishes and the sacred musicians coming onto the stage in ones 
and twos although the two harpists have been there all along ah yes yes yes
here's the trombonist who'll play that haunting solo in the first
movement he'll add very very strong flavours throughout no doubt aha
he's stretching his arms stretching slowly reclining like Bacchus but 
not blowing yet at least I can't hear any flatulent horn-like tones and I said 
to her surely you know the young woman peeling the apple in a spiral alludes to 
the human effort to free the spirit from its material envelope really and also 
look how often an apple appears in religious paintings as a symbol of temptation
or the story of the fall and what about the snake and everything even if you 
don't believe I know it's some story and do you know what she said 
she said I wouldn't recognise a spiritual reference if it assaulted me
in the middle of an adagio I don't believe it really I mean it's twenty five 
minutes in length you know when a school motto jostles for attention
we seek the truth with a capital T again and again even in these temperature-regulated 
rows of seats Pythagoras Plato and Buddha even allowed countless lifetimes I know
in which to smooth out discords cymbal clashes and false starts besides
most of the string section are tuning up now but there's no no sign no
sound of the heavy guns only swelling discords washing over passages of truth
sounded like the end of the world then did you hear the thunderclaps yes
and no matter what she's going through I think the octopus would be
the best option yes she said she enjoyed the pesto pine nuts and sun-dried
tomatoes and when all's said and done the string section really do harmonise 
reassuring melodies and it's a subtle peppery flavour yes yes now 
the trombonist plays his opening bars the idea-fix of the first movement 
leaping from ground zero to the sky in succulent sevenths very much 
like it's very like the incubation of a wandering albatross's egg the gestation 
of musical fiends themes you mean no think how he must have toiled 
pushed and heaved before a breakthrough before a naked monster a naked 
twisting ornamentation something demonic danced a dance of joyful death 
a movement of spiritual darkness but that's not something to bring 
onto the dining table or into polite conversation like we had before
I think therefore I am the butchered beast is a reviled object or words to that effect 
and like she said its bloody carcass reminds us of death but you know how
the closest blonde harpist is running her fingers up and down the strings
well that could be symbolic of all our journeys don't you think I know it's a bit 
of a cliché and even sensual and definitely has a liquid red-wine taste not 
that I'm synaesthetic or anything she has a nerve spending all day in the kitchen 
and serving up such a mishmash of well what how could you describe it and then 
there was the thing about public transport and going on an electric bus 
which broke down before it left the bus station and how to get 
there with all of the musicians on stage and the timpanists pounding
skins as if tomorrow doesn't exist well it doesn't does it really all there 
is is the present moment this moment yes a moment a moment ago
not long ago a man spilled some of his beer as he shuffled along a row I know 
and now he's laughing just in time I expect the floor will be slippery unless 
there is a drying off period before the conductor emerges from the wings
it can't be long now do you agree with me you'll think about what I've said
won't you because the violinist with the pig's head is taking part in a black
mass and the spilled porridge alludes to the proverb he who spills his porridge 
can't pick it up again meaning that what's done can't be undone and the lobster
alludes to rebirth as it sheds its shell its carapace every year renewing its
appearance and of course the commode in the painting is a reference to
the undignified fate of so much food the dancing goat a symbol of sin and gluttony
but we needn't be ashamed today and can enjoy a modest banquet for example
sun-dried tomato-basted pheasant would be the piece de resistance 
preceded by oysters like we had last time yes and you know what they say 
about oysters they didn't have any effect at all at least as far as you 
were concerned that's not fair and you did go on and on about on about
the melody of exotic vegetables fit for a queen I think or was it a princess
you said and they were an accompanying dish at least served on separate 
plates does that mean they were a side dish I don't mean like starters but more like how
chapatis are served in ancient Rome wine produced a state of ecstatic inebriation
that was considered essential and engendered a blissful union in the participants
who were of course all philosophers and a woman not to be seen except as a courtesan
or lyre-player as I was saying a blissful union with the transcendental yes yes yes
that sounds good really good out of this world that's not the right word and sets 
my pulse racing especially the sound of the eight French horns imitating the farmyard
grunts and wheezes of you know how you have to use a saw and chopper
to get into a pig and the industrial assembly line of the slaughter house 
doesn't always present an uplifting sight or aroma and we could see the
patriarchal progress of industrialisation leading inevitably to the processing
of people I mean actual human beings if you think of the Quartet for the End
of Time for example it doesn't bear thinking about really you know what I mean
but how could you like not be not be moved by such sublimity thinking of the 
circumstances of its composition and each inmate wondering if human
history could be divided up into pre-1914 and post-1914 not to mention 
camaraderie conflict clashing chords and the shortage of nutritional 
food which can also be thought of in non-literal terms such as would you 
willingly knowingly eat a bowl of vomit like for your breakfast that is what I 
mean by symbolic the news is so depressing especially first thing after you've cleaned 
your teeth and everything's going into your mind I mean sense-impressions
could be thought of as food in this symbolic sense be careful what you put into
your mind be careful what you practice in your daily life but also think about 
what becomes a habitual kind of thought laying down actual chemical 
markers in our neurons that's it not that I'm a brain surgeon or anything and I can't even 
claim any particular achievements in the field of human slaughter but that's where 
music can sort out the lows and the highs and rise to the occasion in the sense of triumph 
over human suffering for instance that man who spilled the beer who knows 
what secrets lie embedded chemically-speaking do you know what I mean we not 
only don't know a lot but we don't know that we don't know a lot of stuff and it may 
not suit our taste and there isn't an inevitability about any of this but the conductor
any conductor of this symphony of like war and peace I've never actually read it have you
no has to shed light on every hidden corner of the human condition I know or narrative 
or at least he should have danced with his own shadow if he wants to do the music 
justice married heaven and hell so to speak in his own life integration some say yes
descent into the underworld some say but you know what I mean so that he 
can praise in spite of Nietzsche's amor fati doesn't the mezzo sing about this really
and not be afraid of getting his baton bloody or slow in conjuring up a plate of calf's 
head grouse or the poignant song of a nightingale after dinner 
speeches being another string to his bow because he was a violinist first and foremost well 
before he became a conductor like Barenboim I know he was a pianist but you know I know
yes yes yes I remember the one he told on more than one occasion the one about the egg in 
biblical exegesis which you see depicted in a lot of religious paintings which stands for life maybe 
with a capital L or at least new life a new birth and you don't need to be a believer to see how it 
refers to a kind of hope or psychological transformation or even resurrection but I don't believe you need a sacrificial god or a redeemer I mean that was dealt a final blow with Nietzsche's three infamous words wasn't it his best after dinner speech of all time that's the kind of message that will come to pass because at the moment time flies and I want you to savour the divine mezzo in what movement is it the fourth or fifth anyway before the long numinous redemptive hymn-like 
finale               you'll think about what I've said won't you