18 May 2016


The other day, I thought I might improve my mood if I listened to music. I pressed the "on" button of my Quad tuner (won, along with amplifier, pre-amp and electrostatic loudspeakers, in a competition over 30 years ago now) and Radio Three was playing the fourth movement from Mahler 5, the adagietto. Rather like the word "Marathon", the name has come to identify one piece - although, come to think of it, say "Marathon" to an American and they would assume you meant Boston or New York. Oh no, I thought, that's not going to see off the black dog.

But my insatiable curiosity took over, and before long I was reading about Mahler's most famous music on the Internet. I wanted to learn something about the mechanics of the music, in particular the overwelming key-change, but nothing I could find told me about it. But I did learn - actually, I think, I relearnt - that Mahler conceived of it as a love-letter to Alma (who responded exactly as he must have hoped), and importantly that it is commonly played far too slowly. It was a song without words. Mahler himself would get through it in seven-and-a-bit minutes, whereas Haitink would take nearly fifteen. Bruno Walter, who learnt conducting from Mahler, is the most likely conductor from the recorded era to do it as intended, and indeed it sounds very different at the tempo he uses. Any slower, and had the song without words had words it would have been impossible to sing. And it can see off black dogs.

I've finally run a proper distance again, though my injured shoulder still isn't entirely happy about it. I tried to to do the whole Zen running thing, concentrating on the moment, the breathing, the form - and not the speed. It was a Haitink run, not a Walter or Mahler: Sehr langsam, as the adagietto is marked.