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Mahler: Symphony No. 10

Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Mahler's 10th to test the idea that harmony is a reflection of history. He is joined by composer David Matthews and psychoanalyst Anthony Cantle.

Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Mahler's 10th Symphony to test the idea that harmony is a reflection of history. He's joined by composer David Matthews and psychoanalyst Anthony Cantle.

Music is never created in isolation - it's conceived in relation to what's going on around a composer in terms of personal and historical events, new technologies, new ideas and artistic endeavours in other fields. In this series, Ivan Hewett is looking at five very different chords which amply demonstrate the concept that harmony is a reflection of history.

Each programme is a bite size portion of rich musical and historical investigation - and each chord has had far reaching influence on other music and is emblematic of its era.

In 1910, the first movement of Mahler's 10th Symphony finally lands on a chord of terrifying dissonance, as he surveyed the wreckage of his personal life. Mahler had discovered his wife was having an affair with the architect Walter Gropius - a discovery which left him distraught. He was in the middle of composing his 10th Symphony and suddenly this cry of anguish appears seemingly out of nowhere in the music. Mahler made a famous visit to see Freud which resulted in a 6 hour walk during which they discussed all of these matters in the context of the newly "discovered" unconscious.

The chord in question can't be found anywhere in else music. Perhaps it's just too much to bear. However, what follows this chord is music which suggests resolution, acceptance and great peace.

Ivan Hewett is a writer on music for the Daily Telegraph, broadcaster on BBC Radio 3, and teacher at the Royal College of Music.

Producer: Rosie Boulton
A Monty Funk production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

15 minutes