After decades of near-neglect and sometimes ridicule, the music of Gustav Mahler caught on in a big way in the 1960s — and I thank goodness that I was aware enough then to experience it.
Most Mahler nuts, we’re told, find their ways to this composer through one of the less time-demanding symphonies like the First or Fourth — or maybe the poignant Adagietto movement from the Fifth. My entryway, oddly enough, was through the clangorous finale from the Seventh Symphony on a free Columbia Masterworks LP sampler that my dad brought home in 1966. (I might add that from this one slab of vinyl, I also heard Bruckner, Ives, Nielsen and neoclassical Stravinsky for the first time, igniting lifelong passions for all.) No one ever told me that the Seventh was the tough one that you’re not supposed to get right away. The last minutes sounded like a riotous, even desperate celebration — maybe the cracking apart of 19th century Romantic traditions, to paraphrase Leonard Bernstein, or something bigger and more current.