There has been a lot of resurrecting going on lately. Dmitri Mitropoulos uncarthed the Mahler First Symphony, and played it over the air. Igor Stravinsky conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikowski's Second Symphony last weekend, and next Sunday Bruno Walter expects to dust a few cobwebs from the Bruckner Eighth. All of which means that an increasingly mature music public is starting to demand its share of lesser-known, lesser-played works. Having been fed for the past decade on a staple diet of symphonic roast beef-the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, Wagner excerpts, Von Weber overtures-it is now broadening out, rather inquisitively poking its nose into a lot of stuff that for many years has lain around in cold storage. A good deal of this stuff is plain junk, and will go right back into cold storage where it came from. But there is bound to be some interesting and excellent music dug up, music appealing to the tastes of this generation, which may find a permanent place in the repertoire. The symphonic library, limited as it is to two centuries of production, and only a few works at that, requires, for the sake of variety and freshness, a constant search for neglected music, and also the regular inclusion on symphony programs of a large body of minor work. It is different with chamber music. One can go to the New Friends of Music Series in New York year after year and hear only the greatest in string-quartet literature.
However, this quest for music-off-the-beaten-track lends a certain amount of zest to concert-going. Mitropoulous himself would not pretend that the Mahler First is anything but a very bad symphony. Nobody, even the most ardent Mahlerite, imagines that there is anything important or cosmic about the first movement, for example, which goes on for about fifteen-minutes with little woodland chirpings and bleatings of the clarinet, and launches into a phony folk-lore theme which, after muddling around soupily in the horns through another ten minutes, finally expires in sheer exhaustion. Nobody, I say, could honestly claim this to be great, or even good, music. But hearing a thing like it now and then allows the public to re-evaluate its critical standards, and to re-assert or reject its opinion of specific works. For the good music to be rediscovered and best appreciated, a lot of tripe has to be dragged up with it. Besides, many people can get a pseudo-scholarly pleasure out of recognizing certain features even in a piece of very bad music. Everyone has heard at one time or another that in his early works Mahler devoted himself to studying the manifestations of nature, and it affords a certain pedantic pleasure to be able to see this in some particular work, even though the work itself is god-awful.
Tchaikowski's Second Symphony was more worth bothering about than the Mahler Symphony, although the fact that its melodies are weaker, less distinguished, and less surehanded than those of the later symphonies will probably cause its rejection. But in no way does it merit Cui's contemptuous epithets of "rough and commonplace. . . . pompous and trivial . . . neither good nor bad." It is fun to listen to, and that is more than can be said for a good deal of the stuff that is perpetrated in concert-halls today.
All of which should make Bruno Walter's resurrection of the Bruckner Eighth an event of some interest Sunday afternoon. It should give people a fair chance to decide whether they like the symphony, unimpeded by the sneers of critics or the ravings of the Bruckner cultists; it should give them a chance to decide whether they want to incorporate into their American repertoire something that has been staple fare in Europe ever since it was composed.