Can you remember looking through a kaleidoscope? A modern equivalent would be viewing the random, intricate and colourful patterns generated by computer software to accompany music.
Mahler’s 7th Symphony is like a slow motion, auditory equivalent of this experience. It takes a vast array of differing and richly interesting ideas and mixes them together in unexpected ways, creating vast and ever-changing tapestries of sound.
Audiences struggled with this symphony. Its kaleidoscopic form was not easy to grasp, especially as it was so startlingly different from those used by Mahler in his earlier, more obviously structured symphonies.
So why did Mahler write this symphony in such a challenging way? The answer lies in his view of the symphony. He felt that it should ‘encompass the world’. Now think about the world. It consists of an almost infinite diversity of elements that have been thrown together, often creating beauty out of the chance coincidence of their existence.
Now think about our experience of the world. As we go about our daily lives we experience the sweep and swerve of random kaleidoscopic events. Most of what we experience is not presented to us in the conveniently packaged and neatly edited form of a book, television programme or film, and consequently we have to work hard at comprehending the meaning and appreciating the beauty of the multitude of events and sensations that flow towards and around us.
This is what Mahler is portraying in his music. He is making his listeners work hard at perceiving and appreciating the immense swirling structures of his music (just as they have to work hard at comprehending the ever-changing world that surrounds them) and the harder they work the greater their appreciation of his music’s innate beauty.
The next time you need to address a complex situation or problem put some time and effort into appreciating how its constituent parts have come together; look through its kaleidoscope of events. Do the patterns you see reveal anything of its true nature? Do you see the glimmer of an answer to your problem?