With a hat tip to Elaine Fine at Musical Assumptions, I found an interesting article by Gene De Lisa on the topic of the hammer blows in Mahler's Sixth Symphony. I love the Sixth Symphony (though the Second is my favorite) and never realized there was a big controversy about the finale--namely, should there be two hammer blows or three? Or . . . five?
Image of Gustav Mahler, from the Baltimore Sun
I suppose the issue would strike many as pedantic and academic, but Gene De Lisa condenses the tale into a few amusing and fascinating paragraphs. (At least, it was fascinating to me.)
I've been drawn to Mahler's music for as long as I remember. His symphonies are enormous--explosions of colors on impossibly large canvases. His songs are intimate, personal. He was the great opera conductor who never wrote an opera himself, yet there is something operatic about much of his work. His life was at a crossroads: By virtue of his music, he was at the threshold between the romantic and the modern; by virtue of his wife (Alma), he was at the intersection of music, art, and architecture (Klimt, Kokoschka, Gropius). This "hammer blow" vignette gives one a glimpse of Mahler's dedication to his craft, his feverish creativity, and unfortunately, the superstitions that haunted him. (Among those superstitions was the dread of composing a Ninth Symphony for fear of dying after completing it, as had happened to Beethoven and Bruckner before him. As it turned out, Mahler died after his Ninth after all, though some sketches of symphonic material were posthumously completed and called the "Tenth Symphony.")
Anyway, if the story doesn't grip you, there is an assortment of hammer blow videos at the end of the post that might! I've added another one below.