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University of Iowa News Release


March 18, 2011

Swanson is the vocal soloist March 30 in UI Symphony all-Mahler concert

Baritone Stephen Swanson (photo, top left), a faculty member in the University of Iowa School of Music, will be the featured soloist in a free all-Mahler concert by the UI Symphony Orchestra under the direction of William LaRue Jones (photo, bottom left) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union.

Swanson will be featured in "Songs of a Wayfarer" and Jones will also conduct the orchestra is a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major ("Titan").

The UI Symphony has long been associated with the music of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler (photo, right). The ensemble's founding director, Philip Greeley Clapp, was instrumental in regenerating interest in Mahler, whose music was not widely popular in the mid-20th century.

James Dixon, who succeeded Clapp in 1954 continued the association, and his work both on and off-campus in championing Mahler's music led to the awarding of the Gustav Mahler Medal to Dixon in 1963.

Dixon concluded his UI career in 1997 by conducting a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 6, Jones took up the mantle by conducting Mahler's first symphony in 1998, an "Experience Mahler" concert in 2003 and the Symphony No. 5 in 2005.

Mahler's music was also prominent when Jones conducted a UI Symphony concert with Frederica von Stade in 2001, and faculty member John Muriello performed "Songs of the Wayfarer" with the orchestra in 2000.

"Mahler left an indelible mark on the symphonic tradition through his innovative use of folk melodies, brilliant orchestrations, and overall architectural design," Jones says. "His works are creative marvels and often challenge both the performer and the listener."

The first of Mahler's nine completed symphonies was composed from 1884 to 1888 and thus belongs both chronologically and stylistically to the 19th century. It was first conceived as a symphonic poem in five movements, divided in two parts. The score even had at one time the semi-programmatic title "Titan," which placed it in the tradition of the Romantic symphonic poem.

Before the first performance, which took place in Budapest in 1889, Mahler discarded one movement and recast the work as a traditional symphony in four movements.

The symphony begins mysteriously, with an introduction that emerges out of silence with falling figures that recall the beginning of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. This leads into a large-scale movement that includes many of the composer's stylistic hallmarks: brass fanfares, march-like rhythms, diatonic themes contained in a richly chromatic fabric, a large orchestra employed for both delicate coloristic effects and massive climaxes.

Subsequent movements continue to touch upon many of Mahler's favorite devices -- a movement based on the Laendler, an Austrian folk dance; a set of variations on a minor-key version of "Frere Jacques," with many touches of the grotesque; and a stormy, dramatic finale that suggests a highly emotional journey from anguish to triumph.

In 1883 Mahler was just beginning his career, working as second conductor for the opera theater in Kassel, Germany. He fell in love with a young singer, but she rejected him to marry someone else. In reaction, he wrote the "Songs of a Wayfarer" for baritone and piano, beginning with the text, "On my love's wedding day, all will be merry there, but for me no joy will it bring."

"She doesn't know them," Mahler wrote a friend, "but they can only tell her what she already knows." He arranged the songs for voice and orchestra and conducted the premiere of this version in Berlin in 1896.

For biographies of Jones and Swanson, visit

The School of Music is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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