One of the more delightful notes that my mother, Elaine, the subject and in many ways principal author of The Curious Autobiography of Elaine Jakes, wrote on the small chalkboard in the kitchen of her lovely house that she dubbed the “Lizzie Ann” in honor of her grandmother, was the short and simple “gone to maul.” Of course, she meant “gone to mall,” specifically the Oxford Valley Mall. I was in high school then, and I chuckled thinking about the fact that she was a teacher and a part of her daily repertoire was to teach fourth graders spelling.
And I thought of that incident when this week I read a piece by Isaac Stanley Becker in the Washington Post on a surprising fracas that occurred in Malmo, Sweden during a performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. A woman, so it seems, was eagerly unwrapping some gum during the performance and this enraged the person next to her who then yanked the bag from the woman’s hand.
At the end of the Adagietto, which, Becker divulges in his article, was one and the same as that conducted by Leonard Bernstein at RFK’s funeral in 1968, the woman struck back, slapping the man on the face. Her male friend then slugged the bag grabber, too, and a skirmish ensued, fortunately to be swiftly broken up by those nearby.
And this incident befits, it seems to me, the work of Gustav Mahler, for he was a deeply passionate human being. In his article for the Guardian entitled, “Big Bang Theory: Discovering Mahler” (10 Jan. 2010), Tom Service writes of his experience as a 12 year old lad discovering and, at first hating, Mahler. Later, however, a more mature Service falls in love with the composer and writes, “A Mahler symphony is an experience that should be as disturbing as it is life-affirming. That’s what we need to remember … as we all immerse ourselves in thrilling, terrifying, dangerous and occasionally consoling Mahler-mania.” The last hyphenated word here, I think, really says it all, for music, particularly that of Mahler, really can stir one’s emotions.
But so can candy wrappers. Witness the Malmo mauling. But I know this personally, too, because, getting back to Elaine, she, it seemed to me, was often that person who was digging through her purse desperately seeking a mint. And had some man knocked her purse from her hand in a similar situation, I imagine that I might just have taken a poke at him. And in that case, I would have been no less aggressive than the mauler of Malmo, with or without the emotive inspiration of Mahler.