Olga Neuwirth did not have the time to complete the work commissioned for the centenary of Gustav Mahler’s death. But in Masaot/Clocks Without Hands, she hasn’t let go of Mahler, who makes his presence known in different ways. In a dream, her grandfather played old songs and spoke about experiences of being an outsider in Austria. He had “fallen out of time”, and with fragments of songs and fascinating effects, she expresses memories fading, and time eventually seeming to dissolve: a clock without hands.
A friend once asked Gustav Mahler: “How can someone so good express so much cruelty and harshness in their work?” “They are cruelties I’ve endured and suffering I have experienced!” was the answer. Mahler does, to a certain extent, always deal with autobiography, but the central theme is the human destiny: death always wins. This, we have to assume, is the case in Symphony No. 6 as well, but this gripping music can also be perceived as elevating and purifying, like the catharsis Aristotle talks about in relation to the classical, Greek tragedies.