I heard Mahler’s Ninth live today, for the first time since 1977 in Cleveland. I got a ticket (for an instantly sold-out concert) from the conductor, my employer, based on the fact that I wrote my senior paper at Oberlin on the piece. I analyzed the entire thing, but my paper was on the third-movement scherzo, a contrapuntal miracle. I know every note, and I registered every performance mistake. The performance was 85 minutes of me being consumed with envy. How did Mahler develop that continental sense of architecture? How did he know he could always keep going? How could he make fifteen quick key changes in a row and have every one sound fresh when there are only twelve keys? It’s a gigantic piece, yet when I’m not listening to it it telescopes back into a compact 45-minute form. How could he keep those same themes coming back over and over without ever sounding repetitive? When I listen to Ives I am filled with admiration, worship, and humility, because I’m convinced that Ives just had a brain unlike ordinary musical mortals. But what I try to do in my pieces is pretty similar to Mahler harmonically, and I can’t come close to filling out that kind of harmonic span. I feel like, intellectually, I could do what Mahler did, but I just don’t possess the imaginative energy. The sonuvabitch, how did he do it? I feel like Salieri contemplating Mozart in the film Amadeus.