Mahler Box FAQ
This week the famous hammer blows in Mahler’s sixth symphony will be performed by Associate Principal Percussion Daniel Druckman. He answers a few questions for us about the box and the hammer.
Can you explain a little about the hammer and the box – are they both only used for Mahler 6?
Mahler was the first to use the hammer and box; the hammer blows are supposed to represent fate. Berg uses both in his Three Pieces for Orchestra (Drei Orchesterstücke) and former Composer-in-Residence Christopher Rouse uses them in many of his orchestral works.
When was the hammer and box constructed?
The box we are using was constructed about 10 years ago by an acoustician. The hammer is a heavy rawhide hammer, probably used for camping or splitting wood-similar to what you would find at a carnival "strength test." Apparently, Mahler himself was never happy with the sound of the box, and kept changing his mind on what he wanted.
Does the Philharmonic usually perform Mahler’s sixth symphony with two or three hammer blows?
We usually do it with the two written notes, but some conductors add a third note. Valery Gergiev added it last time he was here. I think Mahler changed his mind about this as well.
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