Hidden code of two great composers deciphered

Hidden code of two great composers deciphered

The propriety of projecting a composer's personal life onto how we hear and perform the music goes through fads. Half a century ago, the Bay Area was home to Apollonian musicologists who prized structural analysis and dismissed biography as gossip.

We live now in an era where symphonies are valued as coded narrative, where centuries-old opera is related to modern life. And the Bay Area happened to be the place to be last weekend for remarkable revelations about the inner nature of two great composers, Mahler and Handel.

Saturday night, at a Davies Hall lighted up in Giants' orange and black and decorated with images from the Day of the Dead, Michael Tilson Thomas led the San...