Saturday, March 16, 2019

Project 366 - The Mahler Symphonies

Project 366 continues in 2019 with "The Classical Collectionss - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

This month’s installment of the Classical Collections looks at the symphonies of Gustav Mahler – nine numbered symphonies, plus The song of the Earth and fragments of an unfinished tenth symphony.

Analysts have divided Mahler's composing life into three distinct phases: a long "first period," from 1880 to roughly 1901; a "middle period" of more concentrated composition ending with Mahler's departure for New York in 1907; and a brief "late period" of elegiac works before his death in 1911.

The main works of the first period are the first four symphonies, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen song cycle and various song collections in which Des Knaben Wunderhorn stands out.  In this period songs and symphonies are closely related and the symphonic works are programmatic. Mahler initially gave the first three symphonies full descriptive programmes (all of which he later repudiated).

The middle period comprises a triptych of purely instrumental symphonies (the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh), the Rückert and Kindertotenlieder, two final Wunderhorn settings and, in some reckonings, Mahler's last great affirmative statement, the choral Eighth Symphony. Mahler had by now abandoned all explicit programmes and descriptive titles; he wanted to write "absolute" music that spoke for itself.

The three works of the brief final period—Das Lied von der Erde, the Ninth and (incomplete) Tenth Symphonies—are expressions of personal experience, as Mahler faced death. All of the pieces end quietly, signifying that aspiration has now given way to resignation.

The list of symphonies, in chronological order, with associated musical guides:

Symphony No. 1 in D Major “Titan” (1888–96) [Guide # 264]
Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” (1888–94) [Guide # 203]
Symphony No. 3 (1894–96) [Guide # 99]
Symphony No. 4 (1899–1901) [Guide # 262]
Symphony No. 5 (1901–02) [Guide # 265]
Symphony No. 6 in A minor “Tragic” (1903–04) [Guide # 266]
Symphony No. 7 “Lied der Nacht” (1904–05) [Guide # 267]
Symphony No. 8 in E-flat (1906–07) [Guide # 268]
Das Lied von der Erde (1908–09) [Guide # 269]
Symphony No. 9 (1909–10) [Guide # 270]
Symphony No. 10 in F sharp (unfinished; 1910) [Guide # 108]

Your Listener Guides

Listener Guide # 264 – Mahler in Boston
[Symphony #1] The title Titan, after the name of a novel by Jean Paul, for the Symphony No 1 was used once for the Hamburg performance on October 27, 1893 of an incomplete version which Mahler considered his symphonic poem, or a piece of program music. When Mahler turned it into a symphony, he dropped the title, never to use it again. (ITYWLTMT Montage #290 – 7 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 265 – Fifth Symphony
[Symphony #5] Structurally, the work is in five movements, though Mahler liked to think of it in three parts, with the scherzo (third movement) sandwiched between two parts (formed by the first two and final two movements, respectfully). The fourth movement Adagietto may be Mahler's most famous composition and is the most frequently performed of his works; It is said to represent Mahler's love song to his wife Alma. (Vinyl’s Revenge # 39 - 19 June 2018)

Listener Guide # 266 – Sixth Symphony
[Symphony #6] The program for the first Vienna performance in 1907 of the Symphony No 6 refers to the work as Sechste Sinfonie (Tragische), but Mahler did not use this title in any of the other programs, or in any of the scores published in his lifetime. Mahler’s protégé, however, conductor Bruno Walter, claims Mahler referred to the Sixth Symphony in conversation as the Tragic. (Cover 2 Cover # 12 – 25 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 267 – Lied Der Nacht
[Symphony #7] The Lied Der Nacht (Song of the Night) moniker given to the Symphony No 7 derives from its two Nachtmusik movements, the second movement having been apparently inspired by Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which Mahler had admired in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. Again, this nickname was not endorsed by the composer. (ITYWLTMT Montage #291 – 21 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 267 – Eighth Symphony
[Symphony #8] The denotation of the Symphony No 8 as the Symphony of a Thousand comes from the number of musicians supposedly required to play it. Not only does it not originate from Mahler, he reportedly loathed the title. (Vinyl’s Revenge # 42 – 11 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 268 – Earth Day
[Das Lied von der Erde] Gustav Mahler’s Song of the Earth is a work that has symphonic proportions, and chronologically sits between his 9th and 9th symphonies. In fact, some have theorized that Das Lied was meant to be his ninth symphony – but well aware of the so-called “curse of the Ninth”, Mahler was reluctant to call it a symphony… Maybe he was right, since Mahler did complete a ninth, and dies while still composing his tenth. (ITYWLTMT Montage #220 – 22 Apr. 2016)

Listener Guide # 269 – Mahler Dressed to the Nines
[Symphony #9] Alban Berg called the Ninth "the most marvellous thing that Mahler ever wrote."[129] None of these final works were performed in Mahler's lifetime. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 163 – 5 Sept. 2014)

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