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MAAZEL:

MAHLER CYCLE 2011

Articles and Programme Notes

Series Introduction

WILL THE REAL GUSTAV MAHLER PLEASE STAND UP?

"The difference between Beethoven and Mahler is the difference between watching a great man walk down the street and watching a great actor play the part of a great man walking down the street." Aaron Copland, 1941

Copland's statement may shock devotees of Mahler's music. It seems to belittle Mahler's achievement and to cast doubt on his sincerity - where Beethoven was truly great, Mahler merely imitates the outward signs of greatness. But I take Copland to mean something else...

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Symphony No. 1 (1888)

  • 1. Langsam, schleppend - Wie ein Naturlaut
  • 2. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
  • 3. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
  • 4. Stürmisch bewegt

Mahler suggested that his First Symphony and the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen arose from similar situations and the degree of overlap between them is certainly striking. For a start, the symphony takes some of its material from the song cycle - the main theme of the first movement is derived...

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Symphony No. 2 Resurrection (1888-94)

  • 1. Allegro maestoso
  • 2. Andante moderato. Sehr gemächlich
  • 3. Scherzo. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung
  • 4. 'Urlicht'. Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht
  • 5. Finale

Mahler's Second Symphony was already begun before his First had received its premiêre. Indeed, the composition in 1888 of a movement in C minor, later to become the first movement of the Second Symphony, seems to have overlapped with the completion of the First. It shares with the Finale of the First the same tone of high drama and desperate heroic struggle...

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Symphony No. 3 (1895-96)

  • Part I
    • 1. Kräftig. Entscheiden
  • Part II
    • 2. Tempo di Menuetto. Sehr mässig
    • 3. Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast
    • 4. Sehr langsam. Misterioso
    • 5. Lustig im Tempo und keck in Ausdruck
    • 6. Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden

As he had been with both his First and Second symphonies, Mahler was initially ambivalent about whether the Third was indeed a symphony or a symphonic poem. The early outline sketches from 1895 suggest various programmatic titles for individual movements and for the work as a whole.

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Symphony No. 4 (1899-1901)

  • 1. Bedächtig, nicht eilen
  • 2. In gemächlicher Bewegung, ohne Hast
  • 3. Ruhevoll, poco adagio
  • 4. Sehr behaglich

It is hard to imagine that this most genial and modest of Mahler's symphonies should have caused such a scandal at its première in Munich in 1901. But critics were almost unanimous in their condemnation of a work they considered to be a bad joke at the expense of the symphony itself, a satire on the high artistic values of Austro-German music, full of clownish pranks and grotesque parody.

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Symphony No. 5 (1901-02)

  • 1. Trauermarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt
  • 2. Stürmisch bewegt, mit grösster Vehemenz
  • 3. Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell
  • 4. Adagietto. Sehr langsam
  • 5. Rondo-Finale. Allegro - Allegro giocoso. Frisch

Between the completion of his Fourth Symphony, with its ending in a childlike vision of heaven, and his Fifth, which begins with some of his most unremittingly tragic music, Mahler suffered a major crisis in his health from which, reportedly, he nearly died. In February 1901 he had a serious haemorrhage that necessitated an operation and a prolonged period of convalescence.

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Symphony No. 6 (1903-04)

  • 1. Allegro energico, ma non troppo
  • 2. Scherzo. Wuchtig
  • 3. Andante
  • 4. Finale. Allegro moderato - Allegro energico

The Sixth is an extraordinary and highly individual symphony even in Mahler's output of extraordinary and individual works. It is often cited as his most classical symphony in that it returns to a four-movement plan and uses neither solo nor choral voices. Like its neighbours, the Fifth and Seventh, the Sixth Symphony thus seems to return to a more abstract symphonic tradition. But what is said less often, is that it does so not to confirm that tradition, but to wrestle with it.

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Symphony No. 7 (1904-05)

  • 1. Langsam (Adagio). Allegro con fuoco
  • 2. Nachtmusik. Allegro Moderato
  • 3. Scherzo. Schattenhaft
  • 4. Nachtmusik. Andante amoroso
  • 5. Rondo-Finale. Allegro ordinario

This was the last of the purely instrumental symphonies Mahler composed before returning to the use of choral and solo voices in the massive Eighth Symphony. It remains one of his least known and, perhaps, his least understood. Enigmatic, inscrutable, perplexing - commentators all seem to reach for similar descriptors. Even Mahler's biographer, Henry-Louis de La Grange, suggests that the Finale to the Seventh was 'perhaps the most bizarre and disconcerting piece Mahler ever wrote.'

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Symphony No. 8 Symphony of a Thousand (1906)

  • Part I
    • Veni, creator spiritus
  • Part II
    • Poco adagio

Even within Mahler's extraordinary output, the Eighth Symphony stands alone. It marks a kind of extreme, not only for Mahler, but for the romantic symphony in general. Of course, it requires famously large forces: the label Symphony of a Thousand, invented by a concert agent for the first performance, may seem exaggerated today, but that first performance reputedly included 858 singers and 171 instrumental players.

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Symphony No. 9 (1909-10)

  • 1. Andante comodo
  • 2. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb
  • 3. Rondo-Burleske. Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig
  • 4. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend

In 1907, after more than a decade as Director of the Vienna Court Opera, Mahler accepted a post at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. For the remaining four years of his life, he spent six months in New York (October to March) and six months in Austria (April to September), where he continued to spend the summer in his beloved mountain landscapes.

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Symphony No. 10 (1910, unfinished)

  • 1. Adagio

Mahler spent his 50th Birthday, on 7 July 1910, alone. He had arrived a few days earlier at his summer composing haunt in Alt Schluderbach in the Tyrol, having first visited his wife Alma who had been staying at a sanatorium near Graz since 1 June, in her own words 'to cure her ailing nerves'. Unbeknown to Mahler, within days of her arrival there she had met the young architect Walter Gropius, then aged 27 (she was 30), and began an affair.

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Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1892-99)

  • Revelge
  • Der Tamboursg'sell
  • Urlicht
  • Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen
  • Rheinlegendchen
  • Das irdische Leben

The edited collection of German folk poetry, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), first appearing between 1805 and 1808, quickly became a cornerstone of German Romantic interest in earlier folk culture and staple reading for many German children throughout the 19th century. Mahler dated his familiarity with the book to 1886, but the similarity between some of the Wunderhorn texts and his own poetry suggests that he must have encountered them earlier.

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Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1884-85)

  • 1. Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht
  • 2. Ging heut' Morgen über's Feld
  • 3. Ich hab' ein glühend Messer
  • 4. Die zwei blauen Augen

There is little doubt that Mahler cast himself in the central role of his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). Outwardly, his own life was certainly that of a wandering young apprentice. Since completing his education in Vienna in 1880, Mahler had taken on a series of junior conducting posts, each of them relatively brief and requiring him to move considerable distances across Europe.

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Rückert-lieder (1901-1902)

  • 1. Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder
  • 2. Ich atmet' einen linden Duft
  • 3. Liebst du um Schönheit
  • 4. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
  • 5. Um Mitternacht

Mahler's turn to the poetry of Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866) marks something of a turning point. Aside from some juvenilia, all his songs from 1888 onwards had been settings of folk poetry he found in the three-volume collection, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. With the turn to Rückert, Mahler's songs change tone, moving from third person descriptions and character types to a first person, lyrical voice.

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Das Lied von der Erde (1907-08)

  • 1. Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde
  • 2. Der Einsame im Herbst
  • 3. Von der Jugend
  • 4. Von der Schönheit
  • 5. Der Trunkene im Frühling
  • 6. Der Abschied

'My dear friend, when you have read the last part of the enclosed poem from Das Lied von der Erde, will you not expect the most wondrous things that music can offer? Something so heavenly, the like of which has never been heard of...For heaven's sake, what kind of music must that be?' Webern's letter to Berg, then in Vienna, went on to express incredulity that Berg could think of missing the forthcoming posthumous première of Mahler's work...

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