30 June 2011

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No.9

Oh Mahler symphonies. It's a bit embarrassing that there's been no talk of Gustav Mahler on this blog yet, as he was one of the greats! But, yesterday I found out that I have a ticket to see Gergiev conduct his 9th symphony in Rotterdam in september and I'm really very excited. So, here it is:

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No.9: III Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig, part 1.

Symphony No.9: III Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig, part 2 and the beginning of IV Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend.
Performed by the New York Philharmonic, cond. Leonard Bernstein

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was an Austrian composer. During his lifetime he was also quite a popular conductor and his creative output is therefore no as exhaustive as you might think. He wrote 9 complete symphonies (he died before he was able to finish his 10th), a whole bunch of songs (my favourites are the Kindertotenlieder, so beautiful, I'll definitely post about them some other time) and a handful of chamber music pieces. Despite all this he is still one of the most performed composers in the 20th and 21st centuries, mostly because of the incredible popularity of his symphonies. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory, in 1897 became the director of the Vienna Court Opera, and he also held positions at the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic, among others.

The 9th symphony was written in 1908-1909, and consists of four movements. Mahler died in May 1911 and unfortunately never heard this symphony performed. It is often said that the last movement of the symphony, Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend (very slow and reserved) is actually a sort of goodbye, it sounds like an elegy, and as wikipedia says "The work's ending is usually interpreted as being a self-conscious farewell to the world", but this isn't the last work he wrote, he still worked on his 10th symphony in 1910. Still, it's undoubtedly a beautiful and depressing finale to an amazing symphony. Mahler wrote incredible melodies and for some reason his use of massive orchestras never seemed over-the-top, just necessary.

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