Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 9 on Symphony@7

Our series of  the symphonies of Gustav Mahler on Monday evenings continues this evening on Symphony at 7.  We are now halfway through this cycle presenting the nine completed symphonies in the order of the number of released recordings available.  At 101 releases, we have Mahler’s last completed symphony, No. 9 in D.

The Ninth Symphony was completed in 1910, and Mahler died the following year at the age of 50 without ever hearing it performed.  It is generally regarded as his swan song to life.  There had been considerable setbacks for Mahler the previous several years.  He had been diagnosed with an incurable heart condition, his beloved daughter had died, and he lost his job as director of the Vienna Court Opera.

As in his other symphonies, we hear the emotional turmoil and anguish that is such a strong feature of Mahler’s music, but there is something more as well.  In the Ninth Symphony, there is resignation and even acceptance of the inevitability of death.  In some performances, there a transforming and transcendent beauty in the long final movement that give the closing pages a kind of glowing optimism.  It is a loving farewell.  This is a different experience from the powerful Sixth Symphony, the Tragic, we heard last week.  There resistance and struggle was the hallmark, here, peace at last.

Earlier in the Ninth, there is struggle, to be sure.  It’s a purely instrumental work in four movements, but they are unusually arranged with two long outer slow movements and two faster inner movements.  The 1st movement is an extended conflict between life and death, the 2nd movement, an Austrian dance, a landler, distorted into an eerie dance of death, followed by a 3rd movement marked Rondo-Burlesque, contrasting bitterness and sweetness.  And finally, there’s the magnificent long slow movement scored for strings only.

I just hope there are no inadvertent interruptions, such as ringing cell phones as you’re listening to the final minutes of this one hour and twenty-five minute symphony, as was the case for the audience at that live concert performance in Avery Fischer Hall in New York City a while back.  It really would ruin the effect of one of the most sublime endings in all of music.

Join me for Symphony at 7 as we present Symphony No. 9 in D by Gustav Mahler, and tune in next Monday evening to see which symphony has the next highest number of recorded releases .