Listen to a Complete Mahler Symphony Cycle on Classical 101

Gustav Mahler in 1892, four years after the completion of his First Symphony.(Photo: Leonhard Berlin-Bieber)
Gustav Mahler in 1892, four years after the completion of his First Symphony.(Photo: Leonhard Berlin-Bieber)

Beginning this evening on Symphony at 7, and over the next week and a half, Classical 101 will be presenting all ten symphonies of Gustav Mahler, the late-Romantic Austrian-Bohemian composer who died on this date (May 18) in 1911.

Mahler expanded the boundaries of the symphony in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries beyond what had been heard before in complexity, depth and length. The shortest of them, No. 1 in D, runs almost an hour, and the longest, No. 3 in d, (airing Friday evening) can take up to an hour and forty five minutes.

What Beethoven was to the symphony in the early 19th Century, Mahler was to the beginning of the 20th.

In his own day, Mahler was more appreciated as a conductor than as a composer, although his Symphony of a Thousand (No. 8), was a great success at its premiere in 1910.

Mahler famously said, “my day will come,” and it certainly has.

Performances of his symphonies are frequently sold out these days when orchestras sometimes have difficultly filling even half of a concert hall.

In the 1960′s, when the Mahler revival really got going in a big way, Leonard Bernstein said that Mahler’s time had indeed come because his music expressed the anxiety of our time in a way that profoundly moved people, and also that he expressed the spiritual longing for a greater truth rising above the conflict of the day.

In Mahler’s symphonies the wild swings of mood, elation, anxiety, joy, sadness, and sometimes jarring juxtapositions of sounds, all compete for our attention, and sometimes, sometimes a transcendent beauty comes through that’s hard to describe in words and it carries us to a kind of artistic heaven.

Yes, I know that’s saying a lot, but there is a lot in this music if you can give these large symphonies your time and attention.

This evening starting at 7 p.m. I’ll be playing the Symphony No. 1 in D, which Mahler originally called, “The Titan.” Here’s a sample:

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