The first of two Mahler concerts will be with No. 9, a masterpiece and a mature declaration of love for life and nature – hear the composer’s heart beat!
Conductor is Shao-Chia Lü, who previously conducted Parsifal and Katja Kabanova at The Göteborg Opera.
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major
The number 9 has long been regarded as a mystical number when it comes to symphonies. For many well-known composers, the ninth symphony was their last symphony. Knowing this, Gustav Mahler had an almost pathological fear of creating a ninth symphony, to the extent that he called the big production following his eighth symphony Das Lied von der Erde rather than Symphony No. 9 – even though the work is, strictly speaking, a vocal symphony. When he finally composed his ninth symphony (1908-1909) death had been closing in on him for quite some time. He was forced to resign as head of the Vienna Opera after having been diagnosed with a serious heart defect. Some researchers even claim that the irregular beating of his pulse can clearly be heard in the gloomy introduction to the symphony. Mahler also experienced the death of people close to him during the years he was writing Symphony No. 9 – at the funeral of his eldest daughter his mother-in-law died suddenly of a heart attack. Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 is therefore characterised by death, a theme which reverberates throughout the entire symphony. That is only one of the many similarities with Tchaikovsky’s last symphony Pathétique. The two symphonies also take similar forms. Of the four movements both Tchaikovsky and Mahler chose to let the first and last be slow, whereas the middle movements are more exhilarating – an unusual move for a composer.
The first movement, composed following a rather loose sonata form, has been seen as portraying the conflict between life and death, but also as a fight between tonal stability and instability – Mahler was a protagonist for the new atonal movement but still insisted on the importance of tradition. The second movement is, as often seen in Mahler’s works, a ländler (Tyrolean folk dance). But in his ninth symphony the ländler is distorted and accompanied by the instructions “something awkward and very rough”, giving it more of the feeling of a death dance. In the rondo of the third movement Mahler plays with the contrapuntal forms of the baroque era in an almost burlesque manner. The dedication “To my brothers in Apollo” on the score has been interpreted as signifying that this movement is a sarcastic reply to critics of Mahler’s music. Just like Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, Mahler ends his ninth symphony with a heavenly and beautifully slow final movement. It becomes an elegy, characterised by a score dominated by string instruments and some impassioned climaxes. But instead of a grandiose finale it dies off in a drawn out extinction – as if a goodbye to life itself.
Mahler was correct to be worried, as in fact he never got to hear his ninth symphony performed. However, he had started a tenth symphony, which remains incomplete containing only one movement. His Symphony No. 9 was first performed in 1912 by Wiener Philharmoniker (The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), conducted by Bruno Walter. Gustav Mahler had passed away the previous year. One of the great Mahler conductors, Herbert von Karajan, and his Berlin Philharmonics created a legendary recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 at Deutsche Grammophon in 1980. Karajan described the symphony in the following words “It is music coming from another world, it is coming from eternity”.