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Composer: Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911)

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LondonProm 11: Mahler Symphony of a Thousand

Mahler: Symphony no. 8 in E flat major "Symphony of a Thousand"
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Thomas Søndergård; Tamara Wilson; Camilla Nylund; Joélle Harvey; Christine Rice

VerbierBerg & Mahler

Berg & Mahler
Berg, Mahler
Verbier Festival Orchestra; Christoph Eschenbach; Ying Fang; Leonidas Kavakos

SalzburgVienna Philharmonic · Andris NelsonsOuverture spirituelle · Passion & Vienna Philharmonic

Zimmermann, Mahler
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Andris Nelsons; Håkan Hardenberger; Lucy Crowe; Bernarda Fink; Bavarian Radio Symphony Choir

SapporoPMF Gala Concert

Holst, Mozart, Bernstein, Mahler
PMF Orchestra; Valery Gergiev; Eugene Izotov; Denis Bouriakov

HiroshimaPMF Orchestra Concert in Hiroshima

Mozart, Bernstein, Mahler
PMF Orchestra; Valery Gergiev; Eugene Izotov; Denis Bouriakov
Latest reviewsSee more...

A phenomenally multi-layered Mahler 3 in San Francisco

Sasha Cooke © Dario Acosta
Michael Tilson Thomas, Sasha Cooke, and choristers from the Pacific Boychoir and San Francisco Chorus come together in a phenomenal performance of Mahler's all-encompassing Third Symphony. 
*****
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A sparkling season finale from PKF – Prague Philharmonia

Emmanuel Villaume © Milan Mošna
Tragedy turns to joy in an evening laden with expectations and emotion.
****1
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Simon Rattle's farewell Mahler 6 at the Philharmonie

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic © Monika Rittershaus
Rattle digs deep for a stunning farewell concert at the Philharmonie, but his Mahler's still reluctant to get its hands dirty
****1
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Magnificent 10th birthday: Amicus plays Strauss and Mahler

Anush Hovhannisyan © Vardan Aslanyan
Amicus chamber orchestra celebrated its NYOS roots by inviting 25 young players to join them for their powerful 10th Anniversary concert, conducted by Catherine Larsen-Maguire with Glasgow-trained soprano Anush Hovhannisyan.
****1
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Vocal wonder: Elīna Garanča's Mahler with the Vienna Phil

Elīna Garanča © Karina Schwarz | DG
...the perpetuum mobile character building to a raucously joyous finale that elicited genuine, generous applause.
***11
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Biography

The most striking thing about Mahler’s music is its sheer scale and ambition - and “strike” is the right word: Mahler’s music seldom shrinks from doing whatever it takes to make maximum impact. It’s evident from every stage in his compositional career: from his first major composition, das Klagende Lied, a cantata for full choir and two orchestras written when he was just twenty years old, to the third symphony with its forty minute first movement, which aspires to be a musical description of the whole of creation, to the eighth symphony, dubbed “Symphony of a Thousand” (much to Mahler’s chagrin) after Leopold Stokovsky conducted 1,068 performers at its première. And who else would attempt to cover the entire earth in a symphonic cantata for soprano, baritone and a giant orchestra, entitling it Das Lied von der Erde (the Song of the Earth)?

Mahler’s music polarises. If it connects with you, it does so with enormous power and intensity. The third symphony can indeed make you feel like you just took in all life and creation at a hundred-minute sitting. The fifth symphony opens with a funeral fanfare that leaves you shaking after just the first few bars, while the second movement’s helter skelter theme leaves you breathless and reeling. Mahler fans are amongst the most devoted set in the whole of classical music, with active societies around the world and thousands of pages dissecting his works in the minutest detail.

Mahler could also write with intimacy and contemplation. That same fifth symphony which opens so clangorously contains the adagietto for harp and strings, made famous by Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice, whose achingly long suspended chords quietly lead the listener through tragedy and meditation. The same intimacy can be heard in Kindertotenlieder, a song cycle that is vivid and quiet in its portrayal of a parent’s grief at the loss of a child: an eerie foretelling of the composer’s own grief when his daughter died of scarlet fever four years later.

Not everyone feels this way. Many viewed Mahler as “an excellent conductor who wrote excessively long symphonies”, and the Sunday Times of 1960 described the first movement of the third symphony as “an artistic monstrosity”. Mahler is often mercurial, mixing high drama and seriousness with a fondness for Austrian folk song and even the klezmer music of his Jewish youth: some listeners simply can’t cope with this. Even for the committed, appreciating his music demands patience, concentration and, preferably, repeated listenings. This is perhaps why he achieved far greater recognition after the widespread adoption of the long-playing record in the 1950s.

Whatever the views of him as a composer, Mahler was more or less universally acknowledged as a great conductor. He had a glittering career including positions at Vienna, Prague, Leipzig, Hamburg and Budapest, culminating in ten years as director of the Vienna State Opera. In the last years of his life, he received equal acclaim in the United States, where he conducted both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, earning what was at the time the highest ever fee paid to a musician.

Perhaps for this reason, he has inspired many great conductors, starting with his contemporary and friend Bruno Walter and continuing through Jascha Horenstein and Herbert von Karajan to Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle today.

Musically, Mahler forms a bridge from the romantic to the modern eras. He appeals to those who find the romantic form too rigid and stifling, but have difficulty in accepting the harsh atonality of much twentieth century music. His music liberally mixes orchestral and vocal forms and abandons much formal structure in its search for impact and expressivity, yet retains a base in conventional tonality that makes it easy on the ear for those raised in the romantic tradition. Love it or loathe it, a Mahler concert is a memorable experience.

David Karlin
21st December 2009

List of works
Blumine (flower piece)Das Lied von der ErdeDas Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth)Des Knaben WunderhornDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Ablösung im SommerDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Das irdische LebenDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Der Tamboursg'sellDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Des Antonius von Padua FischpredigtDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen WaldDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Lob des hohen VerstandesDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Nicht wiedersehen!Des Knaben Wunderhorn: RevelgeDes Knaben Wunderhorn: RheinlegendchenDes Knaben Wunderhorn: SelbstgefühlDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Starke Einbildungskraft (Strong Imagination)Des Knaben Wunderhorn: UrlichtDes Knaben Wunderhorn: Wo die schönen Trompeten blasenDes Knaben Wunderhorn: excerptsFrühlingsmorgen (Spring morning)KindertotenliederLieder eines fahrenden GesellenLieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem SchatzLieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Ging heut Morgen übers FeldLieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Ich hab'ein glühend MesserLieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit machtLieder und Gesänge: Erinnerung (Memory)Lieder: selectionPiano Quartet in A minorRückert-LiederRückert-Lieder: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommenRückert-Lieder: Liebst du um SchönheitRückert-Lieder: Um MitternachtSong of the EarthSymphony no. 1 in D major "Titan"Symphony no. 10 in F sharp majorSymphony no. 10 in F sharp major: AdagioSymphony no. 2 in C minor 'Resurrection'Symphony no. 2 in C minor 'Resurrection': Andante comodoSymphony no. 3 in D minorSymphony no. 4 in G majorSymphony no. 5 in C sharp minorSymphony no. 5 in C sharp minor: AdagiettoSymphony no. 6 in A minor "Tragic"Symphony no. 7Symphony no. 8 in E flat major "Symphony of a Thousand"Symphony no. 9 in D majorTotenfeier