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Listening Guides (9)

Mahler, Symphony no. 9 in D Major/D-flat Major

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Work History: Around 1903, Mahler began taking conducting trips—often in connection with performances of his own works—that resulted in absences from his post as director of the Court Opera in Vienna. The anti-Semitic press capitalized on these sabbaticals in order to stir up ill will against the composer; journalists similarly exploited any disagreements between Mahler and his singers. By the spring of 1907, these truancies and opera house "scandals" had severely strained the composer's relationship with his employers, and Mahler secured a position with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Prince Alfred of Montenuovo (1854-1927), who oversaw the Hapsburg court…

Mahler, Symphony no. 8 in E-flat Major

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Work History: Just think: within the last three weeks I have completed the sketch of a completely new symphony, something that makes all my other works seem like preliminary efforts. I have never composed anything like this. In content and style it is altogether different from all my other works, and it is surely my greatest accomplishment. I have probably never worked under such compulsion; it was a vision that struck me like lightning. The whole immediately stood before my eyes; I had only to write it down, as if it had been dictated to me . . . .…

Mahler, Symphony no. 7 in E Minor / C Major

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Work History: During the summer of 1904, Mahler spent his usual "composing vacation" in Maiernigg on the shore of the Wörthersee with his wife Alma and two young daughters. These months proved particularly fruitful, seeing the completion of both Symphony no. 6 and the song cycle Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). The composer also penned two movements that he designated as "Nachtmusik" ("Night music"), and by the next year, Mahler had decided to incorporate them into another symphony. Unfortunately, the 1905 summer holiday began with one of the worst periods of writer's block that Mahler ever endured. After…

Mahler, Symphony no. 6

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Mahler, Symphony no. 6 in A Minor Work History: No other work came so directly from [Mahler's] heart as this one. We both cried . . . . So deeply did we feel this music and what it foretold us. The Sixth is his most personal work and is also a prophetic one. In Kindertotenlieder and in the Sixth, he musically anticipated his life. He, too, received three blows from fate, and the last felled him. But at the time, he was cheerful and conscious of the greatness of his work; he was a tree in full leaf and flower.…

Mahler, Symphony no. 5

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Mahler, Symphony no. 5 in C-Sharp Minor / D Major Online lessons about Mahler and his symphonies will be posted throughout the season. If you would like to be notified when they become available, sign up here. Work History: On 24 February 1901, the onset of severe hematochezia caused Gustav Mahler to lose a significant amount of blood. Recovery from this incident required two operations (the second intended to prevent a relapse), as well as several weeks of hospice care at a sanitarium. The seriousness of the hemorrhage—which the composer described on the following morning as a near-death experience—deeply impacted his…

Mahler, Symphony no. 4

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Mahler, Symphony no. 4 in G Major Online lessons about Mahler and his symphonies will be posted throughout the season. If you would like to be notified when they become available, sign up here. Work History: During October of 1900, Mahler made a public statement criticizing the practice of adding descriptive titles and other programmatic associations to instrumental music. Although this stance contradicted both the working methods he had previously employed—not to mention the movement titles that he had circulated in connection with several performances of his first three symphonies—the composer now withdrew the programs of his earlier pieces. Furthermore, he…

Mahler, Symphony no. 3

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Mahler, Symphony no. 3 in D Minor Online lessons about Mahler and his symphonies will be posted throughout the season. If you would like to be notified when they become available, sign up here. Work History: In terms of its metaphysical "content," Symphony no. 3 in D Minor has a complicated history, even though Mahler composed the piece in a relatively short amount of time. He commenced work with the second movement during June of 1895, and he had finished this movement, together with the subsequent ones, by the end of that summer. Yet despite this seemingly quick pace, the…

Mahler's Symphony No. 2

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Mahler, Symphony no. 2 in C Minor ("Resurrection") Online lessons about Mahler and his symphonies will be posted throughout the season. If you would like to be notified when they become available, sign up here. Work History: Mahler composed his Second Symphony over a period of seven years. He began the first and second movements in January of 1888, around the same time that Die drei Pintos—a comic opera left unfinished at death by Carl Maria von Weber that Mahler had taken on the task of completing in 1887—premiered in Leipzig. Although his work on the second movement Andante yielded only…

Mahler's Symphony No. 1

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Mahler, Symphony no. 1 in D Major Online lessons about Mahler and his symphonies will be posted throughout the season. If you would like to be notified when they become available, sign up here. Work History: Gustav Mahler finished his first symphony in March of 1888 while employed as the second conductor at the Stadttheater (City Theater) in Leipzig. Although he may have started work on the piece as early as 1884, evidence suggests that the bulk of composition took place within the six weeks immediately prior to the symphony's completion. A mere two months later, the composer departed from the…