About this Recording
8.550525-26 - MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 3 / Symphony No. 10: Adagio (Podles, Cracow Philharmonic Chorus, Cracow Boys' Choir, Polish National Radio Symphony, Wit)

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Symphonies Nos. 3 and 10


The great Viennese symphonic tradition found worthy successors in two composers of very different temperament and background, Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler. The latter, indeed, extended the form in an extraordinary way that has had a far-reaching effect on the course of Western music, among other things creating a symphonic form that included in it the tradition of song in a varied tapestry of sound particularly apt for a twentieth century that has found in Mahler’s work a reflection of its own joys and sorrows.

Mahler was to express succinctly enough his position in the world. He saw himself as three times homeless, a native of Bohemia in Austria, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew throughout the whole world. The second child, and the first of fourteen to survive, he was born in Kaliste in Bohemia in 1860. Soon after his birth his family moved to Jihlava, where his father, by his own very considerable efforts, had raised himself from being little more than a pedlar, with a desire for intellectual self-improvement, to the running of a tavern and distillery. Mahler’s musical abilities were developed first in Jihlava, before a brief period of schooling in Prague, which ended unhappily, and a later course of study at the Conservatory in Vienna, where he turned from the piano to composition and, as a necessary corollary, to conducting.

It was as a conductor that Mahler made his career, at first at a series of provincial opera-houses, and later in the position of the highest distinction of all, when, in 1897, he became Kapellmeister of the Vienna Court Opera, two months after his baptism as a Catholic, a necessary preliminary. In Vienna he effected significant reforms in the Court Opera, but made enough enemies, particularly represented in the anti-semitic press, to lead to his resignation in 1907, followed by a final period conducting in America and elsewhere, in a vain attempt to secure his family’s future before his own imminent death, which took place on 18th May, 1911.

Although his career as a conductor involved him most closely with opera, Mahler attempted little composition in this field. His work as a composer consists chiefly of his songs and of his ten symphonies, the last left unfinished at his death, and his monumental setting of poems from the Chinese in Das Lied von der Erde. The greater part of his music was written during summer holidays away from the business of the opera-house.

Mahler began work on his third symphony in the summer of 1893 and completed it in the summer-house, named the Schnützelputz-Häusel after lines in Des Knaben Wunderhorn, of the house he rented at Steinbach am Attersee in the summer of 1896. The first complete performance took place six years later, in June 1902 at Krefeld. Mahler himself was unusually explicit about the symphony, which was to contain all nature and expound deeply mysterious matters, as he w rote in 1896 to the singer Anna von Mildenburg. To Natalie Bauer-Lechner he explained the first movement, originally entitled Der Sommer marschiert ein (Summer marches in) as more than this, now preceded by the procession of Panand his rough satyrs, Pan erwacht (Panawakes). The second movement had the title Was mir die Blumen in der Wiese erzählen (What the flowers in the meadow tell me), the third Was mir die Tiere im Walde erzählen (What the animals in the forest tell me), the fourth Was mir die Nacht erzählt (What the night teIls me), the fifth > Was mir die Morgenglocken erzählen (What the morning-bells tell me) and the sixth Was mir die Liebe erzählt (What love tells me). He had earlier told Natalie Bauer-Lechner of a seventh movement, to be called Was das Kind mir erzählt (What the child tells me). The symphony is scored for a large orchestra, with four flutes, all doubling on piccolo, four oboes, the fourth doubling on cor anglais, three A or B flat clarinets, including bass clarinet, two E flat clarinets, three bassoons and a double bassoon, eight French horns, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, timpani, two glockenspiels, tambourine, tam-tam, triangle, suspended cymbal, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, switch, two harps and strings, in addition to an alto soloist, a women’ s choir and a boys’ choir, a flugelhorn and side drums off-stage and a set of tuned bells. The work is in two parts. Part I includes the first movement only and Part II the remaining movements. >

The first movement, marked kräftig (vigoraus) and entschieden (decisive), starts with a march theme played by all eight French horns, described by Mahler as Weckruf (Reveille). Soon three muted trumpets introduce an element of conflict, as summer fights to overcome winter. An oboe melody suggests the start of summer, followed by a solo violin, and final victory is inevitable, as summer conquers, in an extended movement of complexity and variety, a success celebrated by Pan and Dionysus. The second part starts with a Tempo di Menuetto, markedgrazioso. An oboe is accompanied by the plucked strings of viola, cello and double bass. A livelier melody is introduced by a flute and the two themes, in varied form, provide the thematic substance of the movement. This idyllic music, chosen for separate performance by eminent contemporary conductors, in spite of Mahler’s objections, is followed by a movement that brings in the birds and beasts of the forest. The sound of a post-horn is heard, announcing the approach of a stage-coach from the distance. A rougher mood intervenes in a passage marked Grob! (coarse). The post-horn (a flugelhorn) is heard once more and earlier themes and fragments of themes re-appear, as the movement proceeds to a final dynamic climax.

The last three movements of the symphony were to be played without a break. The fourth movement, slow and mysterious, is a setting of words of the Mitternachtslied taken from Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra, a work in which Mahler had shown considerable interest, although he preferred to replace Nietzsche’s Superman with Man, the subject of Was mir die Nacht erzählt (What night tells me). The movement is at the still heart of the symphony. It is followed by the message of the angels in the morning-be1ls of the fifth movement, as the boys’ choir, accompanied by the bells, sings an accompaniment to the simple song of the three angels, sung by the women’s choir. Complex in its subtle scoring, this is, nevertheless music that reflects the naivety of the words from Brentano and von Amim’s influential collection of traditional poems Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The symphony ends with a tranquil Adagio, for which Mahler claimed that he might almost have used the explanatory title "What God tells me". The movement opens with the strings, leading on to an appropriately affirmative conclusion, as what he described to Bauer-Lechner as the Ixion-wheel of appearances is resolved into quiet being.

Mahler sketched his Tenth Symphony during the summer of 1910 at Toblach and his work on the symphony reached a degree of completion, although none of it was actually completed in full orchestration or would have represented the composer’s final version, had he lived. The movement nearest to completion was the first, although even this would perhaps have been extensively revised before performance. The English musicologist Deryck Cooke has made what he has modestly described as a "practical performing version" of Mahler’s sketches and this has been accepted by many as the nearest approximation possible to the work as Mahler conceived it. The existing first movement, in the key of F sharp major, starts with the violas in the key of B minor in an Andante introduction to the Adagio, where a violin theme, marked piano aber sehr warm, is heard over string and trombone accompaniment. The viola theme and the theme of the Adagio dominate much of the movement, as the music moves forward to a great climax. After this there is an extended coda, with oblique references to earlier thematic material and a conclusion in a mood of quiet resignation.

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