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Symphony No. 9 (Mahler)

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Title: Symphony No. 9 (Mahler)  
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Subject: Colorado MahlerFest, Bruno Walter, Gustav Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, Grammy Award for Best Classical Album
Collection: 1909 Compositions, Symphonies by Gustav Mahler
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Symphony No. 9 (Mahler)

The Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler was written between 1908 and 1909, and was the last symphony that he completed. It is actually his tenth symphonic work, as Mahler gave no ordinal number (nor the title 'symphony') to his symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde. Though the work is often described as being in the key of D major, the tonal scheme of the symphony as a whole is progressive. While the opening movement is in D major, the finale is in D-flat major.[1]

A typical performance takes about 75–90 minutes.


  • Instrumentation 1
  • Movements 2
    • I. Andante comodo 2.1
    • II. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb 2.2
    • III. Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig 2.3
    • IV. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend 2.4
  • Premieres 3
  • Arrangement for chamber ensemble 4
  • Views on and quotes about the Symphony 5
  • Recordings (in chronological order) 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The symphony is scored for the following orchestra:


The symphony is in four movements:

  1. Andante comodo (D major)
  2. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb (C major)
  3. Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig (A minor)
  4. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend (D-flat major)

Although the symphony has the traditional number of movements, it is unusual in that the first and last are slow rather than fast. As is often the case with Mahler, one of the middle movements is a ländler.

I. Andante comodo

The first movement embraces a loose sonata form. The key areas provide a continuation of the tonal juxtaposition displayed in earlier works (notably the Sixth and Seventh symphonies). The work opens with a hesitant, syncopated rhythmic motif (which Leonard Bernstein suggested is a depiction of Mahler's irregular heartbeat[2]), which is heard throughout the movement.

 \relative c { \clef bass \key d \major \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 a4.->\pp^"Cello" a8 r a4.\p->^"Horn" }

The brief introduction also presents two other ideas: a three-note motif announced by the harp that provides much of the musical basis for the rest of the movement,

 \relative c { \clef bass \key d \major \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 fis,4-> a-> r b-> | a-> }

and a muted horn fanfare that is also heard later.

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key d \minor \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 << { c4. b8-> bes2->~ | bes4~ \times 2/3 { bes8 a gis } bes8[ r16 a] gis4~ | gis8 } \\ { 1~\sf | 8 r \times 2/3 { d8 cis c } \times 2/3 { d cis c } 4~ | 8 } >> }

In the development, it is heard in the horns and clarinets in Beethoven's original form, with a third descending into a fifth. At the height of the development, the trombones and tuba announce the rhythmic "heartbeat" motif, marked within the score "Mit höchster Gewalt" (with greatest force). This has been interpreted as a sudden intrusion of "death in the midst of life," and it leads into a solemn funeral march, marked "Wie ein Kondukt" (like a procession), on a timpani ostinato of the harp's three-note motif. Low bells are heard here for the first and only time in the symphony, accompanying the timpani in the three-note motif. Near the end of the movement is a remarkable example of Mahler's linear polyphony, in which piccolo, flute, oboe, and solo violin imitate bird-calls. Alban Berg asserted that this section was a "vision of the hereafter."[3] English conductor Sir Roger Norrington pointed out in his interview with fellow conductor Charles Hazlewood that was broadcast on BBC on 25 July 2011 prior to his performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, that Mahler quoted five times Johann Strauss Jr.'s waltz for the opening ball of Musikverein in Vienna, titled "Freut euch des Lebens" (1870), or "Enjoy Life". Mahler studied at Musikverein five years after it was built, and Norrington asserted that Mahler associated the waltz with his youth.

II. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb

 \relative c { \clef bass \key c \major \time 3/4 \partial 4*1 c16-.\p d-. e-. f-. | g8-. r g-. r c,16-. d-. e-. f-. | g8-. r g-. r \clef treble  r | \grace { e16[( f]) } 4(\sf 8) r  r | \grace { d16([ e)] } 4(\sf 8) r  r }

The second movement is a series of dances, and opens with a rustic Ländler, which becomes distorted to the point that it no longer resembles a dance. The movement contains shades of the second movement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony, in the distortion of a traditional dance into a bitter and sarcastic one. Traditional chord sequences are altered into near-unrecognizable variations, turning the rustic yet gradually decaying C major introductory Ländler into a vicious whole-tone waltz, saturated with chromaticism and frenetic rhythms. Strewn amidst these sarcastic dances is a slower and calmer Ländler which reintroduces the "sighing" motif from the first movement.

 \relative c' { \clef treble \key f \major \time 3/4 \partial 4*1 c8(-> a') \bar "||" 4->( 2) | 4->( 2) }

The movement ends with a cheeky pianissimo nod from the piccolo and contrabassoon.

III. Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig

The third movement, in the form of a rondo, displays the final maturation of Mahler's contrapuntal skills. It opens with a dissonant theme in the trumpet which is treated in the form of a double fugue.

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \time 2/2 \partial 4*1 b8\f cis | g2. }

The following five-note motif introduced by strings in unison recalls the second movement of his Fifth Symphony.

\relative c { \clef bass \time 2/2 \partial 4*1 cis8\f dis | e dis cis4 }

There are two similar fugues in the movement, of which the final is unique in that it presents the subject in subsequent fifths instead of the fifth and the octave as most fugues do. The violent contrapuntal music is leads twice by a sarcastic parody of Viennese popular music at the time, such as that of Franz Lehár. The texture is interrupted about halfway through by a slower serene section, with a theme based on material from earlier in the movement but with a completely different character. The theme is based on a cantus-firmus-like idea, and features a turn which Mahler later uses in the Adagio finale to great expressive effect.

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \time 2/2 fis1\p g4 fis e fis d2 a a' }

This surreal image is rudely interrupted by a crass statement of the theme in the clarinets. This leads into a reprise of the opening music, and an accelerando to the end. The addition of Burleske (a parody with imitations) to the title of the movement refers to the mixture of dissonance with Baroque counterpoint. Although the term "Burlesque" means "humorous", the actual "humor" of the movement is relatively small compared to the overall field of manic violence. The autograph score is marked "to my brothers in Apollo" and the movement may be intended as a sarcastic response to the critics of his music at the time.

IV. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend

The final movement, marked zurückhaltend ("very slowly and held back"; literally, "reservedly"), opens with only strings. Commentators[4] have noted the similarity of the opening theme in particular to the hymn tune Eventide (familiarly sung as Abide with Me).

 \relative c' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key des \major f\p f8. ees16 des4.( c8) | bes( ges') f ees des4( aes) }

But most importantly it incorporates a direct quote from the Rondo-Burleske's middle section. Here it becomes an elegy. After several impassioned climaxes the movement becomes increasingly fragmented and the coda ends quietly. On the closing pages, Mahler quotes the first violins from his own Kindertotenlieder: The day is fine on yonder heights.

 \relative c''' { \clef treble \key des \major \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 ges\ppp( f c' bes) | aes2~ aes8( ges d ees) | bes'( aes e f) c'2~ | c4( bes f ges) | ees'1 }

The last note is marked ersterbend ("dying away"). The last two pages last for six minutes, an unprecedented amount of time for so few notes. Leonard Bernstein speculated at the end of his 5th Norton lecture that the entire movement is symbolically prophesying three kinds of death: Mahler's own impending death, the death of tonality, and the death of "Faustian" culture in all the arts.

Mahler died in May 1911, without ever hearing his Ninth Symphony performed. The work's ending is usually interpreted as his conscious farewell to the world,[5] as it was composed following the death of his beloved daughter Maria Anna in 1907 and the diagnosis of his fatal heart disease. However, this notion is disputed inasmuch as Mahler felt that he was in good health at the time of the composition of the 9th Symphony; he had had a very successful season (1909–10) as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and, before that, the Metropolitan Opera (New York). In his last letters, Mahler indicated that he was looking forward to an extensive tour with the orchestra for the 1910–11 season.[6] Moreover, Mahler worked on his unfinished Tenth Symphony until his death from endocarditis in May 1911.


The work was premiered on 26 June 1912, at the Vienna Festival by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter. It was first published in the same year by Universal Edition.

Arrangement for chamber ensemble

In 2012, ensemble mini commissioned composer/arranger Klaus Simon to transcribe the symphony for a chamber ensemble of 16 musicians, the premiere of which was performed at Berliner Philharmonie on 28 March 2012 with conductor, Joolz Gale. It is also published by Universal Edition.

Views on and quotes about the Symphony

The enjoyment of Mahler's Ninth Symphony prompted the essayist Lewis Thomas to write the title essay in his Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony.[7]

Many Mahler interpreters have been moved to speak with similar profundity about the work:

  • It expresses an extraordinary love of the earth, for Nature. – Alban Berg[8]
  • It is music coming from another world, it is coming from eternity. – Herbert von Karajan[9]
  • It is terrifying, and paralyzing, as the strands of sound disintegrate ... in ceasing, we lose it all. But in letting go, we have gained everything. – Leonard Bernstein[10]
  • I believe it to be not only his last but also his greatest achievement. – Otto Klemperer
  • [Mahler's] Ninth is most strange. In it, the author hardly speaks as an individual any longer. It almost seems as though this work must have a concealed author who used Mahler merely as his spokesman, as his mouthpiece. This symphony is no longer couched in the personal tone. It consists, so to speak, of objective, almost passionless [fast leidenschaftslose] statements of a beauty which becomes perceptible only to one who can dispense with animal warmth [animalische Wärme] and feels at home in spiritual coolness [geistiger Kühle]. – Arnold Schoenberg

Less favourable views include:

  • Someday, some real friends of Mahler's will ... take a pruning knife and reduce his works to the length that they would have been if the composer had not stretched them out of shape; and then the great Mahler war will be over ... The Ninth Symphony would last about twenty minutes. – Deems Taylor[11]

Recordings (in chronological order)

The Ninth Symphony has been recorded over a hundred times for commercial release on 78-rpm discs, LP, CD, or DVD. An incomplete list includes:

See also


  1. ^ 'Gustav Mahler', in New Grove, Macmillan, 1980
  2. ^ "Program Notes- Mahler Symphony No.9 in D Major" (PDF). Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 
  3. ^ Constantin Floros, GUSTAV MAHLER The Symphonies(2000)
  4. ^ Mitchell, Donald (2002) The Mahler Companion OUP
  5. ^ Leonard Bernstein conducts and comments Mahler's Ninth Symphony
  6. ^ Henry de La Grange, Gustav Mahler, Vol. 4 - Oxford University Press, 2008
  7. ^ Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth SymphonyLewis Thomas:
  8. ^ Quoted in the liner notes to Mahler: Symphony No. 9, Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan
  9. ^ Quoted in Herbert von Karajan: A Life in Music by Richard Osborne
  10. ^ The Unanswered Question by Leonard Bernstein
  11. ^ Chord and Discord, February 1932, p. 23
  12. ^ Published by ACCENTUS Music: No. ACC20214

External links

  • Extensive history and analysis by renowned Mahler scholar Henry-Louis de La Grange at the Wayback Machine (archived June 12, 2008)
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