Today marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustav Mahler, one of the greatest composers of all time. I had the supreme pleasure last fall of hearing his Symphony No. 2, The Resurrection, in Boston Symphony Hall, conducted by James Levine, one of the world's leading Mahler interpreters.
If you've never listened to Mahler's music, you're cheating yourself out of one of life's greatest experiences.
Mahler wrote 10 symphonies (the last one unfinished) as well as songs and piano and string quartets, and operas. His œuvre was relatively small, since he had to earn a living mostly by conducting.
"...Mahler expressed the belief that "The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything." True to this belief, Mahler drew material from many sources into his songs and symphonic works: bird calls and cow-bells to evoke nature and the countryside, bugle fanfares, street melodies and country dances to summon the lost world of his childhood. Life's struggles are represented in contrasting moods: the yearning for fulfilment by soaring melodies and chromatic harmony, suffering and despair by discord, distortion and grotesquerie. Amid all this is Mahler's particular hallmark—the constant intrusion of banality and absurdity into moments of deep seriousness, typified in the second movement of the Fifth Symphony when a trivial popular tune suddenly cuts into a solemn funeral march. The trite melody soon changes its character, and in due course re-emerges as one of the majestic Brucknerian chorales which Mahler uses to signify hope and the resolution of conflict. " --Wikipedia
Peter Davis of the NYTimes writes about the period Mahler spent conducting at the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic near the end of his tragically short life.
My two favorite symphonies are his 2nd and 9th, but there is much to love in all of his music.
Here are 4 performers talking about the 2nd and why it is so beloved by musicians.
And here is the last movement of Mahler's Symphony #2:
"A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything." --Gustav Mahler