Mahler's Second: The Story within the Symphony

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2 is the first composition that brought the Austrian composer fame, an all-embracing work that uses chorus and a grand narrative about the beauty of afterlife and resurrection.

The composer wrote three short sets of program notes for the "Resurrection" Symphony shortly after its premiere in 1895. The first was for his friend and confidante Natalie Bauer-Lechner in January 1896. He wrote another for the critic Max Marschalk a few months later, in March 1896. And a third was written for a performance in Dresden in December 1901, at the request of the King of Saxony. All three sets of program notes, although using slightly different words, describe basically the same ideas. 

Mahler later withdrew all three, but what do these three programs tell us about the story within the music? In this feature we place these program notes against the music to see if we can gain a greater understanding of the ideas in Mahler’s mind as he wrote the work.

Produced with kind assistance from Gilbert Kaplan.

Produced by:

Aaron Cohen


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Comments [4]

Vladimir from Granada Hills, CA from Granada Hills, California

My favorite Symphonie of them all. Grandissimo!

Mar. 20 2013 11:52 PM

I agree with Mahler's final action in pulling the program notes as I don't think they add anything I didn't already know!

Any orchestral work with words has an implied "program" which clarifies the purely instrumental sections as well (And many sections are based on his own songs.). But in the last movement with the Dies Irae quote in the march section, it tells us clearly that it's about judgment day. The bird sounds which to me represents the last sounds heard on earth, I didn't need Mahler's additional description of it as the "death bird", whatever that is.

Other Mahler Symphonies (3rd, 4th and 8th especially) I think are more mature expressions of similar scenarios which end in some version of heaven. the 3rd has its brief "bimm bamm" vocal movement with it's celestial harmonies followed by the serene last movement ("What Love Tells Me"), the 4th has a child's description of heaven and the 8th, of course, has Goethe's scene in heaven from Faust.

Feb. 25 2012 08:51 PM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

Thank you for this presentation. Listening to this is a delight for all who care to know this work of wonders.

Feb. 21 2012 10:39 AM
Hyperion Knight from New York

Absolutely loved this! Please do something with similar with the rest of Mahler's Symphonies.

Feb. 20 2012 09:07 AM

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