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WQXR Features

Mahler's Second: The Story within the Symphony

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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.