Mahler Symphony No. 3 is one of four individual performances produced and distributed by the New York Philharmonic and personally selected by Alan Gilbert for commercial release during his inaugural season with the Philharmonic. This recording is also available in hi-res, 96k/24-bit FLAC format.
Symphony No. 3 in D minor Gustav Mahler Gustav Mahler once wrote to a music critic who was trying to understand his Third Symphony: "I find it quite strange that people talking about nature only make mention of flowers, birds, and fresh air. But nobody seems to know Pan, the god Dionysos. Nature is able to show all those phenomena, both pleasant and horrible, and I wanted to put these things in a kind of evolutionary development in my work." Mahler’s Third Symphony is indeed a towering monument to nature, but it is not so entirely reassuring a work as its subject might lead one to expect. Nonetheless, this longest of Mahler’s symphonies is one of his most approachable, most relaxed, and least haunted by nightmares and apocalyptic visions. Because responsibilities on the podium completely occupied him during concert seasons, Mahler largely relegated his composing to the summer months, which he invariably spent as a near hermit at one bucolic site or another in the Austrian countryside. When he came to write his Third Symphony, during the summers of 1895 and 1896, he was escaping the concert-season rigors connected to his directorship of the orchestra and opera in Hamburg. He had assumed that post in 1891, following a peripatetic career that had already led him through increasingly prestigious music directorships at Bad Hall (his first professional appointment, which he obtained in 1880), Ljubljana, Olomouc, Kassel, Prague, Leipzig, and Budapest. Mahler’s preferred summer retreat at that time was the village of Steinbach on the Attersee. Initially this symphony was to be called The Happy Life, a Summer Night’s Dream (not after Shakespeare ... reviewer’s notes), and each of its six movements was to carry an individual title: “What the Forest Tells Me,” “What the Twilight Tells Me,” “What Love Tells Me,” “What the Flowers of the Meadow Tell Me,” “What the Cuckoo Tells Me,” and “What the Child Tells Me.” As Mahler worked on the symphony he revised his program and titles considerably. In 1896, just after completing the work, he enumerated the movements’ revised titles in a letter to his friend, the critic Max Marschalk: Part One: “Pan Awakes. Summer Marches In. (Pan’s Procession)” Part Two: “What the Flowers of the Meadow Tell Me” “What the Animals of the Forest Tell Me” “What Man Tells Me” “What the Angels Tell Me” “What Love Tells Me” The movements were separated into two uneven parts: the first movement (itself lasting just over a half hour, which is to say, a third of the symphony’s total running time) alone constituting the first part, and the remaining five movements, the second. That’s how things stood until the piece was finally premiered in 1902, when Mahler suddenly decided to dispense with the programmatic titles along with most of the rather detailed programmatic markings he had previously placed within the course of the movements. Mahler wrote in a letter to the conductor Josef Krug-Waldsee: Those titles were an attempt on my part to provide non-musicians with something to hold onto and with signposts for the intellectual or, better, the expressive content of the various movements and for their relationship to each other and to the whole. That it didn’t work (as, in fact, it never could work) and that it led only to misinterpretations of the most horrendous sort became painfully clear all too quickly. ... Those titles ... will surely say something to you after you know the score. You will draw intimations from them about how I imagined the steady intensification of feeling, from the indistinct, unyielding, elemental existences (of the forces of nature) to the tender formation of the human heart, which in turn points toward and reaches a region beyond itself (God). This last comment goes to the heart of the Third Symphony perhaps more than any other, but one has trouble overcoming the lingering suspicion that the earlier titles in fact have a great deal to do with what this piece is about. Instrumentation: four flutes (all doubling piccolo), four oboes (one doubling English horn), four clarinets (one doubling E-flat clarinet and one doubling bass clarinet) plus another E-flat clarinet, four bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), eight horns, four trumpets, post horn (offstage), four trombones, tuba, timpani (two players), orchestra bells, snare drum (plus two offstage), triangle, tambourine, bass drum with attached cymbal, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, rute, two harps, and strings, in addition to a mezzo-soprano soloist, women’s chorus, and boys’ chorus.