℗ © 2013 Countdown Media GmbH
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Leopold Ludwig, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
From the included liner notes:
“The symphony for me means creating a whole world, utilizing all available means” said Mahler. Of his Eighth Symphony (“Symphony of a Thousand”) he wrote: “Imagine the entire universe bursting into song!” Mahler’s symphonies are not program music. These are the symphonic outpourings of a soul full of yearning, filled with the sounds of nature and inhabited by celestial and infernal spirits.
Mahler’s symphonies dispense entirely with conventional form. Beethoven assigned most of his ideas to the dramatic and weighty first movements, and in later symphonies – notably the Fifth and Ninth – the last movements, previously a mere “happy ending”, become the apotheosis of symphonic creation. All of Mahler’s symphonies reach their climax in the final movements. In them, thematic developments unite, clarifying preceding movements, resolving all their problems and conflicts. In the finale of the Ninth Symphony, the adagio becomes a touching farewell. The movements of this symphony, rather than opposing and reacting to the first movement, follow its lead and unite into a whole. Mahler is not limited as to the number of movements: his symphonies consist of four, five and even six movements, and only the First bears a structural resemblance to Beethoven. Nearly every Mahler symphony is a program unto itself and tolerates no other work alongside it. Mahler’s symphonic world runs the gamut of human emotion. It alternates between idyllic pastoral scenes and the fearsome spectre of death and oblivion between serene introspection and savage lust.
In spite of their imposing architecture, Mahler’s symphonies are based upon one of the smallest musical forms: that of the song. Throughout his life, Mahler was closely identified with the song form, and his vocal works at any given time are allied with his symphonic works. Thus we find echoes of Songs of a Wayfarer (1883) in the First Symphony. The following three symphonies reflect the spirit of the Youth’s Magic Horn (1888). The next group of symphonies, 5 through 7, are influenced by the Ruckert songs (1902). The Eighth Symphony is choral: the ancient hymn Veni Creator Spiritus and the closing scene from Goethe’s “Faust”. The Ninth Symphony is imbued with the feeling of ancient Chinese poetry. In the early symphonies, songs still appear undisguised. In the middle ones, they are merely hinted at. The Eighth Symphony is as much a choral work as it is a symphony and is thus unique, while the Ninth has the least connection of all the symphonies with respect to the song.
The simple song element in a complex symphonic structure like Mahler’s is easily accounted for. Mahler was an extremely successful and busy conductor, whose season was filled with opera and concert engagements. Thus he was able to compose only during the summer, in pleasant natural surroundings, whence he drew his inspiration. But the simple folk songs and their symphonic metamorphoses point to only one of the many facets of Mahler’s contradictory creative genius. The man’s basic simplicity and his faultless craftsmanship, his spirit of great intimacy and his use of mammoth musical forces, the highly cultivated and urbane man’s yearning for the purity and innocence of childhood, the clash of lofty ideals and the hollow mockery of fate – these are paradoxes as deep as Mahler himself; enigmatic conflict between his Jewish identity and allegiance to his country, faith and art and the ideals of freedom and peace. The orchestra provides all the colors needed to portray this split and many sided world. Rhythms and dynamics are intense in Mahler’s work, and his harmonies have never been surpassed in richness. And to this rich palette, the human voice is added – to further enhance the artist’s message.