Mahler's Symphony No. 9
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“This is a most beautiful Mahler Ninth. Tilson Thomas immediately establishes a profoundly rapt atmosphere” (Gramophone). Wallow in the velvety richness of one of the world's most celebrated Mahler symphonies when the San Francisco Symphony digs into the riveting soundscape of Mahler’s last completed symphony—the deeply introspective, transcendent Ninth.
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At A Glance
Symphony No. 9 1910 | 90 mins
The Ninth Symphony is the last score Mahler completed. Some dark part of him would have wanted it so, for he entertained a deep-rooted superstition about symphonies and the number nine (see Beethoven and Bruckner). But for all his fascination with death, Mahler always chose life. Within days of completing the Ninth Symphony, he plunged into composing a Tenth. He had made significant progress when he died seven weeks before his fifty-first birthday.
Mahler wrote the Ninth Symphony in the whirlwind that was the last chapter of his life. He had resigned the artistic directorship of the Vienna Court Opera, signed a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, lost his four-and-a-half-year-old daughter Maria to scarlet fever and diphtheria, and become acutely aware of his own mortality when he received the diagnosis of a congenital heart condition.
It is too easy to view the Ninth Symphony as the composer’s farewell. The gestures of dissolution and parting with which this work ends are of an annihilating poignancy matched not even by Mahler himself; nonetheless, it is well to understand that Mahler cannot have meant this as an actual farewell. To insist on reading it thus is to indulge in a sentimentality that weakens the stab of this music.
Mahler begins with a very large movement whose basic tempo is semi-slow but which tends to spill over into a faster pace. The second movement returns us forcefully to earth. Mahler always loved the vernacular, and here is one of his fantastical explorations of dance music, ranging from clumsy and coarse to lilting and sentimental. The third movement Burleske is music of violent urgency while the finale is a slow movement whose weight and span approach those of the first movement. Grief gives way to peace, music and silence become one. Read More
Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor at the San Francisco Symphony.