GUSTAV MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 9

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The Ninth is Mahler's last completed symphony and is considered to be one of his "two greatest works," (the other being the sublime song cycle Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), his symphonic work for voice and orchestra). Like every one of Mahler's symphonies, if not most all his works, it is a grand musical exposition of his innermost conflicts, of the tensions arising from a profound fear of death and a genuine yearning for the joys of life. It is perhaps the most eloquent, purely orchestral expression of his lifetime obsession with death.

And there is a reason. In 1907 Mahler was told by his doctor that he had a fatal heart disease - a devastating death sentence for a man who was still then in the prime of his life. The anguish that so tormented his soul translated into the music that came to be considered his farewell to art and life - his Ninth Symphony, completed in the year before his death at age 50. But he never heard it played. Like the other two works that constitute what is now regarded as his "death-trilogy" (Das Lied con der Erde and the incomplete 10th symphony), it was not until after his death that the work received its first performance (in Vienna, under Bruno Walter in 1912).

The work is unique not only for its intensely romantic expressionism but also for its length (almost a full hour) and its unorthodox structure (four movements instead of the usual three). Additionally, the movements follow an unusual sequence: a slow first movement - Andante comodo, followed by two fast ones - both scherzos, and a very slow fourth - Adagio). Two fast central movements: one in the form of Austrian dance music, as if parodying life (in the wake of impending death), and the other, aptly named Rondo Burleske as if in defiance of death; buttressed by two slow, steady movements: one that bids a calmly reluctant, then increasingly heart-wrenching farewell to life, the other weaving with sad but resigned acceptance a peaceful final farewell, piously fading away with the the soft, sweet sounds of the violin. A work of profound sadness and chaotic torment, but in the end and in true Mahler fashion, one of dignified, quiet affirmation of life. - GC/Fanfaire 2000