When I select music for my listening pleasure, the work selected depends on my wishes: Quiet music for reflection; shorter pieces for relaxation and diversity; Brahms to match my mood of exhilaration; And… Mahler, when I am ready for music which traverses great sadness to major, loud triumph!
The Symphony # 8 of Gustav Mahler has a historic place in music history. An impresario of the early 1900’s gave this work the name “Symphony of a Thousand”. That title was derived from the fact that Mahler assembled a huge group of performers for the premier performance of this work in Munich on September 12, 1910. There were three choruses with 858 singers, an orchestra of 171, and—of course – Mahler himself. That totals a group of more than 1000 performers. Try to imagine that group, and assuring somehow that they all start to sing/play at the same time. (No TV monitors were around in those days).
The composition is made up of two distinct parts: Part I begins with the chorus proclaiming: “Veni, Creator Spiritus” (Come, Creative Spirit). This is an 18th century Christian hymn, which is followed by 3 additional Hymns, that carry on Part I for some 22 minutes. This is Mahler’s “introduction”, which leads to Part II, which is Goethe’s Faust story, ending with Faust’s salvation.
Mahler, the man, was in a period of great personal torment at the time that this composition was written. His marriage was in jeopardy; he had lost one of his daughters to Diphtheria, and he also resigned his position as General Director of the Vienna Opera and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Right around the time that this work was composed, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra was founded, in 1911. The orchestra had about 10 Music directors during the following years, and its current director, Michael Tilson Thomas, became the conductor in 1995. I heard a live performance of this work by this orchestra a couple of years ago. What an amazing experience that was! And this recording is a terrific member of the entire Mahler Symphony cycle that the orchestra has now recorded. This recording is a Grammy award winner, as are several other symphonies in this series. By all means, take the time and listen to this amazing creative journey that Mahler has documented for our experience. The results are truly thrilling!
Here is a very interesting audio/visual recording showing how this CD was created/recorded. Included are comments by the conductor, soloists, producer and others; It will also show you the true scope of the project and of the music!