Mahler’s First.

Mahler’s First symphony

The very beginning of this symphony is one of the most amazing moments of all symphonic music in the 19th century: the opening of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony. For me, it is reminiscent of opening Adagio from Beethoven’s Symphony #4, which was a great favorite of Gustav Mahler’s, and he conducted it often.

Mahler’s opening for his first symphony is not a theme, or a melody, or a rhythm, but a mysterious, misty opening: a seven-octave of the note A, played as quietly as possible by the strings, a shimmer of existence that sounds out the whole orchestra.

When I hear this music, I often try to imagine some of the sense of wonder that audiences at the piece’s premiere in Budapest in 1889 must have felt, when Mahler – not yet 30 years old – conducted this symphony for the first time.

Back in 1889, the piece had five movements instead of the four we hear in concert halls today. After the first movement, there originally followed the movement titled “Blumine” – that Mahler subsequently withdrew from the symphony. (Please click “Skip Ad” on this video)

Mahler wrote that the slow movement, with its opening double-bass solo of the well-known “Frère Jacques” tune, is a satiric cartoon of “The Hunter’s Funeral” turned into musical life, a vision of a hunter’s coffin drawn by animals.

Let me end this with a video of an amazing Mahler interpreter:

Mahler: Symphony No. 1. As conducted by Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra: (55 minutes of uninterrupted music):



For those of you who want to see Bernstein’s tireless work and frustration, asking the orchestra to get it right, here is a touching Mahler rehearsal with Leonard Bernstein, speaking with the orchestra members in German:



Tags: Gustav Mahler, Symphony #1, Blumine, “Frère Jacques”