REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 1, "Titan" (Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, Bernard)
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Symphony No 1 in D Major
I. Langsam, schleppend. Im Anfang sehr gemächlich [Slow. In the beginning very easy going]
II. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell [Vigorous, emotional, though not too fast]
III. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen [Solemn and measured, without dragging]
IV. Stürmisch bewegt [Tempestuous, emotional]
Composed: 1884–March 1888, revised: 1893–6.
Première: Budapest, November 20, 1889; full published score: Vienna, 1899
Between the 1889 première in Budapest and the 1899 publication of the full score in Vienna, Gustav Mahler revised, repackaged and rebranded the work we know today as his First Symphony. Mahler offered his 1889 Budapest audience a five-movement “Symphonic Poem” in two parts comprising three and two movements respectively. One day before the première, Mahler composed a letter of thanks to the orchestral musicians: “Today’s rehearsal has already afforded me the certainty that I shall never again hear my work played to such perfection.” After the première, the critic August Beer reported:
The symphony’s reception was as contrasting as the two halves of the work in reality are. Our musical public, which today again turned out in full force, listened to the first part with the liveliest interest, and bestowed warm applause after each movement on Director Mahler, who was himself the conductor. After the funeral march, the mood suddenly shifted, and after the Finale there was a small but for all that audible element of opposition.
Curiously, despite the work’s being branded a symphonic poem, it was not packaged as one. Since Mahler composed the work with no definite literary work in mind, he had no program to guide his listeners. For the 1893 première in Hamburg, however, Mahler cobbled together a program after the fact and presented the symphony as “‘Titan,’ a Tone Poem in Symphonic Form.” Part I was called From the Days of Youth; its movements were I. Spring without End, II. Blumine and III. Under Full Sail. Part II depicted The Human Comedy; its movements were IV. Funeral March in the Manner of Callot and V. From Inferno to Paradise. “In the manner of Callot” refers to the kind of “parodistic” engraving made popular by the early 17th-century engraver Jacques Callot. Mahler describes such a picture, familiar from his childhood, called “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession” in which “the beasts of the forest accompany the dead woodsman’s coffin to the grave, with hares carrying a small banner, with a band of Bohemian musicians in front, and the procession escorted by music-making cats, toads, crows, etc., with stags, roes, foxes and other four-legged and feathered creatures of the forest in comic postures.” The fifth movement then follows, according to Mahler, as “the sudden eruption of a heart wounded to the quick.”
As vivid and appealing as these programmatic descriptions may be, for the Berlin première in 1896, Mahler rebranded the work as a Symphony for Large Orchestra and repackaged it as a four-movement work, discarding the Blumine movement—a vestige of earlier-composed incidental music—because it lacked symphonic gravitas. He gave each movement a conventional title using mostly Italian vocabulary: I. Einleitung [Introduction], Allegro commodo, II. Scherzo, III. Alla Marcia funebre, IV. Allegro furioso. Ultimately, for the published full score of 1899, Mahler adopted somewhat less conventional, but rather more evocative German terminology for each movement. Especially evocative is the language he uses for the opening: Wie ein Naturlaut [Like a sound in Nature], which sets before us a spreading sonic landscape inhabited by all manner of symphonic wildlife.
If the melodies of this symphony sound especially lyrical, most of Mahler’s compositions up to and concurrent with the First Symphony were songs and song cycles. Indeed, two songs from the Songs of a Wayfarer cycle (1883–1885) are highlighted in the Symphony: Ging heut morgens über Feld [I walked this morning across the fields] in the first movement and Die zwei blauen Augen [The two blue eyes] in the third. The second movement uses Mahler’s setting of Hans und Grethe (1886). A careful listener will hear that Mahler imbues all the orchestral parts with the utmost lyricism.
Mahler was also prepared as a symphonist. Four early symphonies—presumed destroyed since World War II and their states of completion unknown—were safeguarded in the archives of Baroness Weber and shown once in 1938 to the conductor Wilhelm Mengelberg, a conducting protégé of Mahler’s. The Baron Weber a grandson of the composer Carl Maria von Weber was a great supporter of the young Mahler, and tolerated as best he could a torrid affair between the young Mahler and his wife. A shooting spree on a train to Dresden, scaring without harming other passengers, is attributed to the Baron’s emotional distress over the affair. In the wake of this scandal, Mahler left Leipzig with boundless creative energy, huge ambitions and at least a few symphonic attempts under his belt.
Each of the four movements of the First Symphony has something distinctive to offer: the long introduction of the first movement which releases in song, the folk-dance merriment of the second, the collision between the minor mode Frère Jacques (in German Bruder Martin or Jakob) and the klezmer band of the third and the calamitous opening and breakthrough moment of the finale. While this or that passage may sound reminiscent of Beethoven or Schubert, this work is the beginning of an enormous symphonic conception encompassing the first four symphonies with hints beyond.
© Steven J. Cahn
Last Albums Viewed
MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 1, "Titan" (Park Avenue C...