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Classical 101

Gustav Mahler's "Titan" on Next Symphony @ 7

Here is Gustav Mahler's portrait taken at the time of his first symphony.

It's quite a gesture to give your first symphony the title "Titan," but that's just what Late- Romantic Austrian composer Gustav Mahler did.  He later thought better of it and dropped the title, but it does indicate that he was thinking big in his first symphonic outing.  This Thursday evening on Symphony @ 7, I'll have a complete performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D.

Mahler did think of the first version of this symphony from 1888 as a symphonic poem, but he kept revising it until it reached its final four-movement form in 1896.  It's a remarkable work for anyone's first symphony, clocking in at just under an hour in length and expressing a wide emotional range, from joy and happiness, to despair and tragedy.  In other words, its typical Mahler.

The symphony opens with a magical evocation of the awakening of nature, with bird songs, hunting horns and distant fanfares and builds to a great climax.  The second movement is a rustic scherzo in Ländler form; a kind of peasant dance.  The third movement is a solemn funeral march on a minor-key version of the children's song "Frère Jacques," and the large, tempestuous, and dramatic fourth movement brings the work to a close.   

Mahler did go on to complete eight more large-scale symphonies, orchestral song-cycles, and left an uncompleted Tenth, at the time of his death in 1911 at the age of 50.  If you want to hear the beginning of an epic symphonic odyssey from an orchestra and conductor that really know how to play this music, tune in to Classical 101 Thursday evening at 7 for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Haitink for Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

Here's another pretty good Mahler Orchestra and conductor, The Vienna Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein: