performed by the Chicago symphony under James Levine (this is the performance I've been listening to, and it's a fantastic recording. The below is apparently the same, but some of the tempi [and the audio quality] seem off.....)
The above video is a fantastic one, and so I won't spend much time talking about the structure of the piece or doing a play by play. You just have to watch and listen.
I'm assuming you've read Tuesday's article, Mahler Thus Far: Part II, to catch up on where this symphony fits in with the rest of his symphonic output up to this point. If not, go do that.
So as we've said, this is the last symphonic work of Mahler's middle period, a period marked by success and ostensibly happy times in his life, a period of purely orchestral symphonies without traditional or folk melodies.
This perhaps strangest of Mahler's symphonies was one I came strangely to like rather quickly. It's a large beast of a piece (are there any Mahler symphonies that aren't?) with its five movements, so the first few listens were lost on me, but the one advantage of the piece is that each of its five movements, at least to me, have a very distinct and kind of identifiable purpose or personality, so once I'd given it a few passive listens front-to-back, it really started to catch my fancy, and I went through a period of a few weeks at least where I was mesmerized by it, listening to every recording of it I could find and keeping my favorites on repeat for quite some time. It was captivating and interesting and dark and mysterious and I just couldn't get it out of my head.
It's kind of the black sheep of his symphonic output. Even the other five- or six- movement symphonies have a more traditionally-laid out structure. People are perhaps most perplexed by the final movement, but for whatever reason, it really got to me. I loved it. Symphony, suite, symphonic poem, whatever you call it, I think it's riveting music.
Anyway, let's talk a bit about its history. The fourth symphony had been premiered in 1901, the same year the fifth was getting its start, having been premiered in 1904, the same year the seventh was begun. The composer set it aside to finish up the sixth, and picked it back up some time later. It was finished in 1905, but not premiered until three years later, in 1908, and in Prague, not