Marking the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Mahler's 'Symphony of a Thousand'
"Imagine the whole universe begins to vibrate and resound." That was Gustav Mahler describing his Symphony No. 8 in a letter to conductor Willem Mengelberg. It seems that the universe vibrates at some point in every Mahler symphony, but the Eighth clearly is in a class by itself when it comes to majestic power.
On Sept. 12, 1910, a large audience gathered in Munich to hear the premiere of the work, with Mahler conducting. It was one of the few complete successes he had with the public as a composer, and no wonder. This is heavy, heady stuff, and terribly touching in its embracing scope, from the opening, soaring treatment of the ancient Latin hymn, "Veni, Creator Spiritus," to the sublime closing minutes, when the text from Part II of Goethe's "Faust" inspires Mahler to a truly mystical height.
The forces needed to summon a persuasive performance of the Eighth -- it didn't pick up the nickname "Symphony of a Thousand" for nothing -- keep it from being performed frequently. I'm already salivating at the prospect of hearing Valery Gergiev conduct the work next month with the Mariinsky Orchestra, Choral Arts Society of Washington and more at the Kennedy Center, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society.
On this, the centennial of the Eighth Symphony, I couldn't resist posting the score's finale in a particularly moving account by the Vienna Philharmonic, led by Leonard Bernstein at his Mahler-channeling best: