« A musical reflection on 9/11: Arvo Part's 'De Profundis' | Main | Baltimore Symphony jumps into the new season »

September 12, 2010

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:

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:24 AM | | Comments (2)


Thank you
Thank you!

Had you heard that it was performed in Germany for the 100th anniversary? I was lucky enough to sing with the choir of just over 1,100 earlier this evening. Here's a link to the station which broadcast it live (this link should show a video of part of it - if it works!)

Thanks for the info. How cool that must have been to sing the work on such an occasion. TIM

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected