One of my favorite Mahler pieces, and clearly one of his most famous, is Mahler’s 9th Symphony. The piece has gained much notoriety over the years not only as an incredible work of music, but as Mahler’s last completed symphony. Written between 1908 and 1909, Mahler’s 9th is regarded by many as his greatest achievement. The piece is beautifully and masterfully constructed over four movements using woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. The movements breakdown as follows:
I. Adante comodo
II. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb
III. Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig
IV. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend
Prior to writing his 9th symphony, Gustav Mahler dealt with the difficult loss of his daughter, Putzi. Following her death, Mahler chose to resign as director of the Vienna Court Opera. It was also during this time that a lesion was found in one of his heart valves during a routine check up. This time period was undoubtedly extremely difficult for Mahler, forcing him to take a brief hiatus from his creative outlet. Despite the struggles, Mahler returned with a new appreciation for life and successfully completed his final symphony.
The significance of Mahler’s Ninth is often debated. Is it a morbid welcoming to the death that lied before him, or is it a representation of his time alive? As the piece dissolves into a slower, quieter sound, it is easy to fall in line with the belief held by many conductors and listeners that the piece represents a series of deaths. Whatever you believe, the piece will always be open to interpretation as a listener.