Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler was written between 1908 and 1909, and was the last symphony he completed. Though the work is often described as being in the key of D major, the tonal scheme of the symphony as a whole is progressive. While the opening movement is in D major, the finale is in D-flat major.
The symphony is in four movements:
Although the symphony has the traditional number of movements, it is unusual in that the first and last are slow rather than fast. As is often the case with Mahler, one of the middle movements is a ländler. Mahler died in May 1911, without ever hearing his Symphony No. 9 performed. The work’s ending is usually interpreted as his conscious farewell to the world, as it was composed following the death of his beloved daughter Maria Anna Mahler (Putzi) (1902-1907) in 1907 and the diagnosis of his fatal heart disease.
However, this notion is disputed inasmuch as Mahler felt that he was in good health at the time of the composition of Symphony No. 9; he had had a very successful season (1909-1910) as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (NYPO/NPO) and, before that, the New York Metropolitan Opera (MET) (in New York). In his last letters, Mahler indicated that he was looking forward to an extensive tour with the orchestra for the 1910-1911 season. Moreover, Mahler worked on his unfinished Symphony No. 10 until his death in May 1911.
Quotes about Symphony No. 9
- Symphony No. 9 is most strange. In it, the author hardly speaks as an individual any longer. It almost seems as though this work must have a concealed author who used Mahler merely as his spokesman, as his mouthpiece. This symphony is no longer couched in the personal tone. It consists, so to speak, of objective, almost passionless [fast leidenschaftslose] statements of a beauty which becomes perceptible only to one who can dispense with animal warmth [animalische Wärme] and feels at home in spiritual coolness [geistiger Kühle]- Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).
- Symphony No. 9 expresses an extraordinary love of the earth, for Nature – Alban Berg (1885-1935).
- It is music coming from another world, it is coming from eternity – Herbert von Karajan.
- It is terrifying, and paralyzing, as the strands of sound disintegrate … in ceasing, we lose it all. But in letting go, we have gained everything – Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990).
- I believe it to be not only his last but also his greatest achievement – Otto Klemperer (1885-1973).