Mahler’s Symphony No. 2

Within its span of an hour and a half, Mahler’s Second Symphony conveys pretty much everything that is essential to understanding his brave conception of the symphony as a genre. Here we have the immense scale Mahler was intent on harnessing, represented by not only the work’s length but also through its gigantic performing forces (including the vocal component of two soloists and a chorus), which he directed should be deployed beyond the confines of the stage itself. In the first movement Mahler wrestles with funereal thoughts — a true under – standing of Mahler requires considerable submersion in fatalism. In the second, we glimpse Mahler’s enduring penchant for nature-painting, while the third offers a fine example of his characteristic proclivity toward the sardonic and macabre. In the fourth, we are presented with what is at heart a Lied, an art song, though expand – ed to an orchestral format — a particular Mahler specialty — and its text is drawn from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a poetic collection to which the composer returned repeatedly during his career. In the fifth, the chorus and soloists combine in a tre – mendous hymn on the theme of resurrec – tion — not The Resurrection, in the sense most frequently encountered in Christian contexts — the rebirth of the individual into immortal triumph. In this apocalyptic movement we witness Mahler confronting the inherited artistic tradition not only as a composer but even as a poet; the text of the finale begins with two stanzas by the 18th-century author Friedrich Got – tlieb Klopstock, but these lead to a more expansive textual outpouring penned by Mahler himself. Programmatic considerations hover at the fringe of this symphony, although Mahler, true to his usual inclinations, pre – ferred to leave them relatively inexplicit — stuff to inspire the composer rather than inform the listener. Others of Mahler’s symphonies may delve more obsessively into specific aspects suggested by the Second, but none presents as many facets so forthrightly and with such comprehensive breadth.

-New York Philharmonic

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