Mahler Symphony No. 9
Mahler Symphony No. 9 in D major
The Ninth Symphony is the last score Mahler completed. Some part of him would have wanted it so, for, with Beethoven’s Ninth and Bruckner’s unfinished Ninth in mind, he entertained a deep-rooted superstition about symphonies and the number nine. But for all the annihilating poignancy in which this symphony ends, Mahler cannot have meant it as an actual farewell. Within days of completing the Ninth Symphony, he plunged into composing a Tenth. He had made significant progress when he died, on May 18, 1911, of a blood infection, seven weeks before his fifty-first birthday.
The Ninth, begun in spring 1909 and finished on April 1, 1910, was also the last of Mahler’s completed scores to be presented to the public (with the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter’s direction, on June 26, 1912). This has surely contributed to the tradition of reading the work as the composer’s farewell. Mahler wrote the Ninth Symphony in the whirlwind that was the last chapter of his life. That chapter began in 1907, a year in which four momentous things happened. First, on March 17, Mahler resigned the Artistic Directorship of the Vienna Court Opera, ending a tenyear term whose achievement has become legend. Mahler was drained by the struggles that were the price of that achievement, worn down by anti-Semitic attacks, and feeling the need to give more time to composition. He was not, however, able to resist the podium’s lure, and on June 5 he signed a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Then, on July 5, his daughter Maria, four and a half, died following a two-week battle with scarlet fever and diphtheria. A few days after the funeral, a physician delivered the verdict that things were not as they should be with Mahler’s heart. Mahler, dedicated hiker, cyclist, and swimmer, was put on a regimen of depressingly restricted activity. Still, what happened from 1907 until 1911 is not the story of an invalid. During this period Mahler gave concerts throughout Europe, assumed directorship of the New York Philharmonic, composed Das Lied von der Erde. And these are simply highlights of those years.
—Michael Steinberg, from liner notes