Thursday, May 21, 2020

Mahler's Epic Eighth - Symphony Of A Thousand

A repeat post from May 10, 2014 when the fetching Mrs. B and I were in attendance at Houston's Jones Hall for a once in a thousand concert by our great Houston Symphony Orchestra.  Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand, that is. 

Mahler's Epic Eighth - Symphony of a Thousand

Gustav Mahler [1860 - 1911]
Gustav Mahler was an Austrian, late Romantic composer and conductor.  His Eighth Symphony in E-flat Major is truly a giant among the great symphonic giants.  This from Wikipedia: "The Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major by Gustav Mahler is one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire.  Because it requires huge instrumental and vocal forces it is frequently called the "Symphony of a Thousand", although the work is often performed with fewer than a thousand, and Mahler himself did not sanction the name."

From the Houston Symphony Orchestra website: "Former Music Director Christoph Eschenbach returns to conduct two spectacular evenings of music by one of his favorite composers. Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is commonly referred to as the “Symphony of a Thousand” due to the huge number of performers required on stage. Watch in awe as more than 400 musicians, chorus members and vocal soloists join together – complete with a special stage extension – for a once-in-a-lifetime, powerful experience of music."

From Christopher Gibbs of the American Symphony Orchestra web site: "According to conventional definitions, the Eighth is more a cantata or oratorio than a symphony. Multiple choruses and vocal soloists are used throughout, unlike Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Mahler’s own Second that withhold vocalists until the end. Mahler recognized this as a revolutionary feature, telling his biographer Richard Specht, “Its form is something altogether new. Can you imagine a symphony that is sung throughout, from beginning to end?"

From Wikipedia: "Mahler replaced the last three movements with a single section, essentially a dramatic cantata based on the closing scene of Geothe's Faust, part II."  So, the 8th symphony, rather than the usual four movements has two parts:  Part 1: Veni, Creator Spiritus -Allegro impetuoso,  Part 2: Final scene from Faust - Poco Adagio.  

James Denton - Cellist for the HSO
On twitter, my friend, Houston Symphony Orchestra cellist, James R Denton, known on twitter as @cellojames tweeted this to me: "try to make it to Mahler 8 this weekend [at Jones Hall in Houston] - it will absolutely blow you away!!!"

Please turn up the volume and enjoy Mahler's epic 8th "Symphony of a Thousand". The Maestro is the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein leading the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Boys Choir.  

This is a very long symphony, with the extended second movement, "Final Scene From Goethe's 'Faust' beginning at the 26:43 mark; and if you don't have time to listen to this entire symphony, please at least listen to the final part of the second movement, "Chorus Mysticus", which ends with a stirring triumphant climax. This part begins at 1:17:50.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony #8 in E-Flat Major, "Symphony of a Thousand":

Update:  May 11, 2014:  Oh, my!  My wife and I attended the Houston Symphony Orchestra's performance [along with an almost 400 member choir and soloists] led by former director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Christoph Eschenbach, last night of the Mahler 8th Symphony.  We were blown away.  This was not just a symphony, this was an awesome epic event that we had just witnessed and heard. First, just the setting of the big symphony orchestra that required and extended stage, and the huge choir, including men, women and kids [in the upper two rows], and the soloists, 3 female and on one side of the conductor and 3 male on the other side of the conductor, and a surprise soprano during one part of the symphony that appeared from the balcony--this was like a grand Las Vegas production. Then the music, oh, the music.  What stirring, at times dramatic, always moving beautiful music.  The symphony starts out with a dramatic chord from the organ that grabs you right from the start.  Then also right from the beginning you get this magnificent sound from an equally magnificent choir.

You could tell the love that Maestro Eschenbach has for the Mahler 8th, that was so exhibited by orchestra and choir.  I actually saw orchestra members smiling during the performance, and when their part was quiet, I saw more than once a member of the orchestra look over at another sitting next to him and give a smile at the music they were hearing.  Yes, former Houston Symphony Orchestra director, Christoph Eschenbach was the perfect choice to lead the Mahler 8th. 

The finale of the symphony was so awesome, first coming from this huge moving sound from the choir and concluding with a confident, triumphant stirring explosion from the orchestra that had the patrons in Jones Hall leaping to their feet and shouts of Bravo after the final definitive chord played by our great orchestra.   I don't think I am exaggerating to say there had to be a 15 minute standing ovation that forced bows over and over and over by each section of the orchestra and the soloist singers and the choir and for Maestro Eschenbach. 

Maybe someone can help me with this, but there was one minor phrase played a couple of times in the first part of the symphony that sounded like the opening of the music from Schindler's List.  Is this where John Williams got that opening from? 

Bravo, again Houston Symphony Orchestra for an epic event that I will never forget.

Update Aug. 8, 2015:  If you read my question in the next to the last paragraph above, and with a hat/tip to my brother Bradley [as you will notice in the discussion in the comment section] I was correct that the beginning phrase of the John William's Schindler list theme did incorporate one of the short [around 7 notes] phrases that occurs in the Mahler 8th.

Check it out:
Listen in the video above of the Mahler 8th symphony from the 6:53-7:08 and 10:26-10:39 marks of the first video of Mahler's Eighth Symphony, and then listen to second video below from John Williams, "Theme from Schindler's List", beginning at the 23-28 second mark to see if you can hear a similarity.

John Williams: Theme from Schindler's List


Unknown said...

No, I think the music you are thinking of from Schindler's list is Por una Cabeza,

Big Mike said...

Thanks Charlene. Listen closely to this at about the 5:29 mark and see if you don't hear the first few notes of Schindler's list.

bradley said...

you are absolutely correct big mike, that is EXACTLY the start of schindler's list theme --see above link at 10 seconds on

Big Mike said...

Thanks Brad...I thought I had remembered that. thanks so much for confirming!!

Unknown said...

Wow. you're right. wow. good ear Mike.

Big Mike said...

Thanks so much Charlene!! and thanks for your comments!

Anonymous said...

Yes, definitely from Mahler Symphony #8.