Mahler’s 8th symphony: 388 singers, one instrument

Mahler’s 8th symphony: 388 singers, one instrument


norman lebrecht

April 04, 2016

From the organist and composer David Briggs:

Thrilled to be back in New York for the first performance of my new transcription of Mahler 8. An 18-month journey and one of total immersion! This week we have about 24 hours of rehearsal, before the concert on Thursday 7th at 7.30pm. The dress rehearsal and the concert will be recorded by Fred Hohman (Pro Organo records). It should be quite a sound, with 380 singers (Manhattan School of Music Symphony Chorus/Oratorio Society of New York), childrens chorus, 8 soloists and the unique Skinner organ at SJD.

Mahler said: ‘A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything’. It has long been an ambition to transcribe Mahler’s Eighth. It follows on from my transcriptions of the Fifth (1998), Sixth (2006), Third (2009), and Second (2012). I hugely value the opportunity to give the world premiere of the new transcription at St John the Divine – with its unique acoustic and stunning Skinner organ, and such voluminous choral resources. Making the transcription took the best part of nine months, and learning it rather more! Without doubt, Mahler included some of the most beautiful music he had ever written. For me it represents his never-ending quest for faith and completeness. The final apotheosis is completely overwhelming – even more so on the organ than the orchestra, in my humble opinion. Although he didn’t know it at the time, this was the last music he was to ever conduct in Europe (at the premiere at the Neue Musik-Festhalle in Munich, in September 1910).

mahler 8 score

Thursday’s performance will be dedicated to John Scott, my longtime friend and extremely distinguished Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, who died extremely unexpectedly and prematurely in August last year. We miss him so much.


Tickets here.


  • Christopher Culver says:

    An interesting arrangement of Mahler with drastically reduced instrumentation. Indeed, the work is even more stripped down than the famous Naxos recording where the symphony was rescored for choir, viola, and double bass.

    • Mathieu says:

      Too bad it is an (obvious) April’s fool prank, I would have paid top dollar to get a copy of that. The organ reduction, on the other hand…

  • harold braun says:


  • Hilary says:

    I’d love to be proven wrong but I think I’d crave for more instruments.

  • Rob says:

    Mahler’s 8th Symphony is his masterpiece. He wrote it in super quick time as we know in about 6-7 weeks. He had the beneficial aspect of Jupiter in his birthsign – Cancer, during the summer of 1906 – , when he was in the hut in the woods above his lake Villa. Jupiter brings luck and success (for those that work hard) when it occurs in one’s birthsign, which is once every 12-13 years.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Don’t want to be a party pooper but is Mahler VIII indeed his masterpiece? The musical material does not require all those players and singers, and although there are some beautiful themse in it (as always with Mahler), the working-out is haphazard, with a lot of careless voice leading that obviously has been put together in a hurry. Most of the music sounds like pumped-up Mendelssohn. Volume and intensity are two very different things. There is real greatness to be found in the other symphonies like nr I, IV, V, VI, IX and X, and Das Lied which crowns it all.

      I look forward to the arrangement of the Sacre for two violins.

  • CA says:

    Fresh from an incredible and historic performance in Philadelphia just one month ago, I’d love to hear this arrangement. Wow, what a project and what a venue!