Vienna plays its 50th Mahler 9th

Vienna plays its 50th Mahler 9th


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2021

Message from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra:

We are excited to play our 50th performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 with Franz Welser-Möst this Sunday!
On June 26, 1912, the Vienna Philharmonic performed the world premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 under Bruno Walter as part of the Wiener Musikfestwoche at the Musikverein Wien. Gustav Mahler’s assistant and long-time confidante Bruno Walter conducted the symphony one year after the composer’s death.

“Mahler 9 takes an appreciative glance at life while honoring death”, says conductor Franz Welser-Möst.  


  • Freewheeler says:

    That makes it their 450th.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Great occasion.

    Mahler IX is a master piece. The only problem is, that after the 1st movement, all of the rest is redundant.

    • Wolfgang Kahl says:

      Das ist nun wirklich völlig unzutreffend. Die komplette(!) Sinfonie ist ein Meisterwerk in höchster Vollendung. Der Schlusssatz ist göttlich. Die Wiener Philharmoniker mit ihrer wunderbaren Streicherkultur werden nicht anstehen, dieses erneut zu beweisen. Freuen wir uns darauf!

    • Jack says:

      John, sometimes you are unbearably redundant in your constant put-downs of other composers who will be celebrated and remembered long after you. I’ll just leave it there.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Some understanding of terms could help you, in the long run. Observations or opinions are not ‘put-downs’. Being too sensitive maybe? To reactions by a professional, so rare on SD? Trying to make it personal to avoid disappointment?

        There is a great difference between the 9th first movement and the other movements: while the first mvt reaches, afer much soul wringing, an apotheosis of reconciliation, of a depth and musical quality hardly rivalled anywhere else, the following movements go back to a state of bitter despair which has been overcome in the first mvt. Also the scoring is different; very complex and refined in the 1st mvt, rather rude and plain in the rest of the work. If you listen to the symphony without the first mvt, the music makes much more sense, it seems from another work altogether. Don’t forget that Mahler thought of his symphonies as ‘psycho dramas’ with a narrative. So, a trajectory from the beginning to the end that hangs together.

        The last movement is often praised as a beautiful lament on men’s last breath. But I never hear more than emptiness, lack of musical substance, and an irritating klischee of the classical ornamentation gesture. Slow conclusions are very difficult to compose at the end of a long work, and successful ones are rare – Wagner’s Tristan and Parsifal endings come to mind, and Mahler IV although that is not altogether slow. I don’t know of any other symphonic work with a successful slow last movement.

        • Herr Doktor says:

          Put me in the category of those who believe Mahler needed a strong editor more than anything else. The critic Deems Taylor wrote the following comment:

          “Someday, some real friends of Mahler’s will … take a pruning knife and reduce his works to the length that they would have been if the composer had not stretched them out of shape; and then the great Mahler war will be over … The Ninth Symphony would last about twenty minutes.”

  • Bill says:

    Maybe, maybe not. It would be 50 on Sunday according to their archive if they played the Saturday concert, but that has apparently been cancelled, according to the orchestra’s website. Archive shows 49 matches for composer Mahler work Symphony No. 9 but at least one of those is erroneous, as the program has Bruckner’s 9th as well as a work by Mahler (not the 9th symphony). Assuming that is the only spurious match, that would be 48 past performances, one on Saturday and then #50 on Sunday.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Welser-Most and the Vienna Phil. did an incredible performance of Mahler 8 at the bigger Konzerthaus in 2019. The cast of soloists was quite strong. It was available to view online for a while, but no longer. Thus, I wish somebody would issue it on DVD. I have a ‘pirate’ CD of the performance, but that’s not ideal.

    • mhte says:

      I was there. Just amazing. It should indeed be released on dvd.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      It’s an optical trick: Musikverin’s Goldener Saal seats 1.744, while Konzerthaus’ Großer Saal holds 1.840, a difference of only 96 seats. Musikverin also has 300 standing room places while Konzerthaus has none, so actually Musikverein can hold a larger audience.

  • Mahler’s 9th ends where Alban Berg begins. Mahler imbues the work of Berg and Webern. The postwar serialists took the techniques of Berg and Webern, but didn’t understand their language. They appropriated the vocabulary, but never understood what the words really meant. Little is left of a language without its attendant culture. We thus ended up with half a century of meaningless puzzles and empty words.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The first comment by Mr Osborne I can only wholeheartedly agree with. It is very, very true. Mahler’s music represents a culture, an environment, an emotional and mental climate, a Weltanschauung, and a tragedy (the death of a culture).

    • Michael Endres says:

      Most revealing are Webern’s Variations Opus 27 with the published annotations by the composer and pianist Peter Stadlen, who premiered the work.
      The music was to be performed as expressive as possible incl. frequent tempo changes, generous use of pedal, focusing on the top voice (!) etc., and Webern refused to discuss the construction of the piece altogether.
      According to Stadlen Webern possessed a “fervently lyrical mind bent on expressiveness”.
      The same can be observed in Schoenberg’s works, eg his Opus 19, highly expressive miniatures, some of them being on the verge of silence, similar to the end of the Variations.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It is the territory where the music dies, the last breath of musical movement. There are details in Webern where, under one single short note is written: PPP, dolce, mit grösster Empfindsamkeit, PLUS a crescendo and a decrescendo, all within the time of a tenth of a second. And this has something specifically absurd about it.

  • Paul Johnson says:

    The orchestra which once referred to Mahler as “scheisse muzik”? As a Mahler fanatic, I don’t buy their excitement.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There’s none of the people in the orchestra which were present the moment those words were uttered.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      That was an older generation of players – none of those people are there today. They don’t teach their young players to think that Mahler is ‘scheisse musik’, particularly since Mahler helps put food on their tables these days.

  • Never will I forgive or forget nor will I regret

  • MacroV says:

    I realize the VPO spends most of its time in the pit, and doesn’t play all that many symphonic concerts in a given year. Nonetheless, a total of 50 performances in 109 years doesn’t seem very many. Didn’t Abbado do it 20-some times just in his 13 years in Berlin?

    How many times has it done Beethoven’s 9th in the same period?

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Contrary to a myth perpetuated on this website and many other sources, the Wiener Philharmoniker IS NOT the pit band for Wiener Staatsoper!

      Wiener Staatsopernorchester is of course affiliated with the Philharmoniker but it merely a stepping stone to get into the Philharmoniker.

      With its arcane system of membership rules, one must play for a trial period of several years in the Staatsopernorchester before one is allowed to audition for a trial period in the Philharmoniker.

      Many, many nights both orchestras are playing in houses near each other: Staatsoper/Staatsballett has very few dark nights between the beginning of September and the end of June; the Philharmoniker plays at both Musikverin and Konzerhaus in Wien, and has an extensive local and international touring schedule.

      Please read about the „symbiotic relationship“ on the Philharmoniker’s website:

    • Kenny says:

      I believe there was a train tour of Germany when they played 28 M9 in 30 days with Abbado…

      • Bill says:

        Not according to the orchestra’s archives, which claim to contain all concerts given by the group. There are 46 performances of Mahler works with Abbado, and the majority are in Austria.

  • Guy says:

    How they like their dead Jews

    They have not changed and when they force unvaccinated people to wear a mark, don’t be surprised.

    • MacroV says:

      I certainly hope they’re requiring unvaccinated (and even vaccinated) people to wear a mask, and the implicit (actually, fairly explicit) comparison to the Nazis and anti-semitism is gross.