Nobody took Mahler’s 9th seriously at firstWhy Mahler
Trailing his forthcoming book on contemporary Viennese reactions to Mahler’s ninth symphony, premiered by Bruno Walter a year after the composer’s death, Michael Haas writes:
The other thing that may surprise modern readers is the casual dismissal of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. It was most definitely not seen as Mahler’s last will and testament. Writers as diverse as Julius Korngold, Richard Specht and Max Kalbeck see Das Lied von der Erde as being Mahler’s final completed symphony. The Ninth Symphony was premiered in a Herculean concert conducted Bruno Walter after Mahler’s death, together with Bruckner and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphonies and Bruckner’s Te Deum. As both Korngold and Kalbeck pointed out, it was clearly not meant to be Mahler’s valedictory statement: Kalbeck believes Mahler had decided that the Eighth Symphony served that purpose. Korngold recalled Mahler teasing that his Ninth Symphony would be light, jolly and in the key of D Major. Though the symphony we know as Mahler’s Ninth is in D Major, it is neither light nor jolly. In addition, as everyone pointed out at the time, Mahler had already embarked on his Tenth Symphony in order to get past the premonitions of a composer’s “Ninth”. The later deification of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony was most definitely a development of later years. Indeed, some of the aesthetic and structural criticism following its premiere, is quite dismissive, with Max Graf writing that it was the least original of any of Mahler’s symphonies and even Korngold suggesting it contained some of Mahler’s least convincing music.
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