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Classical Music

Top Ten Facts About Mahler’s Eighth Symphony

Learn about this monumental piece before it airs this Saturday.

This Saturday on SymphonyCast at 8 p.m., hear the Houston Symphony’s recent performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach. In celebration of this outstanding concert event, here are some facts about the “Symphony of a Thousand” that might surprise you!

Top Ten: Little Known Facts about Mahler’s Symphony No. 8

1. Mahler wrote this work in under two months during the summer of 1906.

2. Mahler did not create the famous moniker “Symphony of a Thousand”. It was instead the creation of Emil Gutmann, his concert promoter, in an attempt to sell more concert tickets.

3. In fact, the premiere used 858 singers and 171 instrumentalists, totaling 1,029 musicians on stage.

4. It was also Gutmann who forced Mahler to conduct the premiere at the Mahler festival in Munich.  Mahler wrote numerous letters expressing his distaste for the festival and his lack of confidence that the musicians would learn his music in time.

5. He made numerous changes to the piece during rehearsals leading up to the premiere performance. He also asked that others keep editing the symphony after his death.

6. The premiere was given in Munich on September 12, 1910. The concert was sold-out and the audience included composers Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saens and Anton Weber. It also included young conductor Leopold Stokowski who later led the United States premiere of this piece.

7. While all of Mahler’s previous symphonies had been received with negative reviews, this was the first to earn immediate praise from the audience and critics alike. The standing ovation at the premiere performance lasted for twenty minutes.

8. The premiere performance was the last time that Mahler conducted a premiere of his own work.

9. Written in two movements, the work pairs text from a 9th-century Latin hymn, Veni creator spiritus, with selections from Goethe’s popular German legend, Faust.

10. Stokowski led the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall for the first recording of this piece in April 1950. Since then, more than 70 more performances of this piece have been recorded.

For more information, read these program notes from the LA Phil here.

Photo: Philadelphia Orchestra at American premiere of Mahler’s 8th Symphony in 1916.