Mahler’s longest symphony—a meditative, cosmic, sombre, lyrical and mysteriously speculative work—is a singular musical experience, marked by orchestral expressiveness and vocal wizardry.
Composed between 1895 and 1896, this monumental opus was conceived as a pantheist ode to nature. Its six movements, two of which include voice, are a set of contrasting meditations on man’s place in the cosmos. Mahler’s dramatic accents and unease naturally have their place here, but are as if transcended by a philosophical meditation.
The world is mineral and telluric in the vast first movement, more rural and pastoral in the second, and graciously animal in the third, rustling with birdsong. Then comes the famous fourth movement with the appearance of man, featuring an excerpt from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (‘O man, take heed! ‘). Into this sombre, dreamy moment erupts the fifth movement, its two choruses creating an ambiance of guileless elation, before the work concludes with an ample and eminently Mahlerian Adagio dedicated to the cruel lessons of life and love.