Symphony No 3, Gustav Mahler
Symphony No 3 holds a special place in the orchestral repertoire. With a usual runtime of around 100 minutes, it is the longest symphony in regular performance. Its six movements weave an intricate and engaging musical narrative. Conductors around the world rate it among the greatest works in the genre. At Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, the celebrated conductor Myung-Whun Chung leads the theatre’s orchestra, a solo alto, chorus and children’s choir into an inspired, breath-taking performance that closely follows Mahler’s emotional and expressive vision.
Mahler conceived of the symphony in the mid-1890s, and his conception of the narrative continued evolving throughout the years. The first movement, which the composer envisioned as ‘strong’ and ‘decisive’, establishes the performance’s home key of D, this time in the minor, and then migrates one and a half steps up to F-Major. In Mahler’s narrative, this is the awakening of Pan and summer. As we go through the different movements, the talented composer invokes the flowers in the field, the animals in the woods, people, angels, and finally love. Each topic finds distinct musical expression – a gentle minuet for the flowers, a playful scherzo for the animals, sprawling and mysterious melodies for the man, and cheerful passages for the angels. The theme of love concludes the symphony, slowly and blissfully, with appropriate emotion and in D-Major.
Mahler’s Symphony No 3 had its premiere on 9 June 1902 in Krefeld, Germany. With its creative use of the full orchestra’s sonic potential, its reliance on both children’s and adult choruses, and the intricate passages for solo alto, it was an immediate stand-out number that earned its place in the repertoire. Pay particular attention to the fourth movement’s ‘Midnight Song’ where the alto soars beautifully over a minimalist orchestral accompaniment and delivers the deep and heartfelt text, taken from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. At Teatro del Maggio Musicale, Mahler’s Symphony No 3 confirms that ‘all joy seeks eternity’ indeed!