Mahler, Symphony No. 1 in D major (1888)

Course Description
Few composers, if any, wrote a first symphony as spectacular and enduring as Mahler’s First. This class provides a detailed analysis of Mahler’s First Symphony followed by an uninterrupted listening in class of all four movements. The victory of the symphony’s hero over life’s struggles is guaranteed to spark goose bumps. 

Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

  • First Movement – begins at 0:00
  • Second Movement – begins at 16:04
  • Third Movement – begins at 24:10
  • Fourth Movement – begins at 35:23
General Information
  • Mahler originally provided program notes for his five-movement First Symphony and titled it "Titan" after a popular novel by Jean Paul. He later dropped one of the five movements and the program notes. The title "Titan," however, has persisted to this day in some circles for no good reason.
  • Mahler completed the symphony by March 1888, and it was first performed in Budapest on November 20, 1889. Although it received a reaction from its audience that might be described as "indifferent," Mahler described the symphony as sending shivers down his spine. "Damn it all, where do people keep their ears and their hearts if they can't hear that!"
  • The bass at the beginning of the third movement plays a minor key version of the children's song "Frère Jacques."
  • Mahler described the third movement as "heart-rending and tragic irony." He also said, "It is to be understood as exposition and preparation for the sudden outburst in the final movement of the despair of a deeply wounded and broken heart."
  • Mahler wrote that the fourth movement begins with a "horrible outcry." In describing the movement, Mahler said, "Our hero is completely abandoned, engaged in a most dreadful battle with all the sorrow of this world. Time and again he — and the victorious motif with him — is dealt a blow by fate whenever he rises above it and seems to get hold of it, and only in death, when he has become victorious over himself, does he gain victory. Then the wonderful allusion to his youth rings out once again with the theme of the first movement."
  • Mahler incorporated two songs from his Songs of the Wayfarer in his First Symphony. The first movement quotes "I Went Across the Field This Morning," and the third movement quotes "The Two Blue Eyes of My Beloved."
  • Click here for a performance of Hermann Prey singing "I Went Across the Field This Morning"
  • Click here for a performance of Hermann Prey singing "The Two Blue Eyes of My Beloved"
Online Articles
Recommended Books
(Click a book’s icon to see it on Amazon)



Recommended Box Set of Mahler's Symphonies

(Click the icon to see the collection on Amazon)