Gustav Mahler composed his Sixth Symphony from 1903 to 1905. After conducting the work’s premiere in Essen in 1906, Mahler undertook to revise the musical text, leaving the question open as to the order in which the two middle movements are to be played. With its four-movement structure and a first movement whose exposition is to be repeated as prescribed by the composer, the Sixth Symphony superficially follows the classical form, unlike any of Mahler’s other symphonies. The composer was nevertheless convinced that the piece would “pose riddles only to be solved by a generation which has assimilated and digested my first five symphonies.”
Indeed, because of its complex movement structure and innovative expressive depth, it was the Sixth Symphony that has given future generations the most difficulty. The Finale places particular demands on both musicians and audience: its abrupt ending, which throws into question the course of the movement until that point, has led to the epithet Tragic being conferred upon the symphony. Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is conducted at these concerts by Daniel Harding, conductor laureate of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.