Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony

Berliner Philharmoniker
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Elīna Garanča

  • Gustav Mahler
    Symphony No. 3 in D minor

    Elīna Garanča mezzo-soprano, Damen des Rundfunkchors Berlin, Boys of the Berlin State and Cathedral Choir

“Nothing came of the profound interrelationships between the various movements which I had originally dreamed of,” Gustav Mahler wrote about his Third Symphony in 1896. The self-critical comment was by no means an indication that Mahler was dissatisfied with the composition, but rather reflected the many modifications he had made to the work during its composition. Mahler initially intended that the last movement of his Third Symphony would include a soprano solo. After he had already completed the composition to a large extent, with numerous changes to the middle movements and a finale that deviated from his original plan for the work, the focus of his interest shifted to the first movement.

This movement confronted the composer with an “enormous undertaking” for which “I don’t think I should have had the courage, had the rest not already been completed”. The enormous proportions of the movement, which he juxtaposed as the “first part” with the other five movements combined as the “second part”, were unprecedented in the history of the genre. “I am almost afraid that even the faithful and initiated few will find it too much for them – this movement is so difficult, so incomprehensively vast, and developed in a polyphonic style that is new even to me,” Mahler said, voicing his doubts. “Whoever fails to comprehend it in terms of the Grand Manner will be like a dwarf faced with a mountain giant; at best, he will see details, but never grasp the whole.” In order to make it easier for his listeners to understand the music, Mahler supplied headings for the various movements, which he later discarded: “Pan awakes. Summer Marches in” – “What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me” – “What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me” – “What Man Tells Me” – “What the Angels Tell Me” – “What Love Tells Me.”

Despite Mahler’s misgivings, the premiere of the Third Symphony in Krefeld on 9 June 1902 was one of the composer’s greatest artistic successes during his lifetime. The Neue Zeitschrift für Musik described the audience’s reaction at the time: “It was no longer a mere celebration, it was an homage.”

The enthusiasm will be just as great when Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whose conducting inimitably combines sound magic and analytical clarity, presents Mahler’s Third Symphony, which is musically accessible despite its monumental form. The Berliner Philharmoniker will be joined by the women of the Rundfunkchor Berlin and the boys from the Staats- und Domchor (State and Cathedral Choir) Berlin at these concerts. For the soprano solo the Philharmoniker have invited Elīna Garanča, about whom The Daily Telegraph wrote: “Only a mere handful of singers combine beauty of voice, technical excellence and searching musicianship, alongside that indefinable magic called charisma or star quality – but among that supreme elite Elīna Garanča must surely have a high place.”

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