This intense silence at the end of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is almost too powerful

9 July 2021, 10:09 | Updated: 9 July 2021, 10:59

The INTENSE silence at the end of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony

By Kyle Macdonald

The way the great Claudio Abbado holds orchestra and audience in silence at the end of Mahler's final symphony is just extraordinary

Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9 is an epic symphony. It was written towards the very end of the composer's life, in 1909. The great Austrian composer would never hear the work performed.

The final movement is marked zurückhaltend, or ‘very slowly and held back’. The 25-minute movement is often interpreted as Mahler's farewell to the world – with repeated poignant motifs getting quieter and quieter like a slow, resigned goodbye. The last note is marked ersterbend, usually translated as 'dying away'.

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The final note from the first violins is also directed to be played pppp, or as quiet as possible.

The final bars of Mahler's Symphony No. 9
The final bars of Mahler's Symphony No. 9. Picture: YouTube

The late conductor Claudio Abbado gave the most extraordinary performance of this symphony in 2004 with the Mahler Youth Orchestra. As the music fades away, the conductor holds the silence for what feels like an eternity before the audience finally applauds.

It's almost overwhelming.

Here’s this remarkable performance of the symphony in full, with that incredible ending. We miss you, maestro Abbado.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Claudio Abbado)