Mahler - Symphony No. 8 in E flat (‘Symphony of a Thousand’)

Mahler's colossal eighth symphony, literally a Symphony of a Thousand, was yet more proof that he was one of the most ambitious and visionary composers of the romantic era.

There’s a supreme confidence in much of Mahler’s music – a sense that here was a composer who was utterly at home and assured of his own position in the world.

The very nicknames of his symphonies (Titan, Resurrection and here the Symphony of a Thousand) only serve to highlight the point. And yet, when it came to his Symphony No.8, Mahler was troubled. Here was a composer who had triumphed many times before but who was wondering whether he could truly come up with the goods again.

So, while on holiday in the summer of 1906, Mahler wrestled with this barren future, this wasteland of musical ideas. He simply did not know what to compose next. And then, as he powerfully recalled, "On the threshold of my old workshop, the Spiritus Creator took hold of me and shook me and drove me on for the next eight weeks until my greatest work was done". Within two months, Mahler had composed this mighty choral symphony. An astonishing piece of music, it encompasses settings of the Latin text ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’, a message to the world about the nature of redemption, references to the Holy Spirit, and a deep expression of love from the composer to his wife, Alma, and a large section of Goethe’s Faust.

Recommended Recording
Twyla Robinson (soprano); Adriane Queiroz (soprano); Erin Wall (soprano); Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano); Simone Schroder (contralto); Johan Botha (tenor); Hanno Muller-Brachmann (bass-baritone); Robert Holl (bass-baritone) Staatskapelle Berlin; Pierre Boulez (conductor). Deutsche Grammophon: 4776597.

Illustration: Mark Millington