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Mahler Symphony 1

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, also known as the

‘Titan’ symphony, was primarily composed between the 20th
January and the end of March 1888 in Leipzig, although the work
also incorporates pre-existing musical themes and ideas from
earlier Mahler compositions. The first version of the work, which
was titled in the concert program: "A Symphonic Poem in Two
Sections", was premiered in 1889 at the Vigadó Concert Hall in
Budapest conducted by Mahler. The work was poorly received by
the Budapest audience. Its second performance took place three
years later in Hamburg after Mahler had made major revisions to
the work. Mahler continued to revise the work up until the score
was first published in 1899. A typical performance lasts around 55
minutes, making it one of Mahler’s shortest symphonies. The
symphony is a regular feature in concert programs around the
The following overview of Mahler's First Symphony is made up
from a selection of excerpts taken from the comprehensive articles
found in the navigation table at the bottom of the page.
Creation and Origin

The Leipzig Opera House where Mahler was working during the creation of his First Symphony.

Mahler’s symphony No. 1 was composed while he was working as

second conductor at the Leipzig City Theatre where he worked
from August 1886 to May 1888. Although there is conflicting
evidence regarding the period in which Mahler wrote his first
symphony, the majority of resources suggest that he composed
the bulk of the work in an intense creative burst between the 20th
January and the end of March 1888.
Incorporating Previous Works
Mahler’s early symphony’s often incorporate musical ideas based
on pre-existing works written by himself and other composers. The
first symphony provides an extreme example of this, with music
being either closely inspired by, or extracted from the following
 Mahler’s
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ('Songs of a
 Mahler’s
Der Trompeter von Säkkingen ("The Trumpeter
from Säkkingen");
 Mahler’s Hans und Grethe ("Hansel and Gretel");
 BruderMartin ("Brother Martin, Are You Sleeping?") folk
 Liszt's Dante Symphony;
 Wagner's Parsifal
Mahler once wrote to Natalie Bauer-Lechner: “composing is like
playing with building blocks, where new buildings are created
again and again, using the same blocks. Indeed, these blocks have
been there, ready to be used, since childhood, the only time that is
designed for gathering.”
Mahler’s Symphonic Debut

Mahler premiered his first symphony in the Vigadó Concert Hall, Budapest.
Mahler conducted the premiere of his first symphony with the
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra in the Vigadó Concert Hall on
Wednesday 20th November 1889, eighteen months after the
work's completion.
The premiere was a debacle: Mahler had presented the audience
with a programmatic symphonic poem, yet no explanatory
program notes or descriptive titles were provided to assist the
listener's interpretation of what the music was portraying. This
caused much confusion and annoyance among the audience, which
were particularly bewildered by the extreme and dramatic change
of mood established by the funeral march.

Following the symphony’s failure at the Budapest premiere, the

work was left untouched for three years. Mahler began making
revisions to the symphony in Hamburg between January and
August 1893, where he conducted this version of the symphony on
Friday 27th October 1893. This performance proved an overall
success; receiving largely positive reviews from the critics.

Mahler made further changes to the program notes for a

performance at the Saxon Court in Weimar, as a part of a music
festival organised by Richard Strauss. The performance received a
mixed reaction, as evidenced by a letter from Mahler to a friend:
"My symphony was received with furious opposition by some and
with wholehearted approval by others. The opinions clashed in an
amusing way, in the streets and in the salons!".
Mahler conducted a fourth performance of the symphony on 16th
March 1896 in Berlin. Along with the removal of the second
‘Blumine’ movement, Mahler discarded all programmatic aspects of
the work, instead opting to present it as ‘absolute music’ with the
simple title: ‘Symphony in D Major’.
Blumine Movement
The first three performances of Mahler’s symphony No. 1
contained a serenade-like second movement titled Andante or
‘Blumine’. This movement received harsh criticism and was later
removed from the work by Mahler after its third performance in
Weimar, also being omitted from the first publication in 1899.
Mahler’s first symphony has been played as a work of four
movements since the symphony’s fourth performance at the Berlin
premiere which took place on 16th March 1896.
Symphonys Beginnings As Programmatic Music

Franz Liszt - The pioneer of Programme music

The first three performances of Mahler’s first symphony were

presented as a work of Programme music. Programme music was
first introduced by the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, describing
music that aims to tell a story, illustrate literary ideas, or evoke
pictorial scenes. Mahler described the work as a Symphonic Poem
for the premiere performance, “Titan” a Tone Poem in Symphonic
Form for the second, and more simply as a Symphony with the
additional title of “Titan” for the third performance. From the
fourth performance onwards, Mahler dropped all program notes,
describing the work as simply: Symphony in D major.
Analysis Of References In Programme

First Edition of Jean Paul's work: Titan.

Mahler chose the title “Titan” as a reference to Jean Paul’s great

novel of the same name. “Titan” was included in the title of the
symphony’s second (Hamburg) and third (Weimar) performances,
after which it was permanently removed. How significant the
relationship between the program, Jean Paul and specifically his
novel Titan remains a question open to debate. There is however,
no doubt that Mahler was a great admirer of Jean Paul’s works:
literary references can be found between the program notes and
Jean Pauls’ novels.
Funeral March and The Hunters March
The Hunter's Funeral Procession title: ‘Gestrandet! (Totenmarsch
in Callots Manier)’ for the third movement of the Weimar version
refers to an old folk story that was well-known among Austrian
children in Mahler’s time. The story’s narrative is told through the
eyes of forest animals written in a jocular character. It tells of the
the burial of a hunter whose funeral procession is composed not of
humans, but wild animals, including a bear, foxes, hares, a wolf,
cranes and partridges, song-birds. The animals seem to derive
great joy from the occasion with rabbits leading the procession
holding banners and music been sung by all the animals,
accompanied by the musical cats and a group of Bohemian
Reason For Removal
A direct explanation for the removal of the program notes is given
by Mahler in a letter he wrote to Max Marschalk in 1896:
“Originally, my friends persuaded me to supply a kind of program,
in order to facilitate the understanding of the D major
[Symphony]. Thus, I had subsequently invented this title and
explanations. That I omitted them this time was caused not only
by the fact that I consider them inadequate, but also because I
found out how the public has been misled by them.”
Final Four Movement Structure Without Program

Title: Symphony in D Major

Movements: 1. Langsam, Schleppend (Slowly, dragging)
Immer sehr gemächlich (very restrained
2. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
(Moving strongly, but not too quickly),
Recht gemächlich (restrained), a Trio—a
3. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
(Solemnly and measured, without
dragging), Sehr einfach und schlicht wie
eine Volksweise (very simple, like a folk-
tune), and Wieder etwas bewegter, wie im
Anfang (something stronger, as at the
start)—a funeral march based on the
children's song "Frère Jacques" (or "Bruder
4. Stürmisch bewegt – Energisch (Stormily
agitated – Energetic)

Mahler finally decided upon the above titles for the Symphony’s
publication in 1899.
Musical Structure
The published version of Mahler’s first symphony consists of a four
movement symphonic structure. Previous structures of the
symphony can be viewed here. The first movement is in modified
sonata form, the second is a scherzo and trio based on a ländler
(folk dance in ¾ time), the third is a slow funeral march and the
fourth serves as an expansive finale incorporating material from
previous movements. Traditionally the second movement should
be the slow movement followed by the Minuet-Trio, Mahler
reversed this order for his first symphony. The additional Blumine
movement was originally the second movement before its
The keys for the movements are as follows: D major for the first
movement, A major for the second, d minor for the third, f minor
for the last with a grand finale ending in D major.
In a series of conversations Mahler had with Bauer-Lechners, he
perceives each of the first four movements (Blumine version) as
landmarks in the life of the symphony’s hero. "In the first
movement we are carried away by a Dionysian, jubilant mood that
has not yet been broken or dulled by anything." The Blumine
movement was described as a “love episode”. The scherzo: “the
young lad still roaming around the world is much stronger,
rougher, and more fit for life." and the funeral march: "Now he
(my hero) has found a hair in his soup, and his meal is spoiled."
Mahler described the finale to Bernhard Schuster as “The sudden
outburst... of despair of a deeply wounded and broken heart.”
Full Musical Analysis
Analysis of 1st movement: Frühling und kein Ende (Spring and No
Analysis of 2nd movement: Mit vollen Segeln (Under Full Sail)
Analysis of 3rd movement: Des Jägers Leichenbegängnis, ein
Totenmarsch in Callots Manier (The Hunter's Funeral Procession
(Funeral March in the anner of Callot))
Analysis of 4th movement: Dall' Inferno al Paradiso. (Allegro
furioso) (From Hell to Paradise)
Overview: Mahler Symphony 1
Context Of Mahler's First Symphony
Creation & Origin When Symphony Written
Incorporating Previous Works
Negative Reception
Mahler’s Symphonic Debut, Reaction & Hamburg Revised Ed, 2nd Performance &
Pursuing Revisions Divided Reception
3rd Weimar Performance & Divided
4th Berlin Performance 'Absolute Music'
Origin & Description
Reasons For Removal
Blumine Movement
Blumine's Discovery In 1966
Blumine's 20th Century Premiere
Symphonys Beginnings As Program Music
Different Versions Of Program Notes
The Symphonys Beginnings As
Analysis Of Title: 'Titan'
Programme Music
Analysis Of Funeral March Title
Reasons For Removal Of Program Notes
Final 4 Movement Structure
Musical Structure
Previous Structures
1st Movement - Themes, Motifs With Audio
2nd Movement - Themes, Motifs With Audio
Musical Analysis
3rd Movement - Themes, Motifs With Audio
4th Movement - Themes, Motifs With Audio
List Of Premieres
List Of Publications
MIDI File Downloads
Sheet Music Download (External Site)
Bibliography & Further Reading List