Gustav Mahler

Symphony No. 8 in E flat major ("Symphony of a Thousand")

    Description by John Keillor

    Gustav Mahler completed his Symphony No. 8 in E flat, "Symphony of a Thousand," in 1906. The name "Symphony of a Thousand" was not the composer's idea but an impresario's. It was written for the largest ensemble yet conceived, consisting of three sopranos, two contraltos, tenor, baritone, bass, double choir, boys' choir, orchestra, and organ. The work's premiere took place on September 12, 1910, at the Exposition Concert Hall in Munich. Mahler conducted a cast totaling (himself included) 1,003 performers. The reviews were glowing, making the premiere easily the triumph of his artistic career. It is an incredible thing to make so many musicians work together and make any sort of sense, from both the perspective of a conductor and a composer. No one really thought this sort of thing was possible before Mahler went ahead and proved it a viable act. His contributions were such that they shaped the nature of artistic courage in the modern era.

    The work is under 90 minutes in duration and in two parts. The first part is a medieval Catholic hymn, Veni creator spiritus. It is the briefer of the two movements and generally praises God with robust vigor. The declaration of faith is of course clear and implicit. It is also constantly choral in delivery and amazingly clear, with no polyphonic jams to speak of. The second part of the symphony is a setting of the final movement from Goethe's Faust. This part is more of a secular cantata, featuring the soloists more prominently. Its first section is an adagio followed by a scherzo, and then a finale. Other than the almost nocturnal opening of the second part, there is little music in this work that is mysterious; it is mostly very direct and never murky. In the manner of Goethe, the second part is openly romantic, somewhat pastoral, and clearly Germanic. Mahler rarely lets the texture thin out much, and manages to keep the variety of soundscape and the interest of the listener consistent. At the end of the twentieth century, it was not unusual to attend live performances of this piece, in spite of the enormity of the cost to stage such a work. Some writers contend that it was the great choral document of the twentieth century, just as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is the choral document of the nineteenth century. This is not actually the case, insofar as the musical language of Symphony of a Thousand is still firmly entrenched in late nineteenth century tonality. It is however a great work. The amount of ideas that Mahler can process simultaneously is astounding. It is the combination of certainty and wonder that makes this work succeed.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2018 BR Klassik BRK 900714
    2017 Warner Classics 9029586917
    2017 SWR Music SWR 19042
    2017 Pro Organo PO 7276
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 14000
    2016 Oehms Classics OC 029
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795553
    2015 LPO LPO 0100
    2015 Signum Classics SIGCD 362
    2015 Signum Classics SIGCD 358
    2015 Warner Classics 552758
    2014 Warner Classics 2564627828
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843006072
    2013 Tudor Records T 7192
    2013 ICA Classics ICAC 5094
    2013 RCO Live 13002
    2013 RCO Live 13003
    2013 Gala GL 100806
    2013 United Classics T 2CD2013008
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791046
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 001931702
    2012 Oehms Classics OC 653
    2012 LSO Live LSO 0730
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962307
    2011 RCA Red Seal 88697727232
    2011 LPO 0052
    2011 Harmonia Mundi HMG 50185859
    2011 Oehms Classics OC768
    2011 Naxos NBD0009
    2011 BBC Music Magazine 330
    2011 Musical Concepts MC182
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4779111
    2010 Classics & Jazz / Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010 Sony Classical 8869768365
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778825
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca
    2010 Audite 95551
    2010 RCA Red Seal 8869757926
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Decca
    2010 EMI Classics
    2010 Archipel 0508
    2010 Decca / Universal
    2010 Classic Records / Classic Records 2001
    2010 Naxos 8501502
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099960898
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4779260
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 477 926-0
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 477 866-8
    2010 Decca
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778668
    2010 Decca
    2010 Fab Four 233033
    2009 Scribendum 010
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 LSO 669
    2009 San Francisco Symphony 821936-0021-2
    2009 Sony Classical Essential Classics 745369
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 447023
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4594062
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776597
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950072
    2007 Decca
    2006 Document 223511
    2006 Supraphon 38802
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 40238
    2006 EMI Classics
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 61580
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 31475
    2006 Decca 4757521
    2006 Naxos 8550533/4
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 002894775187
    2005 Audite 92551
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243557945
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 901858/59
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 801858.59
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Archipel 108
    2004 RCA Red Seal 62834
    2004 Haenssler 93130
    2004 Music & Arts 1130
    2003 Brilliant 92005
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87874
    2003 Decca 000149819
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 575661
    2003 Artemis Classics 1222
    2002 Haenssler 93015
    2002 Brilliant 99549
    2001 Decca 467314
    2001 Sony Classical 89499
    2000 Arkadia 78586
    2000 Living Stage 34716
    1999 Sony Music Distribution 61837
    1999 Orfeo 519992
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 435102
    1999 Decca / Universal Classics & Jazz
    1999 Living Stage 34702
    1999 BBC Music 4001
    1999 Decca 460972
    1999 Universal Classics & Jazz
    1999 New York Philharmonic 000
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459080
    1998 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 7243572941
    1998 Music & Arts 1021
    1998 Music & Arts CD-1021
    1997 RCA Victor 68348
    1997 Chandos 9572
    1997 Saison Russe 288151/52
    1996 Laserlight 24412
    1996 Capriccio Records 49043
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 445843
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 47581
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 447 529-2GGA
    1995 Philips 446195
    1995 BIS 700
    1994 Chandos 9305
    1994 Supraphon 1860
    1994 Supraphon 111972-2033
    1994 Music & Arts 280
    1994 Decca
    1994 Philips 442050
    1993 Denon Records 1564
    1992 EMI Classics 64476
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48198
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48281
    1992 London 430804
    1991 Telarc Distribution 80267
    1989 Deutsche Grammophon 429042
    1987 EMI Music Distribution 7476258
    1985 London 414 493-2DH2
    1983 Philips / PolyGram 410607
    1980 Tahra 120
    FED 041
    Deutsche Grammophon 459094
    Arkadia 761
    Vanguard 28
    Musical Heritage Society 5171246
    Deutsche Grammophon 471 451-2GB15
    Deutsche Grammophon 435162
    EMI Music Distribution 7548462
    Capriccio Records 49059
    Colorado Mahler 1/2
    Deutsche Grammophon 419433
    Brilliant 99549/8
    Sony Music Distribution 45754
    Brilliant Classics 8635/78
    Brilliant 92005/11
    Deutsche Grammophon 435433
    PentaTone Classics 5186166
    Supraphon 7307
    MahlerFest 000
    IMP Classics 1019
    Supraphon 111972
    Enterprise 1000
    CBS Records 42199
    Colorado Mahlerfest 1
    Philips 410607
    Artists 41
    Vanguard 2030
    Decca 4756686