Gustav Mahler

Symphony No. 6 in A minor ("Tragic")

    Description by Steven Coburn

    As with his Fifth Symphony, this work is exclusively instrumental. It is also Mahler's most "Classical" symphony in its form and layout. Although the Sixth Symphony has no specific program, much has been written about the "tragic" aspects of the work that gave rise to its subtitle, which, by the way, was withdrawn by Mahler before publication. The prevailingly dark mood is not unusual for Mahler, but there is no transformation into a glorious ending or peaceful resignation. It is his only symphony to end unremittingly in the minor. As for the autobiographical elements, it is known from Alma Mahler's memoirs that it may have been Mahler himself upon whom three hammer strokes of fate fall in the Finale, which seems strangely prophetic of the following year when Mahler lost his Vienna Opera position, lost his daughter, and was diagnosed with heart disease. The song quotes, Ländlers, country tunes, bird calls, and military marches are all gone. In their place is a powerful and stark contrapuntal texture, certainly not devoid of soaring melodies and lush harmonies, but lacking in the referential styles of the early symphonies. The entire symphony is unified by a motto theme that consists of a major moving to minor triad over a characteristic rhythm. It carries particular significance in the Finale, as it is linked with the aforementioned hammer strokes of fate. Many commentators believe this to be Mahler's most cohesive and tautly organized symphony.

    Allegro energico, ma non troppo. Heftig, aber markig. (Not too fast. Vigorous, but marked). This is a standard sonata form with repeated exposition. The opening theme is harsh and march-like, while the sweeping second subject, written specifically as a portrayal of Mahler's wife, Alma, is in sharp contrast. The themes are developed imaginatively, and the movement closes triumphantly with the "Alma theme."

    Scherzo. Wuchtig. (Forcefully). This movement is usually performed second, but Mahler seems to have always placed it after the Andante. This is the first of Mahler's really diabolical scherzos. It is a bizarre, grotesquely stamping dance full of percussive strokes and shrieking woodwinds. This alternates with a strange little trio to which Mahler gives the marking Altväterisch (Old-fashioned). It is full of rhythmic ingenuity in its timid and hesitant manner.

    Andante moderato. (Moderately moving). Alma reported in her memoirs that this pastoral and nostalgic movement was a musical depiction of their children at play. It is simple in form, and rather yearning and plaintive in mood.

    Finale. Sostenuto. (Sustained). This huge sonata-form movement is one of Mahler's most epic in scope and conception. It nearly dwarfs the rest of the symphony and certainly represents its cornerstone, both structurally and emotionally. It opens with an impressionistic sweep that extends out to the somber introduction. After this, the main material is a powerful march that three times rises to exultation, only to be overcome by the motto theme and each of the three hammer strokes. The movement concludes with a long and mournful coda, unremitting to the end.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro energico, ma non troppo
    2. Scherzo. Wuchtig
    3. Andante moderato
    4. Finale. Allegro moderato. Allegro energico

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Berliner Philharmoniker BPHR 180231
    2018 Sony Classical G010003865623O
    2018 Sony Classical 19075822952
    2018 SWR Klassik SWR 19416CD
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2018 BIS BIS 2266
    2018 BR Klassik BRK 900714
    2017 Warner Classics 9029586917
    2017 SWR Music SWR 19042
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 14000
    2016 Oehms Classics OC 029
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795553
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796018
    2015 BR Klassik 900132
    2015 LPO LPO 0100
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4787897
    2015 Warner Classics 552758
    2014 Oehms Classics OC 651
    2014 Signum Classics SIGCD 356
    2014 Signum Classics SIGCD 361
    2014 Warner Classics 2564627828
    2013 Dallas Symphony Orchestra / DSO Live DSOL 5
    2013 Tudor Records TUD 7191
    2013 Solo Musica WS 003
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791046
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 001931702
    2012 Oehms Classics OC 413
    2012 LSO Live LSO 0730
    2011 Accentus ACC30230
    2011 Simax 1316
    2011 RCA Red Seal 88697727232
    2011 Helicon Classics HEL 029642
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099908441324
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 Signum Classics SIGCD 275
    2011 Haenssler CD 94217
    2011 Decca
    2011 Musical Concepts MC182
    2010 Sony Classical 8869768365
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778825
    2010 RCA Red Seal 8869768609
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca / Universal
    2010 Savoy
    2010 RCA Red Seal 88697451652
    2010 Archipel 0440
    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
    2009 Urania 389
    2009 LPO 38
    2009 Sony BMG 736465
    2009 Decca 4781599
    2009 Artek 46
    2009 Testament 1451
    2009 BSO Classics
    2009 Sony Classical Essential Classics 745369
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 447023
    2008 CSO CSOR901 804
    2008 LSO Live 661
    2008 CSO CSO 901807
    2008 Decca 4250402
    2008 EMI Classics 12963
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 ZYX Music 100562
    2008 Music & Arts MACD1214
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950072
    2007 Exton 0403
    2007 EuroArts 2055648
    2007 Decca
    2006 Supraphon 38802
    2006 BBC Legends / BBC Music 41912
    2006 Mdr Records 323
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 40238
    2006 Apex
    2006 Apex 4626912
    2006 RCO / RCO Live 06001
    2006 Ondine 1084
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946365285
    2006 Warner Classics
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000532102
    2005 Silverline Records 284218
    2005 Weitblick 53
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 2894775573
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000475736
    2005 Channel Classics 22998
    2005 Channel Classics 22905
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 724355529428
    2004 Haenssler 93130
    2004 Relief CR 991071
    2004 Testament 1342
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 75471
    2003 Berlin Classics 0090452
    2003 Brilliant 92005
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87874
    2003 Artemis Classics 1220
    2003 LSO Live 38
    2002 Naïve 4937
    2002 Berlin Classics 0094612
    2002 Audite 95480
    2002 Telarc Distribution 60586
    2002 Telarc Distribution 80586
    2002 Brilliant 99549
    2001 Orfeo 554011
    2001 Sony Classical 89499
    2001 Haenssler 93029
    2000 RS 186
    2000 Vox 7212
    2000 Titanic 257
    2000 CPO 999477
    2000 Chandos 8956
    2000 Datum 12303
    1999 Vanguard 26
    1999 MDG MDG330 0837-2
    1999 Chandos 9207
    1999 Carlton 6601007
    1999 Unicorn-Kanchana UKCD 202425
    1999 NM Classics 97014
    1999 New York Philharmonic 000
    1999 Carlton 6601229
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459080
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 457716
    1998 Sony Classical SMK-60208
    1998 Telarc Distribution 80444
    1998 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 7243572941
    1998 Music & Arts CD-1021
    1998 Music & Arts 1021
    1997 Chandos 9572
    1997 Russian Season 288135
    1996 Capriccio Records 49043
    1996 Teldec 98423
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 69349
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 445835
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 47581
    1995 Philips 434909
    1995 Decca 444871
    1995 ZYX Music 4110
    1994 Supraphon 1860
    1994 Naxos 550529
    1994 Supraphon 1977
    1994 Philips 442050
    1994 Decca
    1993 Denon Records 1327
    1992 EMI Classics 64476
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48198
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47654
    1992 Decca / Universal
    1992 London 430804
    1991 Philips 426 257-2PH2
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 427697
    1990 EMI Music Distribution 754047
    1989 Deutsche Grammophon 429042
    1980 Tahra 147
    1970 Decca / London
    Deutsche Grammophon 459088
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 2045
    Deutsche Grammophon 415099
    Arkadia 522
    RPO 33
    Berliner Philharmoniker
    Music & Arts 785
    Rca Red Seal 3213
    London 436240
    Deutsche Grammophon 471 451-2GB15
    Deutsche Grammophon 435162
    London 414674
    Hunt Productions 553
    Hunt Productions 702
    MDG 3400
    EMI Music Distribution 7475928
    Capriccio Records 49053
    Sony Music Distribution 42495
    London 430165
    IMP Classics 93
    San Francisco Symphony 821936-0001-2
    Digital Concerto 676
    Brilliant 99549/6
    BSO Classics
    RPO Records 9005
    Sony Music Entertainment
    BBC Music Magazine 251
    Laserlight 14140
    Art & Electronics 219297
    Deutsche Grammophon 423082
    Canyon Classics 304
    Supraphon 111977
    Enterprise 995
    Artists 32
    RPO 1
    CBS Records 42199
    Vanguard 2030
    Decca 4756686
    Tahra 110
    National Youth Orchestra of Canada 2009