Mahler Symphony No. 8
Mahler was given to large public statements, and his Eighth Symphony is the most extravagant of these. At the same time, its many moments of tenderness and intimacy look ahead to the music he was still to write, Das Lied von der Erde, the Ninth Symphony, and the impassioned Adagio from the work left uncompleted when he died, the Symphony No. 10. On this recording, we encounter the most expansive music Mahler wrote, alongside a work of deep introspection.
Goethe’s Faust is a recklessly inclusive composition, one to which Mahler must have looked as he planned his own unprecedentedly global symphonies. In his Eighth Symphony, joining Faust to Veni, creator spiritus—linking the complexities of Goethe’s humanism to the questionless faith of an eighthcentury Christian hymn—Mahler sought to create a similarly encompassing work.
Mahler had his own misgivings about going beyond the Ninth. He had called Das Lied von der Erde a symphony without numbering it, so that the symphony he called No. 9 was actually his tenth. Thus he had dealt with “the limit” by circumvention. Mahler moved virtually without pause from the last pages of the official No. 9 to the first of No. 10. In 1911, the discovery of penicillin was still seventeen years away. Had that antibiotic been available to combat his blood infection, he would almost undoubtedly have finished his work-in-progress.
—excerpt from liner notes by Michael Steinberg