International tour – Aix-en-Provence
About the program
“Just imagine a work of such magnitude that it actually mirrors the whole world – where one is, so to speak, only an instrument, played on by the universe…” wrote Mahler to his lover, the singer Anna von Mildenburg, while he was working on his Third symphony in Steinbach, Upper Austria. “My symphony will be something the likes of which the world has never yet heard! In it the whole of nature will be lent a voice, and it will impart such deep secrets as those one might only imagine in one’s dreams. Some passages in it seem so uncanny to me that I can hardly recognize them as my own work.”
How highly the composer considered his abilities is well demonstrated by a humorous event which took place when Bruno Walter, a conductor friend of Mahler’s and one of the the composer’s greatest interpreters, arrived in Steinbach by steamboat. He was observing the scenery when Mahler told him: “No need to look, I have composed all this already.” Walter was the first to hear the work when Mahler played the completed symphony for him on the piano. As Walter recalled, “I was dazed by the power and novelty of the music, and bowled over by the creative ardour and loftiness from which the work was born. I thought that only now, and only through his music, did I get to know him; it seemed that his whole character breathed an enigmatic intimacy with nature, the elemental power of which I had hitherto only suspected.” The description Bruno Walter used at the time, a ‘symphonic world dream’, is widely regarded as the most accurate portrayal of Mahler’s wonderful work.
The composer spent three summers working on the symphony which he finished in August 1896. In Krefeld in 1902, Mahler himself conducted the world premiere of his longest symphony. Written for orchestra, alto solo, and a boys’ and womens’ choir, it lasts about an hour and a half.