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About the program

Beethoven began work on his First Symphony in 1799, the final year of a century which had been exceptionally rich in the genre’s history. With his first symphony, the 29-year-old composer was carrying on the great traditions of Haydn and Mozart. While he wrote only a fraction of the symphonies his predecessors did, each of the nine he composed between 1800 and 1824 were hugely significant, and the last one remains a stand-out pinnacle of the genre.
Every one of the nine symphonies was powerfully novel for the contemporary audience, full of surprises and innovations. The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung published an enthusiastic review about the concert at the Hofburgtheater on 2 April 1800, which said that the reviewer had not heard such an interesting concert for a long time, and that the concluding symphony “was full of art, novelty and inspiration,” even though he thought the winds and brass were overused.
Mahler’s six-movement symphony for two voices and orchestra, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), only premiered after the composer’s death, in 1911. The composer had a superstitious dread of writing a Ninth symphony, which is why he followed his Eighth not with a number but with a name. In 1907, Mahler read Hans Bethge’s book of poetry, Die chinesische Flöte, which had been inspired by Chinese poets and led him to set six of its poems to music. The contemporary critic, Paul Bekker, spoke of Mahler’s “late style”, which was “full of austere fantasy, like the late style of every great artist, and full of presentiments of the future.”


Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major
Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde


Iván Fischer


Gerhild Romberger, alto
Robert Dean Smith, tenor