Composers Datebook®

Mahler's Second premieres in NYC

Composers Datebook - 20231208


At Carnegie Hall on today’s date in 1908, Gustav Mahler conducted the New York Symphony, the 200-voice Oratorio Society chorus and two vocal soloists in the American premiere of his Symphony No. 2, his Resurrection Symphony.

These days, Mahler’s Second ranks among his most popular works. But how was this new music received by New Yorkers back in 1908? An unsigned review in the New York Daily Tribune noted:

“It was by demonstrations of far more than mere politeness that the large audience found vent for its feelings of interest and pleasure in this new music. ... After the Schubertian second movement, there was long continued applause, and at the close of the composition … there was cheering and waving of handkerchiefs until Mr. Mahler was compelled to appear several times to bow his thanks and appreciation.”

As for the music itself, the review opined: “Of the beauty and insight of certain episodes, there can be no doubt. … There seems, however, a lack of significant and commanding originality. It is more cerebral than passionate, more intellectual than compellingly emotional.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"); New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.

On This Day


  • 1731 - Baptism of Bohemian composer and pianist Frantisek Xaver Dussek, in Choteborky;

  • 1865 - Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, in Tavastehus;

  • 1882 - Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, in Fresnillo, Zacatecas;

  • 1890 - Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, in Policka;

  • 1919 - Polish-born Russian composer Moisei Vainberg (also Weinberg/Vaynberg, Moisey/Mieczyslaw), in Warsaw;


  • 1562 - Flemish composer Adrian Willaert, age. c. 72, in Venice;

  • 1924 - German composer and pianist Xaver Scharwenka, age 74, in Berlin;

  • 1980 - John Lennon (of the Beatles), age 40, is shot dead in New York City;


  • 1733 - Bach: Secular Cantata No. 214 ("Tönet ihr Pauken, erchallet Trompeten") at a public performance in the garden of Zimmermann's Coffee House in Leipzig, for the birthday of the Princess-Elector and Queen of Poland, Maria Josepha (the wife of August III); One year later, Bach recycled some of the music for this secular cantata into his sacred "Christmas Oratorio" (S.213-219);

  • 1743 - Handel: “Dettingen Te Deum and Anthem” in London (Julian date: Nov. 27);

  • 1813 - Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, in Vienna, the composer conducting; Also on the program was the orchestral version of "Wellington's Victory" (originally conceived for performance by a mechanical orchestra invented by Maelzel called the "panharmonicon";

  • 1844 - Schumann: Piano Quartet, Op. 47, in Leipzig, at the Gewandhaus, with Clara Schumann (piano), Ferdinand David (viola), Niels W. Gade (viola), and Count Wielhorsky (cello); A private performance had also occured in Leipzig in 1842 (see Dec. 6);

  • 1849 - Verdi: opera "Luisa Miller," in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo;

  • 1879 - Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Suite No. 1, in Moscow (Gregorian date: Dec. 20);

  • 1915 - first version (of three) of Sibelius: Symphony No. 5, with the Helsinki Municipal Orchestra, with the composer conducting (on his 50th birthday); A second revision of this symphony was premiered by the same orchestral and conductor on Dec. 14, 1916, and a third and final version premiered in Helsinki under the composer's direction on Oct. 21, 1921;

  • 1931 - Gershwin: musical show, "Of Thee I Sing," in Boston, at the Majestic Theater; This musical opened in New York on Dec. 26th that year, and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1932;

  • 1943 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 24, in Moscow;

  • 1992 - Michael Torke: “Monday and Tuesday,” for chamber ensemble, at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, by the London Sinfonietta, Lothar Zagrosek conducting;


  • 1911 - At the Cort Theater in San Francisco, American composer and conductor Henry Hadley leads the first subscription concert of the San Francisco Symphony; The program included Wagner's Act I Prelude from "Die Meistersinger," Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" Symphony, the "Theme and Variations," from Haydn's "Emperor Quartet," and Liszt's tone-poem "Les Préludes."

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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