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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Wednesday, November 20

Mahler's First in Budapest and New York

Synopsis

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was first heard on this day in Budapest in 1889, with the 29-year-old composer conducting.

Originally billed as a “symphonic poem,” a newspaper in Budapest even printed a detailed program, obviously supplied by Mahler himself. For subsequent performance in Europe, Mahler quickly withdrew these “Cliff’s Notes” to his Symphony.

Twenty years later, in December of 1909, Mahler conducted its American premiere at Carnegie Hall, during his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

The symphony drew mixed reviews:

The New York Times wrote, “There are matters in it, that as absolute music, have no evident significance, and that serve merely to puzzle and perplex.” The critic for the Sun took a dislike to the symphony’s finale, suggesting (quote) “when the weather is bad in Tyrol, it is beyond the power of language to characterize.”

Mahler’s own reactions are recorded in a letter he sent from New York to Bruno Walter back in Europe: “The day before yesterday I did my First Symphony here, without getting much reaction. However, I myself was fairly pleased with that youthful effort… The audiences here are very lovable and relatively better mannered than in Vienna. They listen attentively and very sympathetically. The critics are the same as anywhere else. I don’t read any of them.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) Symphony No. 1 in D Minnesota Orchestra; Edo de Waart, cond. Virgin 61258

Additional Information

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