Performance Friday, April 17, 2015 | 8 PM

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
The original version of the finale of Mahler's Sixth Symphony included three hammer strokes of fate that presaged tragedies in the composer's life: the diagnosis of a heart condition that would prove fatal, the loss of his position at the Vienna State Opera, and the death of his daughter. Superstitious, Mahler eventually removed the third stroke. But he also included a magnificently melodic Adagio and a rapturous theme that represents his wife, Alma.


  • Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Andris Nelsons, Music Director and Conductor


  • MAHLER Symphony No. 6


Mahler's Symphony No. 6 (Allegro energico, ma non troppo)
Boston Symphony Orchestra | Seiji Ozawa, Conductor
Universal International Music

At a Glance

Following three symphonies involving voice, Mahler’s Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh symphonies are a purely instrumental trilogy linked by a renewed interest in counterpoint and a new and highly refined treatment of the orchestra. Mahler wrote the Sixth over the course of the two summers of 1903 and 1904 during one of the most idyllic periods of his life: He was a leading conductor of his age; his Fifth Symphony had had a triumphant premiere; he was happily married and had two young daughters. Yet the Sixth is arguably his darkest, most emotionally fraught work, and the only one of his symphonies to end forcefully in the minor mode with no hint of relief. It is in four movements, the first an intense, march-infused, 24-minute span introducing harmonic relationships that obtain throughout the piece. Of particular importance is a simple two-chord motif moving from A major to A minor. Within the storm, though, Mahler gives a glimpse of idyllic Austrian country life, cowbells heard clanking in the distance.

Mahler himself vacillated as to the published order of the two middle movements; each conductor must make the decision anew. On one hand, the Scherzo can be heard as a continuing development of the first movement’s materials; on the other, the Andante moderato provides a welcome respite from the opening movement’s intensity. The Finale ranges widely in tempo and mood, recalling moments from earlier in the piece, sometimes suggesting a turn toward reconciliation, but ultimately crashing back to the depths. Mahler originally composed three “hammer strokes” for critical moments of this movement; as his wife, Alma, recounted, “It is the hero, on whom fall three blows of fate, the last of which fells him.” But the superstitious composer omitted the third blow in the 1906 premiere.
This performance is part of Great American Orchestras I.