Would that I could perform my symphonies for the first time fifty years after my death!
—Gustav Mahler, letter to Alma Mahler (October 14, 1904)
Jens Malte Fischer, Gustav Mahler 692
And who can blame Mahler, when he got reviews like these?
Chicago Premiere, March 3, 1907
From the Examiner review:
From the Journal review:
(click here for both reviews)
New York Premiere, December 3, 1926
From the Olin Downes review in the New York Times:
And it was indeed about fifty years after his death that his works finally entered the repertory.
—Jens Malte Fischer [Gustav Mahler 692]
Stephen Johnson, Discovering Music “Stephen Johnson looks at Mahler’s songs and discusses how they shine a light on the character of his Symphony No. 5.”
Jens Malte Fischer, Gustav Mahler, Chapter 23, Fifth Symphony, 385-391
Mahler Symphony No. 5 (1901-02, with subsequent revisions)
four flutes and two piccolos, three oboes and english horn, three clarinets and bass clarinet, three bassoons and contrabassoon, six horns, four trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, harp, bass drum, cymbals, small bass drum, snare drum, glockenspiel, slapstick, tamtam, triangle, and strings [citation]
The lone trumpet call that opens this symphony launches a whole new chapter in Mahler’s music. Gone is the picturesque world of the first four symphonies—music inspired by folk tales and song, music that calls on the human voice and is explained by the written word. With the Fifth Symphony, as Bruno Walter put it, Mahler “is now aiming to write music as a musician.” Walter had nothing against the earlier works; in fact, he was one of the first serious musicians to understand and to conduct those pieces long before it was fashionable to champion the composer’s cause. Walter simply identified what other writers since have reemphasized: the unforeseen switch to an exclusively instrumental symphonic style, producing music, in Symphonies 5 through 7, that needs no programmatic discussion. [citation]
On Spotify (Bernstein/NY Phil; Kubelík/Bavarian Radio SO; Nott/Bamberg SO, with the caveat that Spotify’s metadata is so poor I can’t be sure these are the recordings about which David Nice writes below)
Kubelík’s live 1981 Mahler Fifth is a reminder that you can have everything in Mahler – intricate texturing, characterful playing, purposeful phrasing and a cumulative impact which leaves you breathless with exhilaration. Only Bernstein, also captured before an audience, can do the same, and although Kubelík pulls some very theatrical stops out as the clouds part in the second movement and the light fades from the scherzo, his generally faster-moving picture tells a very different story.
—David Nice, BBC Music Magazine
Click here for a review of the Nott/Bamberg recording.
On YouTube (mesmerizing performance from Abbado/Lucerne Festival Orchestra)