Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Symphony No. 8 - Mahler
Symphony No. 8
Mahler's gigantic Eighth Symphony was first produced in the United States by the Philadephia Symphony Orchestra, March 1, 1916, under the direction of its conductor, Leopold Stokovski, and was repeated eight times. It was also given by the same orchestra in New York, April 9, 1916. That the appellation "gigantic" is not exaggerated is shown by the fact that upon these occasions in addition to the regular orchestra, celeste, pianoforte, organ and mandolin, and an extra force of four trumpets and three trombones, a total of 110 instruments, were employed. The choral force numbered 950, including three sopranos, two altos, one tenor, one baritone and one bass soloist, two mixed choruses and a boy choir. The extra four trumpets and three trombones were played from proscenium boxes to give added effect to the "Gloria" of the Latin Hymn which forms the material of the first section of the work. One can hardly call Mahler's Eighth a symphony in the old classic form and yet in its first section it retains a relation to the sonata form in the manner in which the themes are stated, and in its second section one may trace the Adagio, Scherzo, and Finale, greatly modernized. To present a detailed analysis of this involved work would require a presentation of nearly the whole score, so involved is it and so closely interrelated are the instrumental and vocal parts, the whole dominated by the main theme of the first part.
Stated in a general way this so-called symphony is a musical setting of the ancient Latin hymn, "Veni, Creator spiritus," which by some has been attributed to Hrabanus, Archbishop of Rheims, and by others to Charlemagne, and of a scene from the second part of Goethe's "Faust." The first section opens with a choral statement of the main theme, "Veni, Creator," which is then taken up in the orchestra, repeated by chorus, and followed by a second theme in the violins. Theme after theme appear with all their variations, in orchestra and chorus and solo voice, the climax of the part being reached in a mighty double fugue, which unites the various themes and leads to the main one and the close of the section.
An orchestral interlude, which has been called "a landscape in tones," leads to the second section devoted to the transfiguration of Gretchen. The philosophical sentimentalist may trace a connection between the pleading of the "Veni, Creator spiritus" and the "eternal feminine" of Goethe, and the mystic evolve many meanings out of this strange music, but the ordinary hearer will find his delight in the chorus of the Anchorites, the song of the Pater ecstaticus, the Chorus of the Angels, the Rose Chorus, the devotional hymn of Doctor Marianus, the song of the three Marys, Gretchen's supplication, and the mighty Finale devoted to the sentiment, which dominates the entire section, "the Woman Soul leadeth us upward and on," and which the composer would have us believe is but the fulfillment by the "Creator spiritus."