Mahler Symphony No. 6

THURSDAY, June 25, 2020

Mahler Symphony No. 6

I have mentioned this before. It’s almost an unwritten musical commandment: Thou shalt not only play or listen to only one movement of a symphony. With rare exceptions we are discouraged from listening to just a favorite movement.

Of course I think this is colossally stupid, but anyone who knows me also knows I think that the worst thing we can do is listen to critics and pundits. Sooner or later they will destroy any love we have for anything, if we take them seriously. So at the end of this missive I’m going to present just one movement, and one I think is absolutely amazing as a stand-alone composition.

Now, of course I am not discouraging anyone from listening to this whole symphony…

In fact, I got to know the whole symphony in high school. I had a reel-to-reel tape deck, and at the time just about the best recordings you could buy were released on tapes. The recording I had at the time was of Leonard  Bernstein, who was one of the first famous conductors to make a name for himself recording Mahler. This symphony was so long, I had to flip the tape over to get to the second half.

Mahler is tough to listen to…

For most of us, his music is just too long. Their are Mahler lovers who accept everything he did as pure genius, but I’m not one of them. To me his music is flawed by being padded, over-extended and sort of musically bloviated. There is no denying the genius of his orchestrations, and he certainly paints sound pictures that are immense. But sometimes his music goes on, and on, and on.

For many this symphony is one of the most difficult to listen to, or understand…

After listening to this on and off for decades, I come back to the same conclusions. There are brilliant places, wonderful ideas, but as a whole it does not work for me, not in its four movement form. There is a also a huge controversy about which movement should come second. The slow movement is sometimes placed second, and sometimes third. Mahler himself never fully made up his mind, so conductors and Mahler lovers argue about it.

I frankly don’t care. The whole symphony is too long for me, period.


The slow movement, this one movement alone, I think may be one of the most amazing pieces of music ever written, and I’ve been trying to get people to listen to it, alone, for decades. This absolute gem is buried in a four movement monster, and to this day I believe that if people approached only this slow movement, alone, this one masterpiece, it might eventually become one of the most played musical compositions in the history of music.

So try this one movement…

I’ve certainly listened to the whole symphony, and I’m sure I will again, but this is what I come back to again and again. This one movement, by the way, is about 18 minutes long, longer than some entire symphonies by Mozart.



2 thoughts on “Mahler Symphony No. 6

  1. For me, the 2nd movement that you highlighted had a greater effect after the energetic first movement, somewhat like a peaceful garden with rainbow, flowers and grass glistening wet, after a wild, woolly (but safe) thunderstorm. You appreciate the tranquility more than if it’s been that way all along. It is a beautiful movement on its own, but even more so after coming in after the storm.
    The only movement I found tedious is the last one. I’ve pressed pause at 1:02 and it may stay paused. The scherzo (III) is brief. 1st movement has contrast, but keeps coming back to familiar things and that kept it fresh for me.

    Thought: The average football game lasts 3 hours, but people get up to get a beer. I listened to this while doing things in the house. Mahler does not seem to be music to *sit down* to. Esp. the vivacious parts.


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