Last time, we began our story by discussing Mahler’s life leading up to his Tenth Symphony. Believing that to compose more than nine symphonies was to ask for a death sentence, Mahler initially tried to defeat the “curse of the Ninth” writing ten symphonies but naming what should have been the ninth The Song of the Earth.
During the year 1910, however, Mahler experienced a personal tragedy that led to his fateful attempt to write a Symphony No. 10. Mahler discovered his wife, Alma Mahler, to be having an affair. Desperate, Mahler found two methods in dealing with his anguish. The first was to visit Sigmund Freud. The second method was to begin his tenth symphony, writing cries from his broken heart on the score as he composed. Phrases such as “Madness, seize me, the accursed! Negate me, so I forget that I exist, that I may cease to be!”, or “To live for you! To die for you!” were found on the score after Alma turned it over to a publisher 13 years following the composer’s death! Why do you think she waited so long to reveal her husband’s sketches of a new symphony? Perhaps she felt ashamed at what his written cries for help revealed about her own character?
Just shy of his 51st birthday, Gustav Mahler died of a blood infection, leaving the Adagio first movement of his Symphony No. 10 and a fully-orchestrated portion of the third movement.
Below you can listen to the Adagio from Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. Do you think it sounds like a cry for help? What are your thoughts on Mahler’s fateful attempt to compose more than nine symphonies? Crazy, right?