Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Curse of the Ninth: Mahler's Attempt to Cheat Death

Continuing our topic of unfinished music this month, this week I’d like to look at Mahler’s Symphony No. 10.

Gustav Mahler had a rather superstitious personality, believing what was known as the “curse of the Ninth.” This curse referred back to the legendary Ludwig van Beethoven who died after completing nine symphonies. From that point on, no major composer ever completed more than nine symphonies before passing away. Mahler feared that, if he attempted to write more than nine symphonies, death would get the best of him. That is why, when he came to write his ninth symphony, he decided to leave the work without a number and instead call it The Song of the Earth, in a sense cheating death.

During the year 1909, Mahler ended up deciding to write another symphony and label it as No. 9. He was living a tumultuous life at this point, having stepped down from his Artistic Directorship of the Vienna Court Opera for anti-Semitic reasons. During this period he also lost his beloved daughter to scarlet fever and diphtheria and was diagnosed with heart trouble!  This didn’t seem to stop the composer from pressing forward with his busy lifestyle.

Things in Mahler’s life seemed to come to a sudden stop in 1910 when he heard devastating news—news that would lead to his fateful attempt to write a tenth symphony that he would never have the opportunity to finish. Join me next time as we look at Mahler’s Tenth and the story surrounding his death.

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