Performances by Gustav Mahler

Other performances after Gustav Mahler's life



1910. Joseff Woss, piano 4 hands, Universal Edition (UE) music publishers, plate 2660.

1912. Piano 4 hands, Universal Edition (UE) music publishers, plate 3390.


The symphony is scored for a very large orchestra, in keeping with Mahler's conception of the work as a "new symphonic universe", a synthesis of symphony, cantata, oratorio, motet, and lied in a combination of styles. La Grange comments: "To give expression to his cosmic vision, it was ... necessary to go beyond all previously known limits and dimensions." The orchestral forces required are, however, not as large as those deployed in Arnold Schoenberg's oratorio Gurre-Lieder, completed in 1911.


  • Ensemble "separately placed" of four trumpets (the first of which may be doubled) and three trombone
  • Horn (8)
  • Trombone (4)
  • Trumpet (4)
  • Tuba


  • Celesta
  • Harmonium
  • Organ
  • Piano (also added during the rehearsals)


  • Bass drum
  • Cymbals
  • Low-pitched bells. Mahler also added a glockenspiel during the final rehearsals
  • Tam-tam
  • Timpani
  • Triangle


  • Cellos
  • Double basse
  • Harp (although at least four are preferred) (2)
  • Mandolin (at least one but preferably several)
  • Viola
  • Violin I
  • Violin II

Mahler recommended that in very large halls, the first player in each of the woodwind sections should be doubled and that numbers in the strings should also be augmented.


  • Bass clarinet B-flat
  • Bassoon (4)
  • Clarinet B-flat(3)
  • Clarinet E-flat (at least 2)
  • Contrabassoon
  • Cor anglais
  • Flute (4)
  • Oboe (4)
  • Piccolo (one doubling 5th flute) (2)

Mahler recommended that in very large halls, the first player in each of the woodwind sections should be doubled and that numbers in the strings should also be augmented.


  • Alto (2)
  • Baritone
  • Bass
  • Soprano (3)
  • Tenor
  • Choir SATB (2)
  • Choir children

In Part II the eight soloists are assigned to dramatic roles as represented in Goethe's text.


  • 00-00-1948 Sir Adrian Boult's broadcast performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was recorded by the BBC, but not issued until 2009.
  • 00-07-1948 The Hungarian-born conductor Eugene Ormandy recorded the "Veni creator spiritus" movement at the Hollywood Bowl. 
  • 09-04-1950 The first issued recording of the complete symphony was Stokowski's Carnegie Hall performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and combined New York choirs on 9 April 1950.
  • 00-06-2011 London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt.


      1950. Leopold Stokowski.


      2011. Klaus Tennstedt.


  • Subsequent performances : On the day following the Munich premiere Mahler led the orchestra and choruses in a repeat performance. During the next three years, according to the calculations of Mahler's friend Guido Adler the Eighth Symphony received a further 20 performances across Europe. These included the Dutch premiere, in Amsterdam under Willem Mengelberg on 12 March 1912 and the first Prague performance, given on 20 March 1912 under Mahler's former Vienna Hofoper colleague, Alexander von Zemlinsky. Vienna itself had to wait until 1918 before the symphony was heard there. In the US, Leopold Stokowski persuaded an initially reluctant board of the Philadelphia Orchestra to finance the American premiere, which took place on 2 March 1916. The occasion was a great success; the symphony was played several more times in Philadelphia before the orchestra and choruses travelled to New York, for a series of equally well-received performances at the Metropolitan Opera House.

  • At the Amsterdam Mahler Festival in May 1920, Mahler's completed symphonies and his major song cycles were presented over nine concerts given by the Concertgebouw Orchestra and choruses, under Mengelberg's direction. The music critic Samuel Langford, who attended the occasion, commented that "we do not leave Amsterdam greatly envying the diet of Mahler first and every other composer afterward, to which Mengelberg is training the music-lovers of that city." The Austrian music historian Oscar Bie, while impressed with the festival as a whole, wrote subsequently that the Eighth was "stronger in effect than in significance, and purer in its voices than in emotion". Langford had commented on the British "not being very eager about Mahler", and the Eighth Symphony was not performed in Britain until 15 April 1930, when Sir Henry Wood presented it with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The work was played again eight years later by the same forces; among those present in the audience was the youthful composer Benjamin Britten. Impressed by the music, he nevertheless found the performance itself "execrable". 

  • The years after World War II saw a number of notable performances of the Eighth Symphony, including Sir Adrian Boult's broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall on 10 February 1948, the Japanese premiere under Kazuo Yamada in Tokyo in December 1949, and the Australian premiere under Sir Eugene Goossens in 1951. A Carnegie Hall performance under Stokowski in 1950 became the first complete recording of the symphony to be issued. After 1950 the increasing numbers of performances and recordings of the work signified its growing popularity, but not all critics were won over. Theodor W. Adorno found the piece weak, "a giant symbolic shell"; this most affirmative work of Mahler's is, in Adorno's view, his least successful, musically and artistically inferior to his other symphonies. The composer-critic Robert Simpson, usually a champion of Mahler, referred to Part II as "an ocean of shameless kitsch." Mahler biographer Jonathan Carr finds much of the symphony "bland", lacking the tension and resolution present in the composer's other symphonies. Deryck Cooke, on the other hand, compares Mahler's Eighth to Beethoven's Choral (Ninth) Symphony. To Cooke, Mahler's is "the Choral Symphony of the twentieth century: like Beethoven's, but in a different way, it sets before us an ideal [of redemption] which we are as yet far from realising—even perhaps moving away from—but which we can hardly abandon without perishing".

  • In the late 20th century and into the 21st, the Eighth was performed in all parts of the world. A succession of premieres in the Far East culminated in October 2002 in Beijing, when Long Yu led the China Philharmonic Orchestra in the first performance of the work in the People's Republic of China. The Sydney Olympic Arts festival in August 2000 opened with a performance of the Eighth by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under its chief conductor Edo de Waart. The popularity of the work, and its heroic scale, meant that it was often used as a set piece on celebratory occasions; on 15 March 2008, Yoav Talmi led 200 instrumentalists and a choir of 800 in a performance in Quebec City, to mark the 400th anniversary of the city's foundation. In London on 16 July 2010 the opening concert of the BBC Proms celebrated the 150th anniversary of Mahler's birth with a performance of the Eighth, with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was its eighth in the history of the Proms.


       2010. San Marino stamp. Symphony No. 8.

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