Mahler Symphony No. 6
Mahler Symphony No. 6 in A Minor
Composers before Mahler had been great and expressive communicators, but no one is less guarded than he in his emotions and in the intensity of what he asks us to experience with him. His Sixth Symphony is a work of enormous exploration, of testing musical limits. Here Mahler has pushed his technical abilities as a composer and his perceptual boundaries as a human being. His first audiences were shocked and frightened by this new kind of soul-baring music. He himself was so unnerved by what he had done in his Sixth that he was in tears at the first rehearsals. The Sixth looks unflinchingly at the obsessive, destructive nature of man, the unremitting capacity of humankind to hurt itself. In its final pages, it regards destiny and realizes there will be no mercy. But there is more than despair in these pages. There is utter honesty, humor, tenderness, and, in the third movement, homage to the power of love. Mahler said that a symphony should mirror life. His entire symphonic output is a testament to that belief, and nowhere did he realize this credo so powerfully as in his Sixth Symphony. In listening to the frenzy and sorrow of this music, it is difficult to grasp how someone experiencing these feelings could write them down. Mahler himself doubted that he could compose this and maintain his sanity. But the Sixth is an extraordinary example of his desire to communicate, his need to tell others that they were not alone in experiencing the existential terror that has so sadly become a part of modern life. The need to communicate was, ultimately, what brought him through the process of composition, and what enabled him to write this Herculean piece. It is his faith and commitment to the comforting and transforming power of music that has inspired us in giving this performance and that we hope will be felt by our listeners.
—Michael Tilson Thomas, from liner notes