Mahler, Symphony No. 6 in A minor (1906)

Course Description
Although Mahler did not provide a formal description for his Sixth Symphony, we do know that he composed it during probably one of the happiest times of his life. The presentation therefore focuses on the ironic reasons the symphony has been labeled a “Tragic” Symphony.

General Information
  • Mahler’s Sixth is a purely instrumental work containing a traditional four-movement structure that Haydn and Mozart would have recognized during the late 1700s.
  • Although the Sixth is Mahler's most personal symphony, it also contains a universal message about the fragility of happiness and domestic stability.
  • The Sixth is the only one of Mahler’s nine symphonies that does not end in either victory or peace. Even so, it does not necessarily deserve to be labeled a tragic symphony. The struggles portrayed in the symphony can move toward either victory or peace until the final few seconds of the last movement.
  • Due to some confusion caused by Mahler himself and disagreements from those who came after Mahler, conductors generally use their own discretion in whether to place the Scherzo before the Andante or the Andante before the Scherzo. Conductors can also use their own discretion in whether to use two or three Hammer Blows of Fate in the fourth movement.
  • People listening to Mahler's Sixth will most likely leave the performance with at least five memorable experiences: (1) a universal theme about how life can turn on a dime, (2) unusual timbres in the first and fourth movements, (3) one of the most beautiful slow movements ever composed, (4) Hammer Blows of Fate in the fourth movement, (5) one of the most memorable and well-known endings from any symphony.
Online Articles
Bernard Haitink conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Hammer Blows at
1:07:10 and 1:12:00.
  • First Movement – 0:00
  • Second Movement (Scherzo) – 24:48
  • Third Movement (Andante) – 39:31
  • Fourth Movement – 54:31
Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic

Hammer Blows at
1:03:49, 1:08:19, and 1:18:49.
  • First Movement – 0:12
  • Second Movement (Scherzo) – 21:44
  • Third Movement (Andante) – 34:52
  • Fourth Movement – 51:19
Manuel López-Gómez conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (Andante)


Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic
Ivan Fischer conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (1990)

Recommended Books
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Recommended Box Set of Mahler's Symphonies

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