The Music Plays On — Mahler Symphony №9

Donato Cabrera
3 min readMay 17, 2020
Mahler with his daughter, Anna Justine Mahler, Toblach, 1909

Mahler wrote his Symphony №9 during the summers of 1908 and 1909 in a hastily built composer’s hut behind the Hotel Trenkerhof in Toblach, which is now part of Northern Italy.

Mahler’s Composer’s Hut in Toblach
Hotel Trenkerhof (now called Gustav Mahler Stube), Toblach, Italy

The Mahler family spent the summers of 1908 and 1909 at this hotel because during the previous summer their daughter, Maria Anna Mahler (1902–1907), had died of diphtheria in their villa in Maiernigg. It was impossible for them to ever go back.

Without doubt, the ninth symphony is infused with a sense of remembrance and farewell for not just his daughter, but for his siblings and parents, all of whom were now gone. This farewell motif heard throughout the first movement is a quote from Beethoven’s “farewell” sonata, the Piano Sonata №26 in E flat major, Op. 81a “Les Adieux”

However, this is not a symphony that wallows in the morose or melancholy, but rejoices with affirmation for life and love! The composer Alban Berg writes about this first movement in a letter to his wife:

I have once more played through Mahler’s Ninth. The first movement is the most glorious he ever wrote. It expresses an extraordinary love of this earth, for Nature; the longing to live on it in peace, to enjoy it completely, to the very heart of one’s being, before death comes, as irresistibly it does. The whole movement is based on a premonition of death, which is constantly recurring. All earthly dreams end here; that is why the tenderest passages are followed by tremendous climaxes like new eruptions of a volcano. This, of course, is most obvious of all in the place where the premonition of death becomes certain knowledge, where in the most profound and anguished love of life death appears ‘mit höchster Gewalt’; then the ghostly solos of…