Gustav Mahler, 1,028 Musicians and the Universe of Sound



After quite a few ruminations recently about the world, and some world religions having an effect on many of its inhabitants, now for something completely different: music.


Some people say that music, not unlike religion, can have a spiritual effect on the listener. Oh well.


How about this one: 97 years ago this week, the Bohemian-Austrian composer, Gustav Mahler conducted his 8th Symphony with the help of 1,028 musicians. Mahler’s 8th is often considered the symphonic counterpart of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal.

The participation of 171 musicians in the orchestra and an additional 857 members of a mixed chorus during the premiere performance in Munich, Germany, on September 12th, 1910, led to Mahler’s agent dubbing the work ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. Mahler did not approve of this title at all, but alas, it remains its common title to this day.

Mahler’s 8th was difficult to perform, for the sheer magnitude of the number of performers involved, including soloists, a children’s choir, double chorus and an orchestra which even dwarfs that of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Just imagine the size of the concert hall needed.


Premieres were performed on the following dates:

– World premiere: September 12th, 1910, Munich, conducted by the composer himself, Gustav Mahler.

– American premiere: March 2nd, 1916, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, conducted by Leopold Stokowski (see photo above, with a total of 1,068 musicians).

– English premiere: April 15th, 1930, London, with Henry Wood conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

– Japanese premiere: December 8th, 1949, Tokyo, with Kazuo Yamada conducting the Japan Symphony Orchestra (now NHK Symphony Orchestra).

– Canadian premiere: June 24th, 1983, Toronto, with Andrew Davis conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

– Taiwanese premiere: October 10th, 1995, Taipei, with Uri Mayer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra (Taiwan) (formerly known as National Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra).

– Chinese premiere: October 11th, 2002, Beijing, with Long Yu conducting the China Philharmonic Orchestra (that’s no more than five years ago).

– Southeast Asian premiere: May 29th, 2004, Singapore, with Lan Shui conducting the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.




A rather competent recording of all of Mahler’s complete symphonies plus his other orchestral works is available from Deutsche Grammophon in a 16 CD set, as conducted by Leonard Bernstein. It was published in 1998. The orchestras performing are the Koninklijk Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, the New York Philharmonic, and the Wiener Philharmoniker, Vienna.



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