This is probably the largest orchestral score ever written. It requires an enormous orchestra, 3 choruses, and soloists to be performed. So it should come as no surprise to anyone why this work is seldom staged. Once you have all the necessary ingredients: it comes to a total of over one-thousand musician (orchestral and vocal forces combined). A very poignant point: Mahler never called this work “The Symphony of a Thousand”; It was a music critic who first made note of this fact. However and with all being said: when Mahler first conducted the work in Munich in 1910, there were more than one-thousand musicians on the stage.
This work has received mix reception from critics and public alike; some music critics have said unkind things about this work. This work has become famous with the help of the recording industry.
This symphony shows Mahler retrograding to his first period style of writing. This symphony is much more akin to Mahler’s romantic side than to the man we later see in “Das Lied von der Erde,” and the 9th Symphony. The 8th symphony is a manifestation of what Mahler thought romanticism was suppose to be like; the 8th has a great deal in common with his first three symphonies.
Is based on the medieval whit-Sunday Hymn: “Veni Creator Spiritus” (Come Holy-Ghost). Mahler’s setting of this 9th century Pentecostal Hymn is the basis for the first part/movement of the symphony. Mahler uses the choruses and pits them against each other creating passion, yet ponderous/loud music at the same time. The boys choir comes in real handy in adding the angel-like substance to the hymn. The movement lasts around 25-30 minutes in length.
Is based on Part II of Goethe’s Faust. In Goethe’s version of Faust; Faust is forgiven for having sold his soul to Satan. This is not what one finds in the Bible; the Bible makes it clear this is the one and only sin which God won’t forgive a person for. Goethe creates a personal version of the relationship between God and man. With the dawn of the 20th century, the topic/issue of God and man were much debated then. Part I (first movement of the symphony) represents God ( the hymn), and part II (second and final movement of the symphony) represents man (Faust)…God and man; Goethe decides God will forgive man for selling himself to the devil…. This movement is almost one-hour long. It is the longest ‘symphony movement’ ever written. The Virgin takes Faust’s soul so he can be forgiven/saved. Gretchen (Faust’s lover) makes a cameo; the angels carrying Faust’s soul are one of the reasons this symphony requires such enormous forces to be performed. The theme which begun the symphony, is also the theme which brings it to its climatic halt (cyclical music).