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Gustav Mahler

Boult conducts Mahler`s Symphony No. 8

1948. Royal Albert Hall, London
The second-only performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony in the UK, given the the Proms in 1948 by Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra
Composer Gustav Mahler
Conductor Sir Adrian Boult
Ensemble BBC Symphony Orchestra
Genres Opera, Symphonic concert

Boult’s conducting of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is typically direct, cohesive and thought though.This is Mahler’s oratorio symphony (Das Lied von der Erde is his song-cycle symphony), the first movement concerned with the power of creation, the second (a setting of the final scene of Goethe’s Faust) to do with human love.The words for the first movement are from a medieval text, Veni, Creator Spiritus, Mahler’s setting of the original Latin (initiated by an organ) striding forward, reflecting as appropriate, and transforming to blazing drama and a transcendental conclusion.

If the first movement may be akin to a choral symphony on its own terms, Symphony No. 8’s second (and last) movement is the oratorical part of the work in which the soloists are kept busy, yet Mahler is also clearly demarcating a slow movement, scherzo and finale within the overall structure, the latter not far removed from the effect of its counterpart in the Second Symphony (the subtitle ‘Resurrection’ is his, unlike the publicity-seeking moniker bestowed upon the Eighth by an impresario) and which Mahler described (to Mengelberg) thus: ‘Try to imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound.These are no longer human voices, but planets and suns revolving.’ As a whole, this movement traces from dark to light, from the secluded, through Faust’s redemption, and to a final divine vision – and to emphasise that this is indeed a symphony, music from the opening movement returns to conclude the work.

Inevitably, the sound on this 1948 Boult-conducted performance is limited; yet one can hear the charge of the performance, the dedication and fine rehearsal of the musicians taking part in a rare performance of music not then commercially recorded and in an era when the only way to get to know music as complex as this was through the score, at a concert or over the wireless. Furthermore, the space of the Royal Albert Hall is evident enough, the only possible indoor arena in London to have played this music then (the Queen’s Hall had been destroyed during World War II and the Royal Festival Hall was a couple of years from opening). Given that Mahler conceived this work as a symphony, Boult is one of the ideal conductors to present it with a full appreciation of its design without denuding the of its drama, rich incidental beauty and vision. Although not all the solo singers may be household names, admirers of Mary Jarred, Gladys Ripley, William Herbert and Harold Williams will be delighted to have a further example of their work, and although most of the performers will now have passed away, sadly, no doubt there are many that took part as schoolchildren who remain with us and will revel in reliving this performance now available to all through a medium not dreamt of 60 years ago.

© Colin Anderson, 2009

Suns and planets revolving: Mahler at the Royal Albert Hall

You now have access to a slice of musical history. On 10 February 1948 was given only the second performance in the UK of Gustav’s Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, the so-called Symphony of a Thousand, which had first been heard in Munich on 12 September 1910 with the composer conducting and then leading a second performance on the following day. The work’s sobriquet was the invention of Mahler’s publicist and did not enchant the composer; nevertheless the nickname has stuck with the very ambitious work. At those first performances there were two choruses of 250 each, plus 350 children, and an orchestra of 146 players. Add in the required eight vocal soloists for a total of 1,004 musicians. Whether or not the number of performers at this 1948 Royal Albert Hall performance equated to a similar number we may never know.

The solo singers were Elena Danieli, Dora van Doorn, Emelie Hooke (something of a specialist in contemporary music), Mary Jarred, Gladys Ripley, William Herbert (the Australian tenor who recorded Handel’s Messiah under Hermann Scherchen), George Pizzey and Harold Williams. Sir Adrian Boult conducted a battalion of choruses and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a live broadcast of a Henry Wood Concert Society presentation. Indeed it was Sir Henry Wood who had given the UK premiere of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, on 15 April 1930, also with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Not surprisingly for music requiring such gargantuan forces to bring it to life, performances of it took a while to reach the corners of the world. Early ones included the Dutch premiere in March 1912, under Willem Mengelberg, and the American one, courtesy of Leopold Stokowski in Philadelphia, in March 1916.

As mentioned, Wood brought Mahler 8 to London in 1930, the Japanese premiere was in December 1949 (Kazuo Yamada conducting in Tokyo) and October 1951 found Eugene Goossens launching the work in Sydney, Australia.

We probably do not think of the English conductor Sir Adrian Boult as a champion of Mahler. Yet he was interested enough in his music to travel to Amsterdam when Mengelberg undertook a Mahler festival in 1920 (the composer had died in 1911) and seemed favourably disposed to it. Boult conducted the UK premiere of Symphony No. 3 (which was recorded and is available on the Testament label) and he also conducted other symphonies including Das Lied von der Erde (written between the eighth and ninth symphonies) and numbers 5 and 7.

Sir Adrian Boult had a long and distinguished career. Boult, christened Adrian Cedric, was born in Chester on 8 April 1889 and died on 22 February 1983 at the age of 93. He studied music at both Christ Church, Oxford and, during 1912 and 1913, the Leipzig Conservatory. Between 1919 and 1930 Boult was a member of the teaching staff of the Royal College of Music (returning there in the 1960s) and in 1924 he was appointed Conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra (as it was known then: ‘Symphony’ was added to the designation in 1948). In 1930 Boult was invited to become Director of Music at the recently formed British Broadcasting Corporation (with a knighthood following in 1937), a role that required him to establish the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which he led as Chief Conductor until 1950. Following enforced retirement from the Corporation, he then became Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, until 1957, which he would continue to conduct regularly until he officially retired in 1979.

Although Boult conducted and recorded much British music (both the highways and byways of it) and is very closely associated with it – Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams were close friends (Boult led the premieres of Holst’s The Planets and several of Vaughan Williams’s symphonies) – his repertoire was large and varied and involved numerous other premieres. These included the first performances in the UK of Berg’s Wozzeck, Busoni’s Doktor Faust (both concert performances; mpLIVE will issue Wozzeck in 2010) and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. As well as having an open mind to the latest music, Boult was a master of the conductor’s technical craft. In 1920 he wrote ‘A Handbook on the Technique of Conducting’, which he entitled The Point of the Stick.

© Colin Anderson

 Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911)
Symphony No 8 ‘Symphony of a Thousand’
Part One
  1. Veni, Creator Spiritus
  2. Imple superna gratia
  3. Infirma nostri corporis
  4. Accende lumen sensibus
  5. Veni, Creator Spiritus
  6. Gloria Patri Domino

Part Two

  1. Introduction (Poco adagio)
  2. Waldung, sie schwankt heran (Choir and Echo)
  3. Ewiger Wonnebrand (Pater Ecstaticus)
  4. Wie Felsenabgrund mir zu Füßen (Pater Profundus)
  5. Gerettet ist das edle Glied (Angels, Blessed Boys, Younger Angels, More)
  6. Die Himmelskönigin (Doctor Marianus, Blessed Boys, Choir)
  7. Dir, der Unberührbaren (Choir, Penitent Women)
  8. Bei der Liebe, die den Füßen (Magna Peccatrix)
  9. Bei dem Bronn, zu dem schon weiland (Mulier Samaritana)
  10. Bei dem hochgeweihten Orte (Maria Aegyptiaca, Magna Peccatrix)
  11. Neige, neige (Una poenitentium and Blessed Boys)
  12. Komm! Hebe dich zu höhern Sphären (Mater Gloriosa and Chorus)
  13. Blicket auf zum Retterblick (Doctor Marianus and Chorus)
  14. Alles Vergängliche (Chorus Mysticus)

A Henry Wood Concert Society Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 10 February 1948.

Digital remastering by Mark Obert-Thorn.

Music Preserved Collection.

This recording has been issued on CD by Pristine Classical (PASC709).  Full details at

We are very grateful to Pristine Classical and to Mark Obert-Thorn for allowing us to use their material.

  • Elena Danieli
    Magna Peccatrix
  • Dora van Doorn
    Una Poenitentium
  • Emelie Hooke
    Mater Gloriosa
  • Mary Jarred
    Mulier Samaritana
  • Gladys Ripley
    Maria Aegyptiaca
  • William Herbert
    Doctor Marianus
  • George Pizzey
    Pater Ecstaticus
  • Harold Williams
    Pater Profundus
  • BBC Choral Society
  • Luton Choral Society
  • Wallington Choral Society
  • Watford and District Philharmonic Society
  • Lambeth Schools’ Music Association Boys’ Choir
  • Boys of Marylebone Grammar School
  • BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Sir Adrian Boult

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