Mahler Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”

Saturday, September 4, and Sunday, September 5, 2021
Damrosch Park
Lincoln Center

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Conductor
Ying Fang, Soprano
Denyce Graves, Mezzo-Soprano

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Donald Palumbo, Chorus Master
Gina Lapinski,
Stage Director
John Keenan, Howard Watkins,
and Thomas Lausmann, Musical Preparation
Joseph Lawson,
Stage Band Conductor

These concerts are the Met’s first performances at Lincoln Center in 17 months, and celebrate all members of the Met company as it emerges from the longest closure in its history. We also remember the members of our company lost to Covid-19: chorister Antoine Hodge, violist Vincent Lionti, and assistant conductor Joel Revzen.

The Mahler performances are being made possible by generous donations from Met Board members Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer and Ann Ziff in honor of Mr. Nézet-Séguin.

The Summer HD Festival is generously supported by The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust.


The Program

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, “Resurrection”
(1888–1894, rev. 1903)

I. Allegro maestoso
II. Andante moderato
III. In ruhig fließender Bewegung—
IV. “Urlicht”—
V. Im Tempo des Scherzos


Text and Translations

IV. “Urlicht”

Text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn),
edited by Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim

O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not! Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht ich im Himmel sein!

Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg;
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen.
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!

Primal Light

O red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How much would I rather be in heaven!

I came upon a wide path;
There came an angel and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not be turned away!
I am from God and will return to God!
The dear Lord will give me a small light,
Will light my way to eternal, blessed life!


Text: Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803) and Gustav Mahler

Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du,
Mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh’!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben
Wird der dich rief, dich rief dir geben!

Wieder aufzublüh’n wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Ernte geht,
Und sammelt Garben uns ein,
Die starben!

O glaube, mein Herz, O glaube:
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, dein, ja dein, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt, was du gestritten!

O glaube:
Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten!

Was entstanden ist, das muss vergehen!
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Hör auf zu beben!
Bereite dich! Bereite dich zu leben!

O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!
Dir bin ich entrungen!
O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!
Nun bist du bezwungen!

Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
In heissem Liebesstreben
Werd’ ich entschweben

Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
Werde ich entschweben!
Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!

Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du,
Mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen,
Zu Gott wird es dich tragen!

Rise again, yes, you will rise again, My dust, after a short rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will be given to you by Him who called you.

You are sown in order to bloom again! The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers the sheaves
Of us who have died.

Oh, believe, my heart, believe:
You have lost nothing!
Yours, yes, yours is what you have longed for,
Yours, what you loved, what you fought for!

Oh, believe:
You were not born in vain!
You have not lived and suffered in vain!

Oh, pain, all-pervading,
From you have I been wrested!
Oh, death, all-conquering,
Now are you conquered!

With wings that I have earned
In fervent, loving aspiration,
Will I soar
To the light that no eye has penetrated!

With wings that I have earned
Will I soar!
I shall die, that I may live!

Rise again, yes, you will rise again,
My heart, in an instant!
What you have fought for,
Will carry you to God!


About the Artists

View Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s complete bio here.

A graduate of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Chinese soprano Ying Fang made her 2013 company debut as Madame Podtochina’s Daughter in The Nose. She has returned to our stage every season since, wowing audiences with performances as Servilia in La Clemenza di Tito, Noémie in Cendrillon, Ilia in Idomeneo, Jano in Jenůfa, Elvira in L’Italiana in Algeri, Giannetta in L’Elisir d’Amore, the Shepherd in Tannhauser, Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro, the Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel, and, most recently, Pamina in The Magic Flute. During the 2021–22 season, she will sing Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Paris Opera, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, St. John Passion, Eater Oratorio, and Ascension Oratorio with Ensemble Pygmalion. In past years, she has appeared to great acclaim at Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Salzburg Festival, Washington National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Switzerland’s Verbier Festival, and in Vancouver, Zurich, Caen, Lille, and Aix-en-Provence.

Acclaimed American mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves made her Met debut in 1995 in the title role of Carmen and went on to appear in productions of Samson et Dalila, Luisa Miller, Rigoletto, and The Rake’s Progress. In recent seasons, she has returned to the Met as Maria in the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (a role she reprises in the fall of 2021) and Marnie’s Mother in Nico Muhly’s Marnie. In spring 2022, she will appear again alongside Maestro Nézet-Séguin, as Erda in a concert performance of Das Rheingold with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, and she will make her directorial debut with a new production of Carmen at Minnesota Opera. Over the course of her illustrious career, she has appeared at the Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Paris Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, LA Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Washington National Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Minnesota Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and in Madrid, Zurich, Verona, Florence, and Buenos Aires, among others.

View the complete Met Orchestra roster here.

View the complete Met Chorus roster here.


Program Note

Mahler’s “Resurrection” is one of the most massive and cathartic symphonies in the repertoire. Once regarded as unlistenable and unplayable, it has become an emblem for rising from despair during seemingly hopeless times. It was played in New Orleans at the opening of the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts after Hurricane Katrina and performed by the New York Philharmonic two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy—its first performance on television and the first time a work by Mahler was played for a state occasion. Ignoring management requests to use a standard memorial piece, such as the Verdi Requiem or the Funeral March from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, Leonard Bernstein (a fervid Mahler champion) insisted that the philharmonic perform the “Resurrection” Symphony in tribute to President Kennedy, citing “its visionary concept of hope and triumph over worldly pain ... This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

The sheer size of the forces—ten trumpets, ten horns, two harps, organ, two vocal soloists, a large mixed chorus, and fernorchester (“distant orchestra”)—is overwhelming. So is the distance traveled from death and darkness to life and blinding light, from the terrifying assault of cellos and basses in the opening to the heavenly choirs and bells in the coda. The tutti sections are devastating in their power and density, yet the piece has long stretches of Mahler’s most delicate, chamber-like music and often relies on the power of silence. Mahler said a symphony should contain the entire world, and this one comes perhaps closer than any to fulfilling that impossible standard.

Mahler is now a beloved part of modern culture, but this is a recent phenomenon. The struggle for acceptance was long and hard fought, spearheaded mainly by Bernstein, along with the earlier, heroic efforts of Bruno Walter, Maurice Abravanel, and other diehard Mahlerians. Critics going back to the late-19th century gorged themselves in a feast of ridicule at Mahler’s expense, labeling his symphonies incoherent, overblown, banal, and worse. (The same kind of contempt was heaped on Bruckner, whose “glorious art” Mahler championed as a conductor, without much success.) As recently as the 1950s, the “Resurrection” Symphony was scoffed at for its “faux mysticism” and “masochistic aural flagellation.”

The most stinging criticism came right at the beginning of its composition in 1891, when Mahler played the first movement for distinguished conductor-pianist Hans von Bülow, who put his hands over his ears and declared the piece so incomprehensible that it made Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde seem like a Haydn symphony. “If what I have just heard is still music,” he said, “then I no longer understand anything about music.” Mahler was so devastated that he told Richard Strauss he was having second thoughts about being a composer.

The struggle from despair to triumph depicted in the symphony mirrors the composition process, which began with Bülow’s withering putdown and, in a supreme irony, came to fruition at his funeral. The opening movement was originally an 1888 tone poem called Todtenfeier (Funeral Rites), meant to be a kind of sequel to the First Symphony, depicting the burial of the symphony’s hero. Mahler planned this as the opening movement of a new symphony, but he did not write the second and third movements until 1893. He envisioned the work as a metaphysical musing on life, death, and resurrection—not in a doctrinal sense but in the individual’s struggle for hope and meaning.

He also knew that he wanted this to be a choral symphony, like Beethoven’s Ninth, but had no idea what text to use or how to end the work. The idea for the epic finale came at Bülow’s funeral, where, filling in for Strauss, Mahler conducted Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung.

The ceremony climaxed with a children’s choir singing Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s “Auferstehn, ja auferstehn wirst du.” This music and its text (“Rise again, yes, you will rise again”) gave Mahler the epiphany that had eluded him: “It flashed on me like lightning, and everything became plain and clear in my mind. It was the flash that all creative artists wait for ...”

Mahler seized on the song, added apocalyptic verses of his own, and quickly pulled everything into final form, writing the symphony’s huge last movement and a revision of the first in the spring and summer of 1894, and inserting “Urlicht” (“Primal Light”) as the fourth. He premiered the complete work in Berlin in 1895 but continued making changes into the new century.

Mahler wrote three sets of program notes for the work—all quite different—and then withdrew them, stating that “the spiritual message is clearly expressed in the words of the final chorus ... I leave the interpretation of details to the imagination of each individual listener.” Jettisoning unsatisfying programs seemed part of his composition process. In his next symphony, he affixed programmatic titles to all six movements, then removed them, allowing the epic Third Symphony to speak for itself.

Mahler invented a new kind of symphony and a new way to listen. In Carnegie Hall’s historic traversal of all nine symphonies with the Staatskapelle Berlin in 2009, the late Pierre Boulez commented on how Mahler walked a treacherous line between “sentimentality and irony,” “nostalgia and criticism,” “meticulousness of detail” and “grandeur of design,” demanding that we listen in a “manner more varied, more ambiguous and richer” than we ordinarily do. In the Second Symphony, “nostalgia” is represented by the retrospective second and fourth movements; a new world of turbulence and irony is sounded by the brutal crescendo of dissonance in the middle of the first movement, the sardonic third-movement scherzo, and the mocking deconstruction of the symphony’s most noble themes in the finale’s march.

The first movement is a gripping funeral march with contrasting elements, its dark drama played out on a large scale. Following an opening thrust from deep in the strings, a sinister march commences, brightened by a pastoral theme (an homage to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto) that forecasts the symphony’s beatific conclusion. Other ideas include the medieval chant Dies irae, which is burnished and dignified in Mahler’s variation rather than garish and ghoulish, as in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Liszt’s Totentanz. The development section climaxes with a crescendo of dread and dissonance that looks forward to the modernism of Berg and Shostakovich.

Between the huge first and last movements are three shorter ones, each inhabiting a different sonic and emotional world. The second and fourth are as simple and innocent as the first is complex and funereal. Mahler worried that the dance-like ländler second movement, with its charming cello countermelody, would be too startling a contrast with the first, and asked for a long pause between the first two movements.

The third movement is an instrumental version of a song from a collection of German folk verse, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn), depicting St. Anthony of Padua’s sermon to the fishes. (The woozy grotesquerie of the rhythm and harmony suggests that St. Anthony was slightly drunk.) This scherzo provides a startling example of Mahler’s radical juxtapositions and his penchant for yoking contradictory elements: The music pipes and scampers along with witty solos for winds and brass until, suddenly, a cosmic “cry of despair” (Mahler’s words) for full orchestra erupts out of nowhere.

The fourth movement, “Urlicht” (“Primal Light”), marked “very solemn but simple,” is an actual song, its text again from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Mahler introduces a voice for the first time in his symphonies, making it clear that, for him, the boundaries between symphony and song were as thin as the separation between serious and popular music. The hymn-like brass chorale forecasts the resurrection theme in the finale.

Mahler called the finale a “bold piece of massive construction.” With its huge orchestral upheavals and its vivid evocation of final things, it is the musical equivalent of what art scholars call “the apocalyptic sublime”—a vision both terrifying and ecstatic. Mahler divided it into two parts: the first instrumental, the second choral. Opening with the “despair” outburst from the scherzo, it is packed with ideas, several from previous movements (a nod to Beethoven’s Ninth). Some are expansively developed, while others are brutally parodied and scrambled together, often competing with offstage trumpets, horns, and percussion—a “spatialization” effect that became popular with composers ranging from Ives to Berio, who used the “Resurrection” Symphony’s scherzo to surreal effect in his 1968 collage piece, Sinfonia.

Introducing the second part, the chorus enters in a whisper, blending with a soaring soprano in one of the symphony’s most magical moments. Vocal sequences alternate with lyrical instrumental interludes as the vast forces in the work gradually come together and rise in ecstasy, the mezzo-soprano intoning Mahler’s own text, and the resurrection theme reaching full bloom in a series of crescendos that lead to a blazing release of fanfares, bells, organ, gongs, and a final massive chord that takes all within earshot to new heights.

When Mahler came to write the ending, he found himself in the grip of creative powers he could not understand: “The increasing tension, working up to the final climax, is so tremendous that I don’t know myself, now that it is over, how I ever came to write it.”

—Jack Sullivan
Reprinted by permission of Carnegie Hall.