Written after Gustav Mahler had been diagnosed with a life-threatening heart disease, his Ninth Symphony -- the last the composer completed-- has been widely interpreted as reflecting that knowledge, but of course there are many reactions produced by the prospect of death. The lengthy first movement is a meditation on the mysteries, terrors, and -- yes -- consolations of death. Leonard Bernstein, who never shied away from romanticizing biographical details, proclaimed the asymmetrical rhythms at the beginning to be a portrayal of the composer's irregular heartbeat.
The cries of the muted brass are poignant, a bit afraid, but somewhat assuaged by the occasional reappearance of a beautiful melody that seems to promise relief from earthly cares. But the nervous twitterings of the winds, and the lengthy sections of quiet foreboding, display an overriding unease. The dances of the second