Here is, recently discovered, a mind-expanding choral version of the fourth movement of Mahler’s Fifth — the swooning Adagietto, envisioned out not with strings and harp, as in Mahler’s version, but in choral voices.
I’m listening to this at sunset on a balcony in Athens on Monday, May 17, what would be Gustav Mahler’s last night as a human being. He passed away tomorrow, the 18th, in 1911, in Vienna.
This is a Wikipedia account of the progression of his disease into a fatal end, over months.
In spite of the emotional distractions, during the summer of 1910 Mahler worked on his Tenth Symphony, completing the Adagio and drafting four more movements. He and Alma returned to New York in late October 1910, where Mahler threw himself into a busy Philharmonic season of concerts and tours. Around Christmas 1910 he began suffering from a sore throat, which persisted. On 21 February 1911, with a temperature of 40 °C (104 °F), Mahler insisted on fulfilling an engagement at Carnegie Hall, with a program of mainly new Italian music, including the world premiere of Busoni’s Berceuse élégiaque. This was Mahler’s last concert. After weeks confined to bed he was diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis, a disease to which sufferers from defective heart valves were particularly prone and could be fatal. Mahler did not give up hope; he talked of resuming the concert season, and took a keen interest when one of Alma’s compositions was sung at a public recital by the soprano Frances Alda, on 3 March. On 8 April the Mahler family and a permanent nurse left New York on board SS Amerika bound for Europe. They reached Paris ten days later, where Mahler entered a clinic at Neuilly, but there was no improvement; on 11 May he was taken by train to the Löw Sanatorium in Vienna, where he developed pneumonia and entered a coma. Hundreds had come to the sanitorium during this brief period to show their admiration for the great composer. After receiving treatments of radium to reduce swelling on his legs and morphine for his general ailments, he died on 18 May.
Now, the choral version of the “Adagietto”: (And remember: Leonard Bernstein requested that a copy of Moeller‘s autograph score for the Fifth Symphony be placed on top of his chest, dressed in his performing tuxedo when he was buried, in Brooklyn.)
What a saint and a prophet he is.