Sitting down to a performance of any Mahler symphony, one is immediately struck with the sheer size of the orchestral forces Mahler marshaled. They are, as the kids these days say, “ginormous.” The numbers of musicians’ butts filling the chairs during a performance of a Mahler symphony far exceeds the number performing any large scale work of Mozart and Haydn or even late Beethoven. Indeed, the Mahler 8th has been titled “Symphony of a Thousand” (though I am sure that’s probably off by a few hundred at least).
Yet in spite of the feverishly large orchestra for which Mahler composed, one should also notice in the music, beyond the “loud parts” of course, the delicate counterpoint almost always found there.
It is simply exquisite.
In fact, that’s what makes it so difficult to listen to Mahler on a car’s CD player. The soft parts are so soft they can barely be heard over the road sounds pushing themselves up through up from the tires. Turn the volume up to hear the soft spots and you run the risk of shattering a random car window (or ear drum) when the entire orchestra crashes through a massive cadence – as in the opening of the 5th Symphony, for example.
Hate when that happens.