THE THREE POSTHUMOUS SYMPHONIES
THE three major works occupying Mahler's creative energies during the three final years of his life arc closely related to each other, not only by thematic affinities and a similarity of mood, but also through the 'programme' they have in common: the composer's farewell to life and preparation for death. Ever since the fatal day in July 1907, when, following closely on the tragic death of his elder child, a country doctor by chance discovered a dangerous heart disease, Mahler had lived, as it were, under sentence of death. He believed himself doomed and probably estimated his expectation of life even lower than events were to prove. Under medical orders he had to change his way of life and, having savagely taxed his physical energies in times gone by, he became a valetudinarian. The necessity to find a new modus vivendi coincided with his departure from the Vienna Opera ( December 1907). Oncoming illness and a feverish will to live clashed head-on and created a crisis in his existence which somehow seemed to awaken new impulses. He was in a state of almost hysterical euphory at times, alternating with fits of the deepest depression. This is reflected in a letter to Bruno Walter, written from New York early in 1909, which reads like a commentary on the three works under discussion and reflects the composer's state of mind during the completion of Das Lied von der Erde and the planning of the ninth Symphony:
. . . I have been going through so many experiences (for the last year and a half) that I can hardly discuss them. How should I attempt to describe such a colossal crisis? I see everything in such a new light and am in such continuous fluctuation; I shouldn't be surprised to discover that I had acquired a new body (as Faust does in the final scene). I am thirstier than ever for life and I find the 'habit of life' sweeter than ever. These days are just like the Books of the Sybils. . . .