Update browser for a secure Minnesota Orchestra experience

It looks like you may be using a web browser version that we don't support. Make sure you're using the most recent version of your browser, or try using of these supported browsers, to get the full Minnesota Orchestra experience: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

Inside the Music

Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand: Notes & More

The Minnesota Orchestra, soloists and four choirs performing Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand at Orchestra Hall
The Minnesota Orchestra, soloists and choirs performing Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand in June 2022 | Photo by Greg Helgeson

From June 10 to 12, 2022, the Minnesota Orchestra presented Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, with eight vocal soloists and four choirs joining the Orchestra to perform Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, known as the Symphony of a Thousand, in the final concerts of Osmo Vänskä’s 19-year tenure as the Orchestra’s music director.

The June 10 and 11 performances were recorded for a video production, hosted by Melissa Ousley, that includes the complete concert plus a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the symphony that took place the week following the concerts. The video is now available for free online streaming through November 2022. Broadcast and digital use of the concert is made possible by David and Shari Boehnen.

Program Note

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand

In Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, a massive force of voices and orchestra are so interwoven, sharing equally in the sublime musical ideas, that the work is no mere symphony with singing, but a genuine marriage of vocal and instrumental sonorities. This mystical and stirring work, of which Mahler led the premiere performance only eight months before his death, brings together a medieval hymn (molded into an immense sonata structure) and the final scene of Goethe’s verse drama, Faust.

During the decade that Gustav Mahler was director of the Vienna Court Opera, only the summer holidays were free to him for composing. Of all his symphonies, none was created more swiftly than the gigantic Eighth, written in a spirit of exultation and assurance in the span of a mere eight weeks. Because of the mass of singers and enlarged orchestra it demands, it is known as the Symphony of a Thousand—a title Mahler disliked but was used to publicize the work’s premiere. Completing his draft of the score on August 18, 1906, Mahler jubilantly addressed the conductor Wilhelm Mengelberg: “I have just finished my Eighth! It is the biggest thing I have done so far. And so individual in its content and form that I cannot describe it in words. Imagine that the whole universe begins to vibrate and resound. These are no longer human voices, but planets and suns resolving…”

Indeed, the voices of the Symphony No. 8 seem to transcend their humanity, for Mahler puts them to work as if they were instruments. Voices and orchestra are so interwoven, sharing equally in the sublime musical ideas, that the work is no mere symphony with singing, but a genuine marriage of vocal and instrumental sonorities. Why such monumental forces? Perhaps to match the scale of the thought, which expresses not only the hope for all mankind for redemption, but of the artist for the breath of inspiration.

“My greatest work” 

In 1906, as soon as Mahler had unpacked his bags at Maiernigg, on the shores of the beautiful Carinthian lake known as the Wörthersee, he was tormented by a fortnight of despairing idleness. His wife recalled that “he was haunted by the spectre of failing inspiration.” One morning, just as he entered the little lakeside cottage where he tried to work (sparsely furnished, with only a piano and the collected works of Kant and Goethe), the exalted idea of the ancient Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit), took hold of him and—in his own words—“shook me and drove me on for the next eight weeks until my greatest work was done.” Recalling how quickly the work evolved, he noted in a letter to his wife Alma: “In art as in life I am at the mercy of spontaneity. If I had to compose, not a note would come.”

While the impresario Emil Gutmann was making preparations for the premiere of the Eighth Symphony in Munich on December 12, 1910, Mahler was busy conducting in America; in his absence, Bruno Walter was charged with the preliminary rehearsals, though Mahler returned in time to lead the forces of just over a thousand participants in the final rehearsals. Walter has left a vivid account of that week:

“Those were great days for us who were privileged to attend the rehearsals of the Eighth. The immense apparatus obeyed with devotion the master’s effortless direction. All performers were in a state of solemn exaltation, and this was true, above all, of the children, whose hearts he had captured from the beginning. It was a great moment when, greeted by the thousands who filled the giant exhibition hall, he took his place facing the thousand performers—at the zenith of his life and yet marked for an early death—when his music invoked the creator spiritus by whose fires it had been generated within him, and when from all lips burst forth the yearning call of his life....

“When the last note of the performance had died away and the waves of enthusiastic applause reached him, Mahler ascended the steps of the platform, at the top of which the children’s choir was posted. The little ones hailed him with shouts of jubilation and, walking down the line, he pressed every one of the little hands that were extended towards him….At the performance itself he seemed to be at the height of his power—the uplifting of his soul once more had given back to the tired heart its onetime vigor. But it was the last performance of one of his creations that he himself conducted.”

Eight months later, Mahler was gone, leaving a mystical and stirring work that brings together a medieval hymn (molded into an immense sonata structure) and the final scene of Goethe’s verse drama, Faust. Only Mahler would have dared such a conception for a choral symphony.

The music: Playing by its own rules

hymnus: veni, creator spiritus. Like Mahler’s other symphonies, the Eighth proceeds according to its own rules. A massive chord resounding from the organ heralds the tumultuous cry of the two choruses, Veni, veni, creator spiritus, a march-like theme that functions as the principal subject of the 25-minute sonata movement. A contrasting theme, a sweetly expressive setting of the third and fourth line as the poet begs for grace, is given to the soprano. The development gets under way in an orchestral interlude marked by the tolling of bells. In its course, the main theme is transformed into a striking new cry (beginning with the word Accende—“Kindle the light of our understanding”), and its summit is crowned with the double fugue based on the original theme. Additional brass are summoned for the gleaming coda. “No other work of Mahler,” observed Walter, “is so saturated with the spirit of fervent affirmation.”

final scene from Faust. Of all the composers who drew inspiration from Goethe’s drama Faust—and the ranks include, among others, Berlioz, Liszt, Schumann and Gounod—none may have more closely paralleled the poet’s intention than Mahler. He restricts himself entirely to the closing scene of Part II, Faust’s triumphant redemption, a scene unmanageable on the stage, which Goethe never intended anyhow. The original choruses and solos are given perfect realization by Mahler, and though the sections vaguely trace the slow movement, scherzo and finale of a more traditional symphony, the unorthodox structure emanates from the flow of the poetry itself.

The final scene traces Faust’s journey to heaven, and his course to salvation counterbalances the supplication of the opening hymn to the Spirit. The setting is a mountainous landscape where, on different levels, hermits have built their cells, each symbolizing a level of perfection. Faust’s remains are borne by angels who affirm the central thesis of the drama, “Whoever strives with all hist power, we are allowed to save.” He is welcomed by one of the penitents, Gretchen, who loved him on earth and now, in eternity, has been transfigured into one of the wise.  The blessed boys announce that Faust’s mission in heaven is to instruct those whose lives on earth were terminated before they could range through all the human experiences he has known. Finally, the Mater Gloriosa, symbol of the enthroned Virgin, ushers Faust into eternal happiness.

Instrumentation: 8 solo voices, double chorus and children’s choir with orchestra comprising 5 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 4 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 4 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 8 trumpets (4 offstage), 7 trombones (3 offstage), tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tamtam, triangle, glockenspiel, chimes, 2 large bells, 2 harps, piano, celesta, organ, harmonium, mandolin and strings 

Program note by Mary Ann Feldman.

Choir Personnel

At these performances, the Orchestra was joined by eight vocal soloists and singers from the Minnesota Chorale, National Lutheran Choir, Minnesota Boychoir and Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs. Below is a listing of singers from the four choirs.

Minnesota Chorale

Kathy Saltzman Romey, artistic director
Barbara Brooks, accompanist and artistic advisor

Laura E Amos
Kristi Bergland*
Ivy S. Bernhardson
Alyssa K. Breece*
Deborah Carbaugh*
Monica deCausmeaker*
Deyhdra Dennis-Weiss*
Laurel E. Drevlow*
Janine Ernsting*
Heather Ford
Michelle Hayes*
Elizabeth Longhurst*
Wendy Lukaszewski
Mary Mann
Pamela Marentette
Shannon McGuire*
Linda S. Neuman
Elizabeth Pauly*
Sara Payne*
Elizabeth Pemberton*
Shari M. Speer*
Polly Strege
Shekela Wanyama*
Karen R. Wasiluk
Kelly Webb*
Heather Worthington
Jingqi Zhu*

Jaime Anthony
Rachel Buchberger
Elisabeth M Drost*
Susan Sacquitne Druck*
Marcia K. Evans*
Debra Gilroy*
Dee Hein
Kris Henderson
Heather A. Hood*
Laura Horner
Suzanne Kennedy*
Claire M Klein
Maureen Long
Celia McCoy
Krista J. Palmquist*
Erica Perl*
Krista Petersen
Barbara S. Prince*
Deborah E. Richman
Joy E Roellinger
Elizabeth Sullivan*
Marcia Van Camp
Suzanne Wiebusch
Natalie Wishcop

Matthew Abernathy*
Samuel Baker*
Jason José Bendézu
Les Bendtsen
Drew Brooks
Jared Campbell*
Erik Carlson*
Ryan Cogswell*
Patrick L. Coleman
Benjamin G. Cooper
Tom Knabel, MD
Rich Maier
Scott D. McKenzie
David Mennicke*
Kevin Navis
Mark Pladson
Jeffrey J. Raehl*
Philip Reilly
Anthony Rohr*
Patrick Romey*
Erick Sood
Mark Trease
Ty Wottrich 

Peder Bolstad
James Bowen
Scott Chamberlain
Stefan Gingerich
David Goudzwaard-Vaught*
John R. Henrich
James Hild*
Steven Hodulik*
Steve Hughes
Evan Clay Kelly
Jon C. Lahann*
Bob Magil
Paul L. Nevin
Jon Nordstrom*
Nathan Oppedahl
Bob Peskin*
Nathan Petersen-Kindem*
Jerry Rubino*
Dylan Sauder
Peter Scholtz
Marcus Simmons*
Bob Simon
William B Smale
Michael R. Tomlinson*
Russ Vander Wiel
Rick Wagner*

* section leader

National Luthearn Choir

David Cherwein, artistic director

Soprano 1
Allison Ackmann
Mary Halvorson
Karla Hanson
Chelsey Kearns
Mycah Lerum
Brittany Rudoi
Naomi Staruch 

Soprano 2
Gwenn Branstad
Christine Hazel
Christina Myers
Lisa Schlotterback
Kate Tripoli
Roselyn Hanson Weber 

Alto 1
Linda Armstrong
Colleen Cook
Caroline Freund
Sarah Koepp
Jill Maltrud Reid
Anne Zielske

Alto 2
Christine Cherwien
Roxanne Litchfield Holey
Jenny Kelley
Rachel Knutzen
Sybil Scott
Eldri Wittkamper 

Tenor 1
Ian Cook
Seth Hartwell
Aaron Holmgren
Andrew Kreye
Brian Lensch
Dain Swanson
JT Torgeson

Tenor 2
Paul Burow
Joseph Crippen
Shaun Halland
Daniel Hellerich
Travis Karstad
Jack Strub

Eric Anderson
Will Heller
Jacob Kunkel
Matthew Olson
Rob Reid
Daniel Roth
Daniel Streeper

Steven Branstad
Mike Fandel
Kenton Hunt
David Johnson
Tim Schmidt
Riley Unzicker
Tom von Fischer

Minnesota Boychoir

Mark S. Johnson, artistic director

Luke Baker-Trinity
Aiden Berwald
James Bicek
Hayden Cesena
Teddy Childs
Brennan Cogswell
Linus Cuchetti
Jonathan Dierking
Torin Froslee
Aaron Gips
William Hanna
Kaleb Hansen
Bode Hosmer
Colby Hovde
Markiese Hudson
Philip Hug
Toren Klopp
Easton Kroetsch
Henry Nesje
Anthony Petruconis
Morrow Piper
Whitsun Piper
Theo Reemtsma
Evan Sherwood
Kai Swanson
Oskar Swanson
Frederick Thomann
Noah Walburn

Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs

Elizabeth Egger, artistic director
Audrey Riddle, executive director
Andrea Dittmer, choir manager

Children’s Choir
Paulina Artyushkova
Lucy Brunner
Elizabeth Couling
Annika Engebretson
Chloe Fider
Jordin Floyd
Anya Gronseth
Drew Halsne
Carmen Olivia Hanson
Lucien-Sinclair Herndon
Elizabeth Hersey
Mamie Holm
Regan Isaac
Kenley Jansen
Kainalu Lazarus
Isabella Mantilla
Annabel Raney
Mckenna Reding-Kolsrud
Preston Rose
Berit Schulz
Phillip Sellner
Caroline Stockinger
Omera Syed Asif
Jack Trygstad
Adalyn Westereng

Text of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8

English translation by Cori Ellison © 2022


Come, Creator Spirit!
Come, Creator Spirit!
O Creator Spirit, come!
Visit our minds.

Fill with heavenly grace
the hearts You created.

Fill with heavenly grace
the hearts You created.
You who will be called the Consoler,
Gift of the Most High God
Fountain of living fire, love
And spiritual anointing

Come, Creator, fill with heavenly grace
the hearts You created
Heavenly grace.

Fortify our weak bodies
with eternal strength.

Fortify our weak bodies
with eternal strength.

Fortify our weak bodies
with eternal strength.

Illumine our senses.
Pour Your love into your hearts.

Illumine our senses.
Pour Your love into our hearts.

Illumine our senses.
Pour Your love into our hearts

Illumine our senses.
Pour Your love into our hearts.

Illumine our senses.
Pour Your love into our hearts.

Illumine our senses.

Drive the enemy far away.
Grant us lasting peace.

Drive the enemy far away.
Grant us lasting peace.

With You
as our guide

With You as our guide
may we avoid all misfortune.

With You as our guide
may we avoid all misfortune.

You are the sevenfold gift
The finger of the Father’s right hand.

You are the sevenfold gift
With You as our guide
The finger of the Father’s right hand.

Through You, may we know
The Father and the Son.

May we believe in the Spirit always.
It is through You that we create.

Illumine our senses.
Pour Your love into our hearts.

Pour Your love into our hearts.

Illumine our senses.

Come, Creator spirit!

You who will be called Consoler
Gift of the Most High God
Give joy, and gifts of thanksgiving.

Bring lasting peace.

Dissolve the chains that bind us.

Join us in bonds of peace.

With You as our guide.
Grant us peace. Banish the enemy.

May we avoid all misfortune.

Glory to God the Father.

Glory to God
And to His begotten Son
risen from the dead.

Glory to the Father and His risen Son
And to the Holy Spirit

Glory to God and the Father
To the Son, and to the Spirit.

Glory to the Father
forever and ever.

English translation by Cori Ellison © 2022


The forest sways close by.
The rocks weigh heavily. 

The roots cling. 

Tree trunks crows together. 

Wave after wave splashes. 

The deepest caves give shelter. 

Lions slink silently, benignly, around us. 

They honor the sacred place 

the holy refuge of love. 

Eternal fire of bliss,
glowing bonds of love 

Seething anguish of the heart,
ardent yearning for God

Arrows, pierce me.
Lances, destroy me.

Weapons, batter me.
Lightning, strike me.

So that all vain things vanish.

So that the eternal star may shine,
The immortal core of love.

As the rocky abyss at my feet
Rests heavily on a deeper abyss

As a thousand streams radiantly flow

to the dreadful torrent
of the foaming flood.

As upright, through its own fierce power,
the tree trunk juts toward the skies

so it is almighty love
that creates and cherishes all.

As wild turmoil roars around me,
as the forest and rocky ground quake.

And yet, lovingly rushing,
the overflowing water hurries to the gorge

urgently summoned to water the valley.

The lightning that flamed down
To purify the atmosphere

carrying poison and fumes in its heart.

They are all heralds of love.
They announce

all that surrounds us
with eternal creativity.

May it also ignite my innermost being

where my spirit, confused and cold

suffers in a dull torpor
shackled in chains of pain.

O God, calm my thoughts.

Enlighten my needy heart!

The noble limb of the spirit world is saved from evil.

Whoever strives fervently,
We can redeem.

Let’s join hands joyfully
In a round dance.

- Let’s rise and sing with reverent emotion
- If heavenly love has taken its part

- When led by God, you may be sure
- the Heavenly Host will meet him

- that He who you worship will appear.
- with a warm welcome.

Those roses, from the hands
Of loving, holy penitent women

help us win the victory
and complete the noble work

of capturing the prize of this soul.

Evil departed as we strewed them,
Demons fled as we pelted them.

Instead of the usual punishments of Hell

the spirits felt the pangs of love.

Even old Master Satan himself
Was pierced by sharp pain.


It has been fulfilled.

We are left with an earthly residue
Painful to bear.

Were it even made of asbestos,
It is not clean.

When the strength of spiritual power
has gripped the elements

no angel can separate

the united nature of the intimate pair.

Only everlasting love
Can divide them.

I sense, in the mist
Around the rocky heights

the presence of spirits.
Stirring nearby, I see holy children.

I see a multitude,
Freed from earthly burdens, in a circle

reveling in the new springtime and its adornment of the world above.

- Here the view is clear.
- For his highest gain

- The spirit is exalted.
- let him join them.

- soaring to the heights.
- Thus we receive an angelic promise.

- The Glorious One amid them
- Loosen the cocoon that surrounds him.

- wreathed in stars...
- He is already beautiful through his holy life.

...is the Queen of Heaven.
I can see it by her glow.

The supreme sovereign of the world.

Let me, amid the blue expanse of Heaven

behold your mystery.

The human heart

seriously and tenderly moved

with a holy thirst for love

offers it up to you.

Our courage is indomitable

when you nobly command us.

Suddenly the flames subside

when you soothe us.

Virgin, pure in the loveliest sense

Mother, worthy of honor

Our chosen queen

Equal to the gods

Though you are unequaled

you deign to allow

those who are easily tempted

to trustingly approach you.

Trapped in weakness, who, with their own strength,
can break the chains of desire?

How quickly our foot slips

on such sloping, smooth ground.

You soar to the heights of the eternal kingdom.
Hear our prayer.

O merciful one!
O peerless one!

By the love that bathed the feet
of your god-transfigured son

with tears that flowed like balm,
despite the scorn of the Pharisees

By the vessel which so richly
rained sweet fragrance down

By the locks that so softly
dried the holy limbs

By the well, to which long ago
Abraham led his flocks

By the pail of cool water
that touched the Savior’s lips

By the pure, rich spring,
which now gushes from there

Overflowing and eternally pure

it flows around and through all the world.

By the sacred place
where the Lord was laid to rest

By the arm that pushed me back in warning
from the entrance

By the forty years of penance
I faithfully endured in the deserts

By the blessed farewell
that I wrote in the sand.

You, who do not deny your presence
to women who have sinned greatly

and through their penitence
raise them to eternity.

Grant to this good soul, too

who forgot herself but once

and was unaware of her error,
your just forgiveness.

Grant to this good soul, too

your just forgiveness.

O peerless one, O radiant one

Turn your face mercifully to my happiness.

The man I once loved,
no longer troubled

has returned to me.

He surpasses us already
on mighty limbs.

He will richly repay
our faithful care.

We were removed prematurely

from the choir of the living.

But this man has learned.

And he will teach us.

He surpasses us already
on mighty limbs.

He will richly repay
our faithful care.

We were removed prematurely
from the choir of the living.

But this man has learned.

Surrounded by the noble choir of spirits,
this new arrival is hardly conscious.

He is hardly aware of his new life.
He already resembles the Heavenly Host.

See how he breaks every earthly bond,
stripped of his old shell.

And from his ethereal robe,
he emerges in the flush of youth.

Allow me to teach him.

The new day still dazzles him.


Raise yourself to higher spheres.

When he senses you, he will follow.

Look up

All contrite, gentle beings

Look up

to the Redeemer's gaze,
all contrite, gentle beings.

that you may transmute gratefully
to blissful happiness.

May every better sense
be at your service.


Have mercy

Have mercy!

Look up

all contrite, gentle beings.

be at your service.

- Look up
- May every better sense be at your service.



Have mercy


have mercy

Everything ephemeral

is but an image.

The incomplete

here will be fulfilled.

The indescribable
Here it is done.

The eternal feminine
draws us ever upward.

Everything ephemeral
is just a parable;

the eternal feminine
pulls us up.