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Curse of the ninth

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Curse of the ninth

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The curse of the ninth is the superstition that a composer of symphonies, from Beethoven onwards, will die soon after writing his Ninth Symphony.

This superstition is thought to have begun with Gustav Mahler, who after writing his Eighth Symphony wrote Das Lied von der Erde: Eine Symphonie für Tenor-Stimme, Contralt -Stimme und große Orchester (nach Hans Bethges "Die chinesische Flöte"). Then he wrote his Symphony No. 9 and thought he had beaten the curse, but died with his Tenth Symphony incomplete.

From Mahler's point of view, the only two victims of this curse had been Beethoven and Bruckner, and possibly Louis Spohr. Franz Schubert's Great C major Symphony would've been called No. 7 in Mahler's time, and Dvořák considered the score of his early C minor Symphony lost. Bruckner was superstitious about his own Ninth Symphony, not because of the curse of the ninth, but because it was in the same key as Beethoven's Ninth. (Bruckner considered his F minor Symphony just a school exercise, and the D minor Symphony nowadays known as No. 0 he declared invalid).

In an essay about Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg wrote: "It seems that the ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter."

After Mahler, some composers used as examples of the curse include: Kurt Atterberg, Alfred Schnittke, Roger Sessions, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Egon Wellesz. Alexander Glazunov completed the first movement of his Ninth but worked on it no further for the 26 more years he lived.

Some counterexamples are: Glenn Branca and Hans Werner Henze (10 each), Edmund Rubbra and Robert Simpson (11 each), Allan Pettersson and Dmitri Shostakovich (15 each), Heitor Villa-Lobos (16), Nikolai Myaskovsky (27), Havergal Brian (32), Alan Hovhaness (63). Henze and Rubbra both wrote choral Ninths.

References

  • Cook, Deryck. Gustav Mahler: An Introduction to His Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Lebrecht, Norman. Mahler Remembered. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.
  • Mahler-Werfel, Alma. The Diaries, translated by Antony Beaumont. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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