NPR logo

11Mahler 9

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/427814263/427844509" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
A Mahler Symphony Squeezed In A Squeezebox

Songs We Love

A Mahler Symphony Squeezed In A Squeezebox

11Mahler 9

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/427814263/427844509" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Mahler 9
    Album
    Theater of the Accordion
    Artist
    William Schimmel/Wynton Marsalis
    Label
    Roven Records
    Released
    2015

    Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

William Schimmel distills Mahler's lengthy Ninth Symphony down to under seven minutes. Illustration by Joan Chiverton hide caption

toggle caption Illustration by Joan Chiverton

William Schimmel distills Mahler's lengthy Ninth Symphony down to under seven minutes.

Illustration by Joan Chiverton

When Gustav Mahler said a symphony "must be like the world. It must embrace everything," I suppose he meant embracing accordions, too.

Gustav Mahler's sprawling Ninth Symphony is a 90-minute journey brimming with the joys of life, haunted by death and with a lot happening along the way. Accordionist William Schimmel has squeezed this immense musical canvas down to just 6 1/2 minutes. That takes some guts.

But as it turns out, Schimmel's performance isn't a stunt. The amount of thought and feeling poured into these fleeting minutes reflects Mahler's bipolar musical personality — jubilant one moment, sorrowful the next.

With fluttering keys and low end exhalations, Schimmel's instrument — a giant Titano Emperor — sighs like a weary beast burdened with the weight of the world. Yet from it flows Mahler's heart-melting opening theme. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis steps in, adding his own dose of nostalgia by riffing on patterns Schimmel created from that gorgeous motif.

Perhaps with tongue in cheek, Schimmel suddenly twists Mahler into a tango and then zeroes in on the bumptious dance from the symphony's second movement. Marsalis returns to cap the piece with another wistful solo.

What would the composer think? Although Mahler never called for an accordion in his symphonies, he did deploy cowbells and mandolins in the service of embracing it all.

Purchase Featured Music

Theater of the Accordion

Purchase Music

Buy Featured Music

Album
Theater of the Accordion
Artist
William Schimmel/Wynton Marsalis
Label
Roven Records
Released
2015

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.