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Czech Philharmonic • Titan

At a special concert you will hear the first of Gustav Mahler’s great symphonies. The work is sometimes called a “tone poem in symphonic form”, but it is better known by the subtitle Titan, which is a reference to Mahler’s inspiration from a novel by Jean Paul with that title, which is a summation of the heroic ideals of the era.

Duration of the programme 1 hours


Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 1 in D major (53')


Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Titan

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 150 to 1000 Kč Tickets and contact information

Reservation of seats for current subscribers:
until 3 June 2024, 20.00
Sale of individual tickets for subscription concerts:
from 10 June 2024, 10.00
Ticket sales for all public dress rehearsals:
from 11 September 2024, 10.00

Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic

Tel.: +420 227 059 227

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Semyon Bychkov  conductor

Semyon Bychkov

In the 2023/2024 season, Semyon Bychkov’s programmes centred on Dvořák’s last three symphonies, the concertos for piano, violin and cello, and three overtures: In Nature’s Realm, Carnival Overture, and Othello. In addition to conducting at Prague’s Rudolfinum, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic took the all Dvořák programmes to Korea and across Japan with three concerts at Tokyo’s famed Suntory Hall. Later, in spring, an extensive European tour took the programmes to Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, and France and, at the end of year, the Year of Czech Music 2024 will culminate with three concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York. As well as featuring Dvořák’s concertos for piano, violin and cello, the programmes will include three poems from Smetana’s Má vlast, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass for which the orchestra will be joined by the Prague Philharmonic Choir. 

Bychkov’s inaugural season with the Czech Philharmonic was celebrated with an international tour that took the orchestra from performances at home in Prague to concerts in London, New York, and Washington. The following year saw the completion of The Tchaikovsky Project – the release of a 7-CD box set devoted to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic repertoire – and a series of international residencies. In his first season with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov also instigated the commissioning of 14 new works which have subsequently been premiered by the Czech Philharmonic and performed by orchestras across Europe and in the United States.

As well as the focus on Dvořák’s music, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic are exploring the symphonies of Mahler as part of PENTATONE’s ongoing complete Mahler cycle. The first symphonies in the cycle – Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5 were released in 2022, followed in 2023 by Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”. Last season’s highlights included performances of Mahler’s Third Symphony in Prague and Baden-Baden, and during the 2024/2025 season, Bychkov will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 with the orchestra in Prague, New York, and Toronto, and Symphony No. 8 in Prague.

While especially recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has built strong and lasting relationships with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux, and Maurizio Kagel. More recent collaborations include those with Julian Anderson, Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert, Thierry Escaich, and Thomas Larcher whose works he has premiered with the Czech Philharmonic, as well as with the Concertgebouworkest, the Vienna, Berlin, New York and Munich Philharmonic Orchestras, Cleveland Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and one in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980s. Singled out at the age of five for an extraordinarily privileged musical education, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years won the influential Rachmaninoff Conducting Competition. Bychkov left the former Soviet Union when he was denied the prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.

By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which resulted in invitations to conduct the New York and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras and the Concertgebouworkest. In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997, Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and in 1998, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.

Bychkov’s symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. He conducts in all the major opera houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Teatro Real. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. In Vienna, he has conducted new productions of Strauss’ Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, as well as revivals of Strauss’ Elektra and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; while in London, he made his operatic debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival, Strauss’ Elektra and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Madrid. He returned to Bayreuth to conduct a new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in summer 2024.

Bychkov’s combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that his performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, the warmth of his relationships is reflected in honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms. In Europe, he tours with the Concertgebouworkest and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France, and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia, and Cleveland Orchestras.

Bychkov has recorded extensively for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Concertgebouworkest, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. His 13‑year collaboration (1997–2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphonies No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphony Nos. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninoff (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His 1992 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the Orchestre de Paris was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (2020); Wagner’s Lohengrin was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year (2010); and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month (2018). Of The Tchaikovsky Project released in 2019, BBC Music Magazine wrote, “The most beautiful orchestra playing imaginable can be heard on Semyon Bychkov’s 2017 recording with the Czech Philharmonic, in which Decca’s state-of-the art recording captures every detail.”

In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music in July 2022 and the award for Conductor of the Year from Musical America in October 2022.

Bychkov was one of the first musicians to express his position on the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, since when he has spoken in support of Ukraine in Prague’s Wenceslas Square; on the radio and television in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Austria, the UK, and the USA; written By Invitation for The Economist; and appeared as a guest on BBC World’s HARDtalk.


Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 1 in D Major, “Titan”

Langsam, schleppend. Wie ein Naturlaut (Slow, dragging. Like a sound of nature)
Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (Moving strongly, but not too quickly)
Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen (Solemnly and moderately, not dragging)
Stürmisch bewegt (Stormily agitated)

Symphonic music developed along two lines in the 19th century. A crack in the previously rather monolithic compositional approach to symphonic form and its content appeared when Ludwig van Beethoven attached descriptive titles to the movements of his Sixth Symphony and included a choir in his Ninth Symphony, and the split became deeper when Hector Berlioz published an entire story for his Symphonie fantastique. Franz Liszt took inspiration from literature for his symphonic poems, and Richard Wagner said the possibilities of the classical symphonic form had been exhausted by Beethoven. Simply put, the dispute was over whether and to what degree music can and should tell a story, and whether the notes are able to express a storyline or programme. Music criticism played a major part in the shaping of aesthetic judgements and taste, and under the influence of critics, the musical community was divided into two camps: advocates of “absolute music”, with its pure forms, and proponents of “programmatic” music, in which a composition’s structure is determined by an extramusical subject taken from literature, the observation of nature, history etc. At the end of the 19th century, the two camps, having been artificially presented as irreconcilable, again began to converge and overlap, and Gustav Mahler made an important contribution to this with his nine symphonies, each of which represents an original approach towards a solution.

Mahler began composing his First Symphony in 1884 when his career was on an uncertain path. That June he began working in Kassel as a conductor, in August 1885 he was hired as the second conductor of the German opera company at the Estates Theatre in Prague, then for two years after that he was the second conductor in Leipzig. In October 1888 be became the music director of the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest. It was there that he finished writing the symphony, originally in five movements, and on 20 November 1889 he performed it as a Symphonic Poem in Two Parts. The critics were merciless, panning the composition as nothing but “dissonances, dull drones, cacophony”, and those who opposed his position at the helm of the Royal Opera declared that Mahler’s “music is just as incomprehensible and confused as his activity as the director of opera”.

Over the next seven years, five versions of the symphony emerged. Its transformations show us Mahler seeking out a path of his own between the opposing camps in the conflict discussed above over programmatic and absolute music. For the performance in October 1893 in Hamburg, he added the title Titan, a tone poem in symphonic form, and he gave the individual movements titles. He borrowed the title Titan from Jean Paul’s novel, which was published in four volumes between 1800 and 1803. The novel is set in the 18th century, and the hero is the Spanish nobleman Albano de Cesara. Over the span of 900 pages, the author tells his life’s story from his youth and his ascent in society. Mahler had no intention of retelling the story of the novel; what he had in mind was a generalisation of the vagaries of human life with all of its excitement, tribulations, triumphs and defeats. The influence of Franz Liszt made itself felt in the work’s treatment of literary themes, while Wagner served as a musical model, for example in the original orchestration at the beginning of the composition with the use of strings in the high register in the manner of Lohengrin. In Part I of the symphony, we are introduced to the composition’s hero in the fullness of joyous life (thus far, it is still possible to draw parallels with the character of the novel), then Part II reveals the other side of the coin: decay and death, and it has nothing to do with the action of the novel.

At a performance in Hamburg, the first part of the symphony bore the title From the Days of Youth; Fruit, Flowers, and Thorns, with individual movements titled “Endless Springtime”, “Blumine”, and “Under Full Sail”. Part II bore the Latin title Commedia humana (The Human Comedy) with the penultimate movement titled “Shipwrecked. A funeral march in the manner of Callot” and the finale “Dallʼ inferno” (From Hell). The movement named “Blumine” (a collection of flowers or a collection in general) was also a reference to Jean Paul, who had used the word as a title for a collection of his journal essays. In the end, Mahler deleted the movement from the symphony, and it became a free-standing composition. The “Funeral march in the manner of Callot” was a reference to a collection of fanciful tales by E. T. A. Hoffmann. In turn, for his title Hoffman had borrowed the name of the 17th-century French draftsman and engraver Jacques Callot, famed for his cycles of grotesque figures. At a performance of the symphony in Weimar in 1894, however, Mahler said he had been inspired by a woodcut by Moritz Schwind that depicted forest creatures burying a hunter. In the fifth movement, along with a reference to Balzac’s cycle of novels La Comédie humaine, there is also a scene of hell, referring to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The ambiguity of the titles did not, however, help with comprehension of the work; to the contrary. Mahler ultimately abandoned the titles of the movements and even rejected Titan as the title of the whole symphony on the grounds that it was just misleading the public. Nonetheless, the symphony is often still listed as Titan along with its key, D major, which Mahler also later removed from the title. In the definitive version, the composer retouched the symphony mostly with changes to the orchestration; for example, the Wagnerian strings in the first movement are replaced by fanfare motifs. What had been a “programmatic” work now became an “absolute” symphony, but the composition’s extramusical subtext is unquestionable even without the annotations. It is expressed in the performance instructions (the voice of the cuckoo in the first movement “like a sound of nature”), or it is contained in the quote from the song “Ging heutʼ morgen über’s Feld” (While walking across a field this morning) from Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). The scherzo movement is based on dance rhythms in the form of a caricature that is typical of Mahler. In the third movement, the tragic note that pervades all of Mahler’s works encounters a grotesque grimace. The funeral march is a variation on the French canon “Frère Jacques” (known as “Bruder Martin” in German), then the middle part of the movement again quotes Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen, this time the song “Die zwei blauen Augen” (The two blue eyes). The fourth movement, in a sonata layout, is a portrait of the Titan of the title, at war with the world and with himself. Through the return of thematic material, the hero looks back on his life; Mahler thus brings the cycle to a close by using a compositional technique to round off the work.

The symphony’s final version was premiered on 16 March 1896 in Berlin; two years later, on 3 March 1898, Mahler conducted its Prague premiere at a symphonic concert of the New German Theatre. According to the press, the two thirds of the 90 players in the expanded orchestra were from the New German Theatre, and one third were members of the orchestra of the Czech National Theatre.

From the autumn of 1897, Mahler was at the helm of the Vienna Court Opera, where he performed Smetana’s Dalibor immediately upon arrival, as press reviews emphasised after the concert, also recalling Mahler’s earlier brief tenure at the Estates Theatre. Angelo Neumann, director of the New German Theatre, held a banquet for the composer at his home. According to an unnamed witness: “The evening’s honouree Mahler appeared surrounded by his admirers. We could hardly recognise him. This is a different Mahler from the one who left us. He is somehow smaller, bonier, his moustache is gone, the locks of hair that once fell to his forehead now flutter boldly behind him, and on his nose are the spectacles of a scholar. He also seems a bit more nervous: being a composer, conductor, and theatre director at the same time is too much for two human shoulders to bear.”

According to a glowing review in Prague’s German press, “The Symphony No. 1 is the work of a powerful creative spirit that is finding its way wherever there is true musical feeling and pleasure from lovely sonic effects. Those who were expecting untamed innovation, symbolist solutions to problems, or revolutionary aspirations might have felt rather disappointed. Mahler gives us nothing of this, nor does he submit to the Wagnerian spirit. He is going his own independent way towards a destination that clearly lies neither in the realm of philosophy nor in tone painting; his music follows only the commands of its own internal disposition, and it is driven by a wealth of imagination that soars daringly at times.” The Czech correspondent to Vienna offered a similar report.

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