I treated myself to listening to a CD of this wonderful piece at work today...TWICE! Turned the headphones up, closed my eyes, played air flute, and was in tears at the glorious finale. The last movement goes out in a big, triumphant way, even better, I think, than Beethoven's Ninth. Some composers' symphonies seem inaccessible to me; I listen and drift off, lose concentration, don't get the focus of the piece, but with Mahler I'm there every note, every minute, and it all comes together as near perfectly as Mozart (Which was Mahler's last word, by the way, my Internet factoid for the day!)
I was introduced to the last movement of this symphony the best way: by performance. I was a freshman in college band, still in awe of the vast difference between the sound of a high school band and a college "symphonic wind ensemble". The "Sturmisch Bewegt", recently transcribed and edited as a stand-alone wind performance piece, was to be the coup de grace of our winter tour. I was somewhere in the second row of flutes. The long rehearsals were more intense than I had ever known, but it was the first time I had become intimately involved in such a great musical endeavor. I played my part, but I became a part of what everyone else was playing. That's the beauty of an orchestra: Many players becoming one through the music. One entity, larger than the sum of its parts. I miss that level of involvement in music. But as I listen, I still feel the notes running through my instrument, I breathe where I always breathed, I hold my breath during the quiet moments. And at the very end, I still see the look of utter triumph and delight on the conductor's face at the end of our last--and best--performance.