All too frequently, we tend to forget that Liszt was an exceptional composer not only for the piano, but also for the orchestral medium. His second piano concerto had a rather troubled birth, as Liszt, hoping to strike a balance between aspects of virtuosity and musical merit, worked on it for the better part of 24 years. But when it first publically sounded in 1857, a critic called it “The life and adventures of a single melody.”
Burning with self-confidence and ambition, Gustav Mahler began, even before his major breakthrough, to work on what would become his 1st Symphony. He started out with the intention of writing a symphonic poem, but gave it the structure of a symphony.
At the première, critics responded negatively, and Mahler made some drastic changes. It is now clear that this symphonic first fruit, with its boundless energy, ironic allusions, lovely ballads and grand heroism, was the seed from which the others would spring.