’It’s all very well, but you can’t call that a symphony’ – William Walton’s brusque dismissal of Mahler’s Third Symphony may strike some readers as provincial today, but there was a time when many musically minded people would have agreed with him. After the symphony’s 1904 Viennese première, a critic stated that Mahler ought to be sent to jail for perpetrating such an insult to the intelligent listener. Yet amid the scandalised, outraged comments one can find equally impassioned praise. After hearing that same 1904 Viennese performance, the young Arnold Schoenberg (who had at first been hostile to Mahler) told the composer that the symphony had revealed to him ’a human being, a drama, truth, the most ruthless truth!’. It isn’t hard to see why the Third Symphony should provoke such extreme reactions. In concept – and in some of its content – it is Mahler’s most outrageous work. The forces may be smaller (slightly!) than those used in the ’Resurrection’ Symphony (No 2) or the so-called ’Symphony of a Thousand’ (No 8), but in other respects it is incredibly ambitious. Mahler is quoted as saying that ’the symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything’ – in which case the Third is his most ’symphonic’ work. ’Just imagine a work of such magnitude that it actually mirrors the whole world’, Mahler wrote to the singer Anna von Mildenburg. ’My [third] symphony will be something the like of which the world has never heard!’. In this music, he wrote, ’the whole of nature finds a voice … some passages in it seem so uncanny that I can hardly recognise them as my own work’.