‘The riddles posed by my sixth symphony can only be solved by someone who has already heard the other five’ wrote Gustav Mahler in 1904, the year in which he put the finishing touches to the symphony that would later become known as the ‘Tragic’ symphony.This quotation is interesting on two counts: firstly, that the Sixth Symphony should prove enigmatic to its listeners, and secondly, that it could only be elucidated if the listener had already heard the first five symphonies – not exactly a straightforward provision by any means, and certainly not for the majority of Mahler’s contemporaries who heard the symphony’s premiere on 27 May 1906 in Essen. The symphony must, however, have made a devastating and yet bewildering effect on those who were already familiar with Mahler’s world. Whereas all of his first five symphonies had ended positively, the Sixth Symphony leaves the listener with a feeling of hopeless impotence, this being sublimated into a thundering A minor chord, the symphony’s main tonality. A minor prevails in three of the four movements; only the charming Andante introduces a sunny intermezzo.The tenor of the three movements is, however, not equally sombre; this is particularly true of the first movement, when ‘the hero’ begins his musical journey. Mahler always had a principal character in mind – ‘the hero’ –whilst he composed his symphonies and this hero displays a striking resemblance to the composer himself. It is therefore Mahler himself who sets out on a walk in the fields in the Sixth Symphony.