The nickname of this symphony refers to its enormous size. Length, sure, but mainly the number of performers. Not as many as a thousand, but imagine the biggest orchestra, completed with as many as eight solo voices, two choirs and a children’s choir. If the hall is big, Mahler recommended to double the first woodwind section.
The premiere in 1910 in Munich was an enormous success. Mahler conducted it himself, and it was the last time he did so. He died some months later, aged fifty. Ten years later it was performed as part of the Mahler festival in Amsterdam, by Mengelberg. Haitink builds here on that same tradition.