As I listened to the St. Louis Symphony on Classic Radio perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2 in C Minor, “Resurrection” (1894), I wondered at the brilliance and depth of the composer’s imagination, cut short by death at fifty years of age.

Of humble Jewish origins in Bohemia-Austria, Mahler always felt the outsider. Hard work was the antidote, first tested in Vienna’s Conservatory and University; then, conducting Italian opera at venues in Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, Hamburg, and New York’s Philharmonic, the proceeds of which supported his family. Studying German philosophers and metaphysicians also influenced his worldview and found a place in his musical compositions. Unlike others, Mahler had to finesse periods of solitude for composing, his lifelong passion.

Again, l listened to Mahler’s Second Symphony; its five movements opened me to worlds of angst/ecstasy, beyond my life experience. He seemed intimate with the notes of the human heart and reverenced them within the interplay of the massive orchestra, two soloists and chorus.

Nothing was left unexplored: existential questions, lost innocence, the dregs of despair, the disgust of existence, even the Titanic clash with God. Relief sounds in the Fourth Movement with the mezzo-soprano’s creedal statement, “I am from God. I want to return to God!” excerpted from the German poem, Primeval Light.

The Fifth Movement again opens with dark themes, from which the cry to God for mercy and forgiveness emerges. Glimmers of hope resound in the instruments. Bliss develops with the soloists and chorus singing Resurrection lyrics, composed by Friedrich Klopstock and Mahler; their simple words shimmer with the ineffable.

Indeed, Mahler’s imagination glimpsed the realm to which all are called; it impressed its ecstasy within each pore of our beings: “I shall die to find life.”