On the centenary of Mahler’s death, we investigate the origins of the sometimes enigmatic titles given to his symphonies.

As so often is the case – think Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonataand Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude– the nicknames of the symphonies were not approved by the composer, even if he did play some part in their creation.

The name Titan, after the name of a novel by Jean Paul, for the Symphony No 1 was used once for the Hamburg performance on October 27, 1893 of an incomplete version which Mahler considered his symphonic poem, or a piece of program music. When Mahler turned it into a symphony, he dropped the title, never to use it again.

The Resurrection Symphony No 2 derives its title not from Mahler, but from the name of the poem by the German poet Friedrich Klopstock, affirming that death is not the end, which is used in the monumental choral final movement.

The program for the first Vienna performance in 1907 of the Symphony No 6 refers to the work as Sechste Sinfonie( Tragische ), but Mahler did not use this title in any of the other programs, or in any of the scores published in his lifetime. Mahler’s protégé, however, conductor...