I’ve long felt that a hallmark of the German symphonic tradition, beginning with Haydn and Mozart, is a degree of equality between the wind and string sections of the orchestra. I cannot imagine writing an orchestral piece of any size that doesn’t exploit this split of the orchestra into two relatively equal (in terms of power) groupings. It isn’t that Austro-German composers never use mixed scoring, it’s just that they seem to prefer block approaches. This is quite apparent in in Mahler’s second movement here, which fills the role of the scherzo and trio.
The first presentation of the melody (A major), after a rollicking string introduction, is in the winds accompanied by strings. After a transition, the melody appears a second time in the strings, with the winds as accompaniment. A second theme then, first in the dominant (E major), then in D major. The infamous Mahler instruction, “Schalltrichter auf!” makes its appearance. It makes the oboes and clarinets raucous, and the horns, although stopped (gestopft) more cutting.
In m. 56 we see a two-sixteenths-eighth rhythm against triplets–again, the roughness that results is part of the charm of this movement.
Rehearsal 11, m. 108 brings the scherzo back to the original key with an interesting “winding down” effect, as though Mahler were imitating a wind-up record player, though I wonder if he had heard such a thing. Direct repetition, with slight changes in scoring, and then we come to the Trio, in F major, by a common tone modulation (do in A becomes mi in F).
The trio theme is derived from the scherzo theme. Again, the wonderful economy of material we heard in the first movement. Then through G major to C major, and a second common-tone modulation to return to the home key (mi in C becomes sol in A).
The return of the trio material demonstrates, I think, Mahler’s reason for using seven horns in this piece. If strings and woodwinds constitute two roughly equal groupings, seven horns bring into the realm of possibility a third group, and we see it here at rehearsal 26, where the scherzo melody returns in the horns instead of the woodwinds. This recapitulation is dominated by the massed horn sound that creates thrilling moments whenever it appears.
The heavy brass is still not used in an independent way, as a massed choir, but does provide a fourth group that could balance the other three; later composers (led by Mahler) would find that percussion could provide a fifth such group.
As is typical of the late Romantics, the return of the Scherzo is shorter than its first appearance, but more intense, mostly through scoring.
What can this movement tell us about larger forms? It is one of the shortest in Mahler’s symphonies, and built mostly through repetition of swathes of material, not through development–on the whole, quite typical of the designs of minuets, and later scherzi, in German music. The transition back to the tonic in the first scherzo is wonderful–we can all learn from its simplicity, its humor, its effectiveness. Building a form not through outright repetition but by changing scoring is a useful device, one I have used.
The introduction of the horns as a “third section” is intriguing as well. I find that I tend more toward block scoring than mixed in my own writing as well, but it seems more appropriate in the context of this dance movement than it did in the first movement, which is much more developmental in nature. Does anyone know if Mahler is the first composer to call for massed horns in a symphony? We see eight horns (if you include the Wagner tubas) in Wagner, of course… but in symphonic writing?