It’s been a busy time here, but I’m squeezing my thoughts on these pieces in so that I can keep on schedule.
Third movement–The name of the game here is “hypermeter,” in this case, every bar of music feeling like a beat in its own right. The meter is 3/8, but Mahler could have written in 12/8, and the piece would have made (mostly) perfect sense.
And that “mostly” is the rub. Because while the hypermeter generally dominates the piece and is fairly strict much of the time, there are places where Mahler steps out of the mold. If he had chosen 12/8, in other words, there would be a few loose measures in 6/8 or 9/8 scattered through the piece. These hypermetrical shifts tend to occur at boundary points within the piece, and are slightly more prevalent at the beginning of the movement than in the end.
The first six measures suggest, to me, a complete hyperbar, drawn out for dramatic effect. After two “correct” hyperbars, Mahler introduces a moto perpetuo-type theme in the violins. This is echoed in the clarinets in a six-measure hyperbar, clearly a “correct” bar with a two measure extension. The flutes take this up for four bars, following which, at rehearsal 29, Mahler gives a two-bar “make-up” by restating some of the introductory material, and in m. 33, the initial theme returns. In this section, uneven hyperbars seem to appear just before the return of the moto perpetuo theme.
Measure 98 begins a long (seven measures) hyperbar, and is also a modulatory passage, albeit a strange one, to F major. The modulation is effected by descending chromatic scales in major thirds, but is accompanied by bass notes Gb and B, suggesting a key quite remote from the goal. Mahler approaches the F major (local) tonic again in a strange way prior to m. 125, falling to it from an A minor chord. This is presumably because F is not the ultimate goal, only a way-station.
The use at m. 68 and m. 149 of lines that appear to quote the second movement of Mahler’s First Symphony is notable.
As we proceed through the movement, Mahler passes through Eb, then D, often repeating material heard before, usually fleshed out with countermelodies. At m. 257, the descent ends, and Mahler moves the tonal center up to E major. There is great music here, but not time enough to discuss it in full. The scoring is flawless, and often seems to reinforce the hypermetrical concept of the piece. It is difficult to understand how Mahler was able to work so masterfully with the orchestra in an age before recording, but I suppose that countless hours on the podium had acquainted him with the sounds implied by a score.
Toward the end of this movement, the hypermeter seems to become more strict, i.e., there are fewer exceptions to the rule of four-bar hyperbars. In the final 200 bars, there is only one shift of hypermeter.
Fourth movement–Just a few observations. In many ways, this brief setting speaks for itself. Would it have been more appropriate to partner this movement with the last movement? Perhaps.
The brass chorale beginning in measure 3 is stunning. I’m fairly sure that the bassoon and contrabassoon, however, would not be able to play a true pianissimo there, although they are scored in powerful ranges. The low Db in the contrabassoon in m. 13 is a positively religious effect that I will be listening for from now on.
My Theory III students will be studying the enharmonicism found at rehearsal 1. The key of the pieces is Db major, and to avoid a key signature of eight flats, Mahler chooses to write in C# minor. As far as I can telll, this is the key reason for enharmonic writing–mere convenience. There is no surprise in this chord progression–it moves precisely as it would if the key had remained Db major.
At rehearsal 3, the music moves to the other obvious choice for a contrasting minor key. In fact, as the relative minor, Bb minor is a more likely candidate than C# minor. The shift, acknowledged in the key signature, to A major is a bit trickier… Bb minor would be enharmonic to A# minor, which would have a relative major of C#. The dominant of C# is F#. The relative major of F# minor is A. Mahler employs a monophonic technique in the solo violin part rather than try to navigate this convoluted path in such a short movement. He returns to Db major through C# major in a convenient enharmonic move.
My thoughts on the giant, transcendant final movement will appear at the end of the month.