I will be the first to admit that I have not done my homework to the extent I would ideally like to over the past two weeks. Perhaps I should have allotted more time to the 822 measures of this movement, but truthfully other things have got in the way. To allow myself an extension would simply impinge on the three remaining pieces, and since by the time I am ready to write the next blog entry, we will also be on the cusp of moving, it seems better to summarize my observations and move forward today.
With this movement, it seems very difficult to get past Mahler’s symbolism–the hammer blows, the major-minor motive and the rest. Tony Duggan, in his excellent summary of recent recordings of this piece, deals with some of the many performance issues, such as the ordering of the movements (which differs from my edition, the Dover miniature score and from many recent recordings), and the precise number of hammer blows (Mahler’s final decision appears to have been two, while my score, a reprint of the 1906 Nachfolger edition, calls for three). He also suggests that this piece is the most classically ordered of all of Mahler’s symphonies, and I find myself tending to agree with that statement.
In an interesting way, the two hammer blows that Mahler retained seem to delineate the exposition, development and recapitulation of a sonata-allegro form, with the third (missing) blow indicating the coda.
Mahler opens this movement with an interesting texture and harmony–a German augmented-sixth chord that resolves deceptively to the tonic in m. 9, the first appearance of the major-minor motive in this movement. The motive is presented as it appeared in the first movement, in the brass, and accompanied by timpani and drums, but with the strings offering a countermelody that contains material of motivic importance for the rest of the movement.
In m. 16, a tuba solo introduces further new material, including an octave leap. Throughout this symphony, the octave leap has been an important element, and part of the cohesiveness of the work as a whole is Mahler’s use of the octave (and sometimes larger intervals) to create a sense of drama and pathos. Rodney Winther teaches that small intervals build tension, while large intervals build drama, and Mahler employs both, but the drama of this movement is the aspect that wins out, I think.
The tuba solo is accompanied by a descending chromatic bass, which is highly typical of Mahler. In mm. 19 and 22, the clarinets and horns have an interesting effect that I typically associate more with later composers, such as Stravinsky. The clarinets articulate the beginning of a phrase, but the horns sustain the final note, as though the echo has a different timbre than the initial attack. In the end, it is this sort of synthesis and blending that makes for fantastic orchestral writing, and Mahler is transcending the German orchestrational style in this instance. A comparison with the scoring techniques used by composers of a generation earlier–Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner–reveals a much more conservative approach, with much greater use of simple block and mixed scoring techniques. Composers of the same generation and younger, however, start to show this sort of adventurous approach to orchestration–Richard Strauss and Schoenberg, for example. Strauss would seem to be the first of these new orchestrators to achieve notoriety–before Mahler, perhaps?
I don’t often wish that I were a trumpet player, but m. 46 has an absolutely fantastic line that makes me a little bit envious. This is followed by another typical descent to the cadence, as the music shifts to C-minor in m. 49 for a chorale setting, first in a very dark woodwind and horn timbre, then in a lighter timbre that uses the middle, relaxed registor of the horns. Again, Mahler is being expository here, and this material reappears later in the movement in a drastically transformed body.
From this point, the tempo and scoring become faster and fuller, and by m. 114, the written tempo is Allegro energico, the tempo of the first movement. The martial, mechanistic feel of that movement is carried forward here in a section that, if not quotation, is at least style-copy.
In m. 182, marked pesante, the low brass state a theme that begins with a decsending octave, here on A. This theme reappears after both of the hammer blows, and as the dark coda, which would have followed the third hammer blow in Mahler’s sometime plan for this movment.
Measure 228 sees the harmony move from D major to D minor, with both the descending octave idea and a texture that is reminiscent of the material in the first few measures of this movement. This portion of the piece is developmental in nature, and as it builds to the first hammer blow (m. 336) the music becomes more an more rhythmically compelx, particularly around m. 290, where Mahler juxtaposes several divisions of the beat as the music leads to a cadence in G major in m. 296.
A trend that I have detected in Mahler’s work is a growing concern with counterpoint. Almost nowhere in this movement does Mahler use a simple “melody with accompaniment” texture. Whether imitation or inversion or augmentation, Mahler seems to have come to a more “crafty” approach to his art. At the same time, Mahler’s counterpoint does not adhere strictly to the traditional “rules,” and dissonance is often freely introduced without preparation. For an example of this tendency, see mm. 302ff, wherein a two-measure motive is passed around imitatively, often with strikingly dissonant results.
I find myself shorter on time than on ideas about this piece–again, I refer myself to my notes on it. The last three canonical symphonies remain–I am undecided about the Tenth, Das Lied von der Erde or some of the other pieces I might work with. The Seventh, Eighth and Ninth are enormous compositions with which I am somewhat less familiar with than the first six symphonies, and come December, I will have to see where my thinking about Mahler lies. If I have learned what I need to from this master, I may move on (to what, I am not certain).
Schedule for the Seventh will be as follows:
- July 1-12: Movement 1
- July 13-24: Movement 2
- July 25-August 5: Movement 3
- August 6-17: Movement 4
- August 18-31: Movement 5
Hope to have you with me!