This “Rondo-Burleske” is yet another intriguing, tightly-wrought movement that reveals its secrets somewhat reluctantly but in fullness. A six-measure introduction reveals most of the motivic material for the movement, beginning with a three-note figure announced by the trumpet. This is answered by a five-note, arch-shaped cell played in octaves by the strings. The three-note motive returns in the horns, with a three-note rising response in the low winds and woodwinds. After a measure’s silence (m. 5), the introduction ends with a repetition of the final motive in the winds and brass.
What has really happened in the first six measures is a halting, hesitant version of the rondo theme for this movement. The material presented appears again and again throughout the movement, beginning with the first presentation of the melodic idea for the movement in full, confident form. The melody of the first six bars becomes a full-fledged Mahlerian rondo theme, rollicking and surging forward in two-measure segments until the end of the phrase in m. 22. The initial three-note motive is the primary melodic material. The next passage, mm. 23-43, is somewhat more conventional in nature, but Mahler’s scoring renders it a contrapuntal wonder, with the melody shared between first and second violins. This segment is essentially developmental in function and leads to a return of the first phrase, now varied in rhythm and texture, in m. 44.
At m. 51ff, the melody is again divided between first and second violins, and I have to wonder at the implications for the seating of these sections–are the violins to be separated for a stereophonic effect, or placed together for a unified sound? The overriding segmentation into two-bar ideas is maintained through this pertion of music as well.
A passage of fantastic string writing follows beginning in m. 66. A sequential passage breaks the two-bar hypermeter, in preparation for an imitative passage between strings and horns. The section breaks down to a notated key change (to D minor) preceded by conventional material presented in single-bar segments. The material continues to be halting, lurching forward from statement to statement. In m. 97, a fascinating coloration of the melody in the violins occurs as the flutes play off-beats. This leads to a transition to the first episode of the rondo form.
The episode, beginning in m. 109, begins in F major, and subsitutes 2/4 for cut time, with the instruction “L’istesso tempo.” The mood is significantly more relaxed than the refrain, with the lurching feel left behind. This material has an emphasis on root motion by thirds, initially descending, but later ascending. It is somewhat ironic, that in a harmonic system based on thirds, Mahler’s root motion by thirds seems to undermine the tonal system. The hypermeter here seems to suggest four-bar measures rather than the two-bar measures of the refrain, although with less regularity than before, with some three-bar measures making their appearance. This episode ends with no transition in m. 180 when the refrain again bursts forth.
This second appearance of the refrain is rhythmically modified, in that triplets are substituted for the eighth-note figures of the opening. The overall melodic structure is similar, as the hypermetric structure with its two-bar cells.
At m. 209, a motive I will refer to as the “chorale” makes its first appearance (it will later be presented by the brass in chorale style, but for now, it is more or less a countersubject in a fugato treatment of the refrain melody). The first downbeat of the refrain melody is also the first beat of the chorale, as in m. 209, where it appears in the trombones, which continue the refrain while the clarinets enter with the remainder of the chorale.
After this fugato version of the refrain, the first episode reappears in m. 262. In a Classical seven-part rondo, the first episode wouldn’t reappear until the end of the movement, as the next-to-last part of the form. Instead of the original F major, the episode is now in A major.
Another interesting aspect of this movement is Mahler’s extensive use of enharmonicism, particularly in this repeated episode. This allows rapid changes of harmony between remote areas, of course, but also conflicts with the nature of the orchestral instruments, which do not treat enharmonic pitches equivalently in the way that the piano does.
The next statement of the refrain begins in m. 311 and lasts 35 measures, in a typical truncation of refrain material. Less typical, however, is the manner in which the chorale melody begins to dominate this section, even in its determination of the medium-scale formal structure, which appears in nine-bar phrases.
In m. 347, a written key change to D major sets up the culminating presentation of the chorale, in the brass, which introduces a third episode. This is based on new motivic material, resembling a simple turn. This “slow” episode continues to build until m. 421. Which leads to a transitional section with a very interesting alternation of material from the refrain and the ”slow” episode. The refrain returns in m. 522 with the melody appearing in the trombones.
In m. 617, at the marking “Piu stretto,” the first of two codas begins, in the Romantic tendency to extend after-the-ending material. The first coda, and the second, which begins in m. 641, both are restatements of the refrain melody at faster tempi. The movement lurches to its conclusion.