Every entry here brings me one step closer to Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, perhaps the most daunting of these works. Instead of neat little movements, two giant parts, more cantata, or even opera than symphony. But that is still two weeks away. For now, a look into a lovely little serenade.
In some works, the choice of orchestra plays as much a role in the character of the piece as does the motivic material, and Mahler’s decision to include guitar and mandolin makes this movement stand out from every other so far. In addition, Mahler omits all the heavy brass and percussion, giving a light texture rare in Mahler.
The first section is harmonically very conservative–the first 93 measures are very dedicated to the key of F major, with fairly regular cadences and a great deal of melodic repetition. The theme introduced by the horn beginning in mm. 8-11 is not just the basis for the material to follow, but the starting gate for the melodic structure of the movement. Each phrase opens with this theme, and its motives pull apart to become the phrase endings.
Measure 28 sees the beginning of another notable technique in this movement. The melody in the first violins is shadowed by a simultaneous variation in the violas, a manner of heterophony. Measure 38 has a return of the horn theme, now with an F major chord in the fourth measure, instead of the original F minor. Measure 53 is the beginning of a dominant pedal point that lasts until m. 71, when the bass descends to a G, allowing a half cadence in m. 76, at which point the original horn theme reappears in the oboe, now beginning with a step up instead of down. The pedal point continues, finally resolving to the tonic in m. 85.
This transitional material is the beginning of a developmental section–this movement cannot be understood as a sonata-allegro because of the lack of a secondary key area, but it follows the basic compositional plan of sonata-allegro. Sparse material–quarters and halves, with interjections based on the horn theme–lasts until m. 125, when the music changes key for the first time in this movement, to A-flat.
The music moves quickly to F-minor, and in m. 150, the horn theme appears in the bass, in rhythmic augmentation. The next bars move quickly–to a dominant chord on Eb, which resolves deceptively in m. 162, leading to G-flat major in m. 170. and beginning in m. 176, the music shifts again to B-flat major. At measure 187, the horn and cellos begin presenting melodic material in unison, and this unison doubling becomes a contrapuntal treatment in m. 195, another iteration of the heterophony technique noted earlier.
Beginning in m. 211, Mahler presents a developmental core that, strangely enough, doesn’t modulate. Two seven-measure sections begin with the same four-bar material, but then end with passages that leave them in different keys, the last using a phrase extension to return to F major. In m. 253, the music seems to arrive in A major, but modulates directly to F major in a recapitulation of the opening section.
In the recapitulation, the same phrase structure, exclusively in F major, is featured, with a very close correspondance to the beginning of the piece. True to Mahler’s style, there are changes of scoring, and the addition of obligato lines, as at mm. 273ff. The music moves to a long dominant chord, beginning in m. 308. This dominant chord has a long neighboring section, beginning in m. 320, and resolves in m. 332.
The remainder of the piece is coda material, built from the horn theme and other material of the movement. Unlike the previous “Nachtmusik” movement, the music ends on the tonic of the piece.