This Adagietto captures, to my hearing, a version of Mozart’s Romanza design, appearing, for example, in that composer’s Concerto, K. 466 (D-minor). Here is Mahler at his most reflective, most concentrated, with each note seemingly imbued with meaning.
Again, I’m somewhat confused by Mahler’s labelling of this symphony in C-sharp minor, as only the first movement is in that key. This movement is in F major. The Romanza plan calls for a basically ternary structure, with the outer sections being closely related to each other in the home key and a faster middle section in a contrasting key. In this case, the sections divide at measures 39 and 72, with the middle section in G-flat major, the lowered second scale-degree.
Mahler’s melodic material in the first section is centered around two ideas, a three eighth-note anacrusis followed by a retardation. At times, the anacrusis motive is augmented to three quarter-notes, as in the first celli in m. 10. This second appearance of the theme leads to A minor in m. 19, which then pulls back to F major. From here, the music builds to a climax on the dominant in m. 30. The next few measures are “after-the-ending” music for the first section.
The middle section of this Romanza begins with the tempo indication “Fliessender,” in F major. The introduction of E-flat starts to suggest that F is now the dominant instead of the tonic, and a deceptive resolution in m. 46 establishes the next key of G-flat major. Where the first theme was centered on the tonic pitch, this second thematic material tends to descend from the dominant in something of an inversion of the original motive. The register of the melody rises throughout this section, until a written key change to E major in m. 60. This would appear to be a transposition of convenience, as it lasts only three measures before D major appears in m. 63. D major is never fully established as the tonic, but the entire nine measures in this key are given over to a long dominant chord. Instead of D major, the music shifts down another step to give C, the first note of the piece, and the dominant of the home key.
In m. 72, the original music returns, giving the second “A” section of the Romanza form. Mahler states this section in abridged form, with only one appearance of the first section theme and no modulation to A minor. Measure 87 is roughly parallel to measure 23, but the approach to the dominant relies on V/V instead of the Neapolitan, and the climax of the movement in m. 95 employs the highest register of the violin. I feel that the moment to which the movement has been building comes very late in the overall structure. An obvious comparison is Samuel Barber’s Adagio (in its various incarnations), which seems to me to have a more proportional denouement. This is not to say that Mahler’s music is ineffective in any way, but it is intriguing to see to very different approaches to much the same musical idea.
The fortissimo lasts until m. 100, whereupon a final suspension brings the music to the expected tonic chord, strangely, strangely voiced without the middle strings (although in a wondrously sonorous open voicing that would get a good mark from me on on orchestration assignment).
What then is the compositional lesson one can take from this movement? I hope that I can learn from Mahler’s approach to tension and release, to slow unfolding, to harmonic variety within tonal coherence.
This leaves the rest of the month for the final movement. I’ve given myself a little extra time, as my wife and I are anticipating the birth of our son–if my posts become less frequent, that may be the reason, but I’m going to try to keep to my schedule.