Im tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers… “in the tempo of a comfortable landler.” I’m not certain what Mahler means by a “comfortable” landler. That could be a reflection of my lifelong discomfort with social dance, but I also wonder if Mahler is being somewhat sarcastic, because the music seems anything but comfortable or comforting; more accurately, there is much that is distinctly uncomfortable in this movement–phrases of the “wrong” length, harmonic turns that leave as abrutply as they surface and even scoring that is somewhat atypical of Mahler.
To wit, the opening bars are somewhat confusing. So many of Mahler’s dance movements revolve around a moto perpetuo sort of texture that what seems to be a straightforward approach using dance rhythms strikes me as odd. The first two measures, a simple pentachord from do to sol, are answered with a characteristic suspension-like figure in the clarinets. These two motives will form much of the basis for the music in this “comfortable” section and its reprise. After eight measures of what seems to be “time”–the dance rhythms in exposition, merely waiting for the melody of the first strain, the second violins enter at the marking Schwerfallig (ponderous or heavy-footed) (I need to learn how to make umlauts!). This is a fantastic description, and one that strikes close to home, because as much as I might try, I am a heavy-footed dancer, as any of my dance partners through the years will attest. My heavy-footedness comes, I believe, from simply trying too hard and not yet being comfortable–there’s that word again–with the movement.
At any rate, the ponderousness here comes from repeated downbows, open fifths in the celli and the persisten doubling of violas and bassoons. More on the role of the bassoon later. The Schwerfallig indication also marks the confirmation of a metrical motive that is important throughout this piece–it appears in the first four measures, and again here. Namely, it is the repetition of a measure followed by a new measure and its repetition, a four-bar cell that appears in various guises. As stated, mm. 1-4 take this form, as do mm. 9-12. The material often varies greatly (although it is sometimes recalled from earlier), but the metric pattern remains the same, a schema that catches the listener’s ear and grounds the piece with a set of musical expectations that Mahler consistently fails to meet.
I have long wanted to learn the steps to dances that are involved in the music I am passionate about. I don’t know where one would go to learn the sarabande or the courante, but the minuet or the landler shouldn’t be more difficult. I feel that knowing how to dance the sarabande would bring Bach’s music, for example, into a whole new light for me, and I think I would better understand the give and take of this movement if I were proficient in the landler, as no doubt many of Mahler’s listeners were. To me, our widespread ignorance of social dance, beyond, as with much of American life, watching it on television, is a sign of cultural impoverishment. I may pity my sometime partners in the dance, but I feel more of a person for at least attempting salsa once upon a time.
But I digress! After the first eighteen bars, Mahler repeats the four-bar cell that appeared at mm. 9-12, following these now with an extension that leads to a subdominant chord over a tonic pedal. In measure 40, a similar four-bar cell sees the low strings and flutes alternating between tonic and subdominant ideas–not exactly the 2+2 idea stated previously, but a similar plan.
In general, the music here is very diatonic–as is to be expected, I think, in a folk dance, but also perhaps so that Mahler can lull us into a sense that this movement will, in fact, be “comfortable.” The harmonies have been long-lived, and the C-pedal nearly omnipresent through this section.
All that changes in m. 90, where key and tempo change to begin a new section. This section is much more harmonically dynamic–more chromaticism and more frequent changes in harmony rather than being dominated by pedal points like the first section.
The melodic material is derived from the original material of the movement and is persistently scalar. The first measures, mm. 90-92, outline a descending sol-do pentachord, the inversion of the opening motive, and the expression of stepwise motion seems to dominate this section in an important way.
This could be my Schenkerian training coming back out, but the structure of Mahler’s lines in this movement tends much more toward elaborated ascending or descending scales than has necessarily been the case. An example of this can be found in the melody given to the violins in what seems like a developmental core following m. 130. In m. 138, the melody has C6 on the downbeat, sequenced to C#6 in m. 140, D6 in m. 142 and Eb6 in m. 144, setting the stage for a cadence in C-minor, which quickly proves to be a pivot to Eb major by measure 154.
Another important aspect of the melodic material in this section is its continual falling by thirds–in effect, having each measure cover two scale degrees instead of only one. Beginning in m. 188, the melody outlines a ninth chord, beginning on E6 and falling successively to C6, A5, F#5 and D#5. Mahler’s usual ambiguities between major and minor emerge in the following measures, as the section comes to an end and the organization of the dance seems to come apart.
A third landler tempo appears in m. 218, and while the key is different (F major) the material is derived from the original landler melody, with the four-bar cell brought back to bring a semblance of cohesion to the music after the faster dance seems to have fallen apart. Once again, the woodwinds echo the strings with a repetition of the opening material of this section beginning in m. 230. In m. 233ff, the flute, an instrument somewhat neglected until now, is assigned the melody, which again descends by emphasizing successive scale-degrees on the downbeat of each measure. After a ritard, the opening of this section reappears in mm. 252 with the four-bar cell. This is then followed by a fascinating spot that features a bass line descending by fifths, covering half the circle of fifths in three measures to set up the new key of D major in m. 261.
From this point foward, the material of the three sections is partly developed and partly recapitulated, beginning with the second section and its quick tempo. The key is “wrong,” of course, but this matters little, as the first statement of the melody is not diatonic at all, but highly suggestive of the whole-tone scale (WT 0) in mm. 261-268. The metrical structure is somewhat more regular, with cadences happening in more-or-less eight-bar phrases and an ornamented repetition beginning in m. 291. The glockenspiel part here is reminiscent of that in the Jupiter movement of Holst’s The Planets, highlighting as it does certain notes rather than playing the complete melody.
Beginning in m. 313, this second-section material, having modulated to C major, begins to pull apart, with a transition back to F major and the slowest of the three tempi in m. 333. Only 30 bars later, the first tempo reappears with a rescored restatement of the opening material. The descending fifths lead this time to C major instead of the D major that brought back the fastest tempo. The movement, then, takes the following tempo plan:
I II III II III I
Can the middle four sections be understood as a development? Or perhaps more accurately as the B-section of a ternary form? This second possibility strikes me as more likely, given the traditional forms for middle movements in Austro-German symphonic writing.
In the measures preceding m. 423, the tempo returns to the faster second tempo, which seems to me a sort of coda. Finally, after 100 bars, the opening tempo and material return in the home key to be deconstructed in the same way as the second section twice gave way to the slow third-section tempo. This final coda-to-the-coda has some of the most interesting scoring in the movement, namely in m. 566-68, with a moment of mystery, the extensive use of solo viola from m. 583 forward and a stunning bassoon ensemble passage–very rare in Mahler–beginning in m. 590. The movement ends with a restatement of the opening motive, closing on C rather than G, in the piccolo and contrabassoon, a supremely uncomfortable combination for a “comfortable” landler.