Once again, I find myself with less time than I would like to write. Hopefully, brevity will make me make each word count.
This movement has some fascinating aspects. I begin with Mahler’s use of texture, which is more intricate and highly developed here than in much of his previous music. Immediately following the horn solo that opens the movement, the woodwinds begin to build a complex sonic scrim more akin to Ravel or Stravinsky than to Mahler (mm. 10-27). While motives from the horn solo appear throughout this passage, it is really an orchestral crescendo that leads to a climax in m. 28. In mm. 28-9, the major-minor motive from the Sixth Symphony reappears, here in the home key of C (I should note that this motive doesn’t really “belong” to the Sixth Symphony, as it appears frequently throughout Mahler’s work).
There follows a harmonized repetition of the theme introduced by the horns, with an immediate variation, beginning in m. 37. In m. 44, there is an example of Mahler’s interesting use of color in the solo oboe and horn. The oboe colors the repeated horn notes, lending body and renewed interest to the opening theme.
Measure 62 presents the main theme yet again–this is a highly thematic movement. It is now coupled with a figural countermelody in the woodwinds, a running triplet idea that will reappear frequently in this movment. In m. 69, Mahler uses a cadential pattern that is somewhat quirky. Having arrived on a half-cadence, a subdominant chord is inserted before the return of the tonic in m. 70. The iv chord is highlighted with a dynamic accent, and is somewhat reminiscent of Robert Schumann’s tendency to begin phrases with a subdominant harmony, as though we were joining the music already in progress.
At m. 83, the first significant change in mood appears, with a change in both tempo and key (to Ab major). The melody here is linked to the main theme by its opening motive, a rising interval from the triad in question, beginning on the anacrusis. An extension of this initial phrase leads to a half-cadence in m. 81. Mahler’s frequent use of the half-cadence in this movement suggests a more open, fantasia-like conception. This dance-like music continues until an authentic cadence in Ab minor in m. 121, followed immediately by a reprise of the opening horn solo, leading into a modulatory passage that brings back the main theme in C major in m. 141.
In m. 144ff, the horn and oboe are again paired, a favorite color choice for Mahler in this movement. This section is very much a restatement of the first section (up to the key change to Ab). In m. 161, the fascinating texture from the opening is revisited, culminating with the same CM-Cm chord (more lushly scored this time) in mm. 187-188.
Measure 190 marks the beginning of new material in C minor, roughly based on the inversion of the main theme. Mahler’s color choice is again interesting–oboe and English horn each doubled by a solo cello and then, when the range becomes excessive, byh solo violas (m. 198ff). In m. 211ff, there is an interesting diversion to the key of B minor, strikingly remote from each harmonic destination thus far, with a swing back to C major for the return of the main theme in m. 223, now stated by the full orchestra.
The A-flat major theme reappears in m. 262, now with a countermelody in the woodwinds (two flutes, two oboes and two clarinets in unison). The amount of thematic repetition in this movement is impressive–and highly suggestive of seven-part rondo form, although Mahler chooses not to state this explicity. This places the A-sections in C major-minor, the B-sections in A-flat major and the C-section in C-minor.
At m. 317, the typical Mahlerian approach to coda begins–the opening theme begins to unravel, with reminders of earlier textures and ideas intertwining. By the end, all that is left is the triplet accompanimental idea, which dissolves into not the tonic pitch, but rather the dominant of hte movement, G, leaving a sense of incompleteness that the beginning of the next movement fails to resolve.