Composed by

Gustav Mahler (Jul 1860 - May 1911) between 1887 and 1888

Duration

Approx. 60 mins

Instrumentation

4 flutes, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 7 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, percussion, harp, strings

Mahler conducted and premiered the first version (A Symphonic Poem in Two Sections) at Vigadó Concert Hall in Budapest in 1889. Due to its poor reception, Mahler made a major revision to the symphony, only showcasing it again three years later. He continued to make several revisions until the score was finally published in 1899. This piece is Mahler’s shortest symphony.

This piece is divided into 4 movements:

Movement I, Langsam. Schleppend. Wie ein Naturlaut 
The first movement, Langsam Schleppend (Slow and Dragging), opens with an invocation of nature, followed by cuckoo calls and distant fanfares. It introduces the principal theme, which is taken from the song “Ging heut’ morgens übers Feld” (I Went Out This Morning Through the Fields), in the standard sonata form. 

Movement II, Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell – Trio. Recht gemächlich
The second movement, Kräftig bewegt (Strongly Moving), is a lusty and hearty Austrian Ländler with yodels and foot-stomping. The slower and wistful trio conjures feelings of nostalgia and longing.

Movement III, Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
The third movement, the funeral march Feierlich und gemessen (Solemnly and Measured), is deeply ironic. Based on a woodcut-depicting animal carrying a hunter to his grave, a muted double bass solo plays the folk song “Frère Jacques” in a lugubrious minor, with the central trio evoking the tawdry Viennese cabaret music. 

Movement IV, Stürmisch bewegt
After a long, violent beginning in the finale that invokes the torments of hell, including a vehement march derived from the first movement, the music subsides into a yearning theme. A march then interrupts the mood with a transformative fanfare that eventually leads to a triumphant conclusion.

Gustav Mahler

  1. Gustav Mahler composed songs in the early morning, and swam, ran and cycled later in the day.
  2. Walked in a very odd and jerky way as he had a habit of changing rhythm frequently.
  3. His music has been featured in over 100 film soundtracks, including Death in Venice, Shutter Island, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life.
  4. He was reportedly difficult to work with. He had a high-pitched nasal voice, was authoritarian, prone to anger, and a stickler for minor details.
  5. He lived a tragic life. Eight of his 14 siblings died at a very young age, before reaching adulthood. He had lost a child and had a troubled marriage.
Gustav Mahler
photo credit: Wikipedia

RECOMMENDED RECORDING

LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA
Conductor: Claudio Abbado

Performed at the Lucerne Festival in 2009