Showcase May-June 2014 - page 26

Program Notes
june 12, 14
part III
The final part begins with a complete change. In
place of the seething energy and violence of the first
three movements, Mahler offers music of delicacy
and restraint. The
, scored for strings and
harp, is an island of calm: its bittersweet melodies sing
gracefully, rise to a soaring climax, and fall back to a
quiet close. Then a single horn note suddenly rivets
attention, and the concluding movement stirs to life.
After a brief introduction, the
into motion as horns sing the rondo theme. This
movement overflows with energy, new ideas and
contrapuntal writing; along the way the main theme
of the gentle
is swept up in the fun and
made to sing with unsuspected energy. The movement
culminates in a great chorale—here, finally, is the true
climax—and the music drives to an earthshaking close.
a grand adventure
The premiere of the Fifth Symphony in Cologne, on
October 18, 1904, was a complete failure: the audience
was unprepared for its stupendous power and dramatic
scope. But it has long since become one of Mahler’s
most popular symphonies, and one critic has gone
so far as to call it “one of the seven wonders of the
symphonic world.”
This work has been viewed variously as the triumph of
life over death, as the tale of a hero who moves from
tragedy to celebration, or as almost “schizophrenic,”
in that its worlds of feeling, tragic and joyful, are
separated from each other and linked only by Mahler’s
command of large-scale symphonic construction and
unification. But Mahler conceived of this music as
abstract, as absolute music complete in itself. And it
should be enjoyed as the great symphonic adventure
that it is.
4 flutes (all doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (1 doubling English
horn), 3 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons
(1 doubling contrabassoon), 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones,
tuba, timpani, bass drum, bells, cymbals, slapstick,
small bass drum, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, harp and strings
Program note by
Eric Bromberger
Mahler himself seemed stunned by what he had created,
calling it music of “unparalleled strength” and “totally
unlike anything I have written before.” He stated: “Each
note in it is profoundly alive, and the whole thing spins
like a whirlwind or a comet’s tail.” However, since this
movement was not part of a preconceived symphonic
plan, he faced the task of creating a symphony that
would incorporate it.
This he did over the following summer, also spent
at Maiernigg. He placed the scherzo at the center of
the new work, prefacing it with an opening section
consisting of two movements that share thematic
material, and concluding with another two-movement
section, again based on shared material. The result was a
five-movement symphony in three massive parts.
part I
The structure of the Fifth Symphony is completely
original. The first part opens with a movement Mahler
Funeral March
to be played “At a Measured
Gait, Heavy, Like a Cortege.” Solo trumpet sounds an
ominous fanfare, and a mighty orchestral explosion
leads to the grieving funeral march in the strings. This
march will return throughout this episodic movement,
which is interrupted by two interludes: a strident
outburst and—near the end—a gentle dance derived
from the funeral march. The music rises to a searing
climax marked “Grieving,” then subsides to conclude
with a single pizzicato stroke.
In the lamenting second movement, marked “Moving
Stormily, With the Greatest Vehemence,” we hear
reminiscences of the funeral march and bits of themes
from the first movement, now developed with frenzied
violence. This frantic atmosphere is broken by haunting
interludes, also derived from the first movement, before
the music rises to what seems to be a triumphant
chorale. But there is no true release, and the music falls
away to an ambiguous ending.
part II
At the center of the symphony is that mighty scherzo, in
which the solo horn plays a key role. This movement is a
vast symphonic celebration, built around a series of dances
that pitch between the wild energy of the ländler and the
sinuous lilt of the waltz. The solo horn binds together
the various sections of this, the longest movement in
the symphony, and finally leads it to a close on two
mighty strokes derived from the opening horn call.
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