Based on the poem Todtenfeier by Adam Mickiewicz.
With deeply serious and solemn expression. With this funeral march and the eloquence of its thematic material, the power of its architectural structures, the emotional thrust of its inspiration and its concision of thought, Mahler assumes for the first time the full stature of a symphonist in the great German tradition. The shadow of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) hovers over the opening bars with a long tremolando and a first subject on the lower strings that is 43 bars long. Yet the composer’s distinctive voice asserts itself in such features as the dominant-tonic melodic intervals and the alternation between major and minor.
The structure is classical, with two main subject groups, the second of which, in E major, already hints at the work’s optimistic conclusion and the finale’s “Resurrection” theme. Transposed to C major, this same subject also launches the first of the movement’s two development sections with a long, lyrical episode. In the second of these, a new element enters on six horns, a solemn chorale related to the Dies irae that will later play a crucial role in the final movement.
Five minutes break after this movement.