In this extensive first movement, which lasts nearly half an hour, Mahler presents the positive characteristics of his hero in the full bloom of life, strength, vigor, courage, endurance, steadfastness, and passion. Marshall rhythms symbolize his powerful stride, the romantic second theme, in which Mahler is said to have depicted his wife Alma expresses the vivacity of her character and the depth of His love. Amidst these positive aspects are rhythmic and harmonic elements that taint the music with tragedy. Gabrielle’s angle describes the heroic theme as having grim relentless power, impelled by the sheer force of will, the motive of fate, two successive chords that shift from major to minor, accompanied by a march beat in the timpani, presages doom. Yet the hero trudges onward relentlessly, seeking to attain his life quest undaunted by the shadowy omens that portend his tragic fate. Cowbells transport us far away from the struggles of daily life to a more peaceful world, free of endless striving, constant conflict, and ultimate denial. They might be considered as a symbol for Nietzsche’s concept of the pathos of distance, the remoteness, a true hero feels from the common herd. The hero’s power and vitality emerge’s immediately in the opening march rhythm, with its forceful repeating strokes and dotted rhythms played emphatically by the strings.
The tempo of the first movement has caused much controversy. The contradictions contained in the initial tempo markings, allegro energico man non troppo heftig aber marking, meaning energetically fast, but not too much, vigorous but emphatic these contradictions if you will foster vast differences in interpretation, some conductors ignore them and set the tempo at a relatively brisk pace, while others add more weight and stronger accentuation so that the pacing captures the sense of the hero’s determination and visceral strength. Since the march bead has a military character, the tempo may be closer to the one set for the Wunderhorn song Revenge, which was also marked allegro energico.
A five-measure introduction, beginning with a 4/4 march beat and bass strings, and continuing on dotted rhythms sets the pace for and the dramatic character of the entire movement. Brukner uses the same sharp enfatic march rhythm to begin his first Symphony Dvorak used it to open the finale of his famous Cello Concerto, written about 10 years before the Sixth Symphony. As the march tread continues in the base, opera strings enter, adding strongly accented dotted rhythms to the march beat, as the music bills on a vamp like sequential repetition of march rhythms into the exposition. The main theme enters forcefully in the strings. It represents Mahler’s hero from the first and second symphonies, powerful, energetic and self confident, his hero theme begins with two falling octaves separated by a dotted rhythm. A heavily accented descending scale ends by an upward leap of a sixth, followed by a falling second, recording the cry of distress that began the first trio of the fifth symphonies opening movement. dotted rhythm make up beats that leap upward by super octaves, create an inverted variant of the opening measure of the hero theme.
The first part of his theme closes with a sequence of clipped dotted notes, perhaps a variant of the motive of childhood innocence, recognizable bias repeating couplets, this implies that there is something youthfully naive and therefore vulnerable about our hero. The repeated eighth node couplets will return in the Andante movement but even in the first statement of the heroes theme, there is already an element of doom implicit in its last figure that plunges by a seventh.
Some have found the theme of the hero to be Schubertian in style, although not in character. So these years it sounds more like a bravura version of the main theme from the finale of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, an oboe extends the heroic theme marked shrilly grow using elements of the first part, particularly its dotted rhythmic upbeats. After this violins add the motive of the devil’s dance, repeating dactylic figures in descending chromatics, accompanied by the first part of the theme played on the trumpet.
Wide intervallic leaps in both directions inverse a appoggiatura is and frequent use of the octave, and seventh are all important elements of the main theme. The martial tread of the introduction returns to usher in a more powerful statement of the heroic theme by the entire orchestra. This time its opening measures are inverted, so that it rises rather than falls, giving the impression of an upsurge of strength. The theme second part is played against this first part, fitting together neatly as aspects of each other, like conjunctive characteristics of a heroic persona. A strong upward thrust on a broken german sixth chord played on a weak beat and an ascending phrase that seeds with enormous power, trumpets hint at and then trombones state, an important new motive we’ll call it motive X, by capitalizing the opening phrase of the main theme, here it is.
Each of these thematic elements are interrelated and manipulated in intricate counterpoint by different instruments, in concert or independently. Rising thrusts are set against plunging figures in a tug of war between assertion and denial. After the strings powerfully restate the heroic themes first part, the trombones motive, motive X clauses closes the expositions first subject over the woodwinds, shaking 16th note figuration interspersed with the upward 16th note thrust of motive why that was added to the main theme during its last appearance. This will play a role in the finale as well. The assertive rising figure of motive Y and motive X begin to break up and descend into the base, a familiar Mahlerian procedure for closing a section.
After this figuration devolves to body gurgling mass of sixteenths, the timpani pound out a rhythmic figure based upon the march tread, it is one of two principal mottos representing the power of fate. Immediately the other fate motive follows on a major chord that begins fortissimo and diminishes as it shifts to the minor. This chordal motive symbolizes the tragic aspect of fate. Its a gloomy character reacting to the inevitability of death.
Woodwinds follow with a soft corral, like bridge passage in D minor, set against a pizzicato version of the opening bar of the heroic theme, which is scattered around the strings, and occasionally inverted. This serene chorale contains several important elements that figure prominently in the development section. First, a two-bar phrase in half notes that first rises by a second and then by a fourth. This is followed by the second of these important elements, another toolbar phrase of half notes, this time descending chromatically, and third, the chordal fate motive with which the corral concludes, let’s listen to these motives.
After the fate motive begins to fade as it continues to descend, strings jump in assertively with a new theme, accompanied by a flurry of whirling 16th note figuration. His romantic theme and F major played it with enthusiasm in violins, begins effusively with the rising three-note upbeat of the motive of longing, and then descends on a phrase taken from the heroic first theme. This is the theme that Alma claimed Mahler wrote as a musical portrait of her. By including in this theme segments of the heroes theme, Mahler links the two immediately, implying that they are not only musically but symbolically part of each other.
Lyrical, the Alma theme has no less vitality and energy than the heroic first theme, reinforced by upward thrusts that emphasize its dynamic character. It has treated polyphonically and in canonic imitation as evidence of its own complexity and inner strength, as the second theme continues to develop a reconfigured variant of the upward thrusting 16th note phrase that appeared toward the end of the first subject is now add. After soaring to great heights, the Alma theme recedes on 16th note figuration, just like the heroic theme had clipped fragments of both principal themes are interwoven, hinting at the scherzo movement to come. Once again, the ardent Alma the theme asserts itself, this time in woodwinds and violas in canonic imitation with the first trumpet, the music sparkles with harp, arpeggios, and fluttering octaves on the Celestia. The three-note rising upbeat of the Alma theme is repeated several times against its own inversion, propelling the music forward canonically until it reaches a climax, on a leaping upward thrust on a second beat. This throws the theme and the climax off balance.
The rising thrust of motive Y engages its own inversion, as the music begins to calm down, reaching a melting cadence on the motive of longing. During this closing section of the exposition, the upbeat to the Alma theme is severed from the rest of the theme, which then continues in the first violins with a downward sloping figure borrowed from the heroic theme. The snare drum faintly beats out the rhythmic fate motive against an elongated version of the oma theme that dies away, ending the exposition in a whisper.
At this point, Mahler calls for a repeat of the exposition, something he did only in one other Sonata movement, the opening movement of the First Symphony, although it was once considered acceptable to ignore this repeat and go straight into the development section. It is now generally agreed the movement structure would not be properly balanced without taking the repeat. The development section begins with the fate motive that ended the exposition, now quietly stated by the percussion, shades of Knight cast a mysterious shadow over what follows the dotted rhythmic trend of the introduction enters, made to sound more devilish by added grace note flicks, grotesque brass core give the impression of a malevolent sneer, death leaps in low winds, eerie minor third figures, the devil’s dance motive, and a more good phrase based on a turn figure embellished with grace notes, all combined to infect the music with satanic venom.
In this now bedeviled version of the heroic march, we already are given a hint of Mephistopheles mocking response to the proud Faust the hero. This will be more fully developed in the scherzo, all his pride, strength and courage are for naught as they will perish with him.
Gradually elements of the first theme reappear, but their heroic bearing is now distorted with perversely stretched into valic leaps, distorted harmonies, and unsettling, offbeat accents.
Juxtapose thematic fragments seem to contradict each other while parodying the themes from which they are taken. Woodwinds and brass arrogantly declaimed the motive of the devil’s dance, summoning the heroic first theme, as if it was already subservient to the will of its Mephistopheles nemesis, a demonic caricature of the dotted rhythmic march tread herd in combination with the ominous fate motive, and the maladroit devils dance, leave no doubt that the hero is now confronted with his inner demons, the negative side of his personality.
Violins and woodwinds present a new lyrical variant of the heroic theme, based upon a turn figure that makes it sound strangely mournful.
Set against the march tread and rhythmic fate motive, this new theme hints at the tragic end that awaits the hero. The upward thrust of motive Y appears sounding gruesome and deformed with its accented upbeat and disharmonious falling intervals, the fate motive of infests the entire section portending Doom, just as the heroic theme is grossly distorted, so is the Alma theme, now set in D minor, at a marching pace, almost as a counterpart to its thematic companion.
It’s three no rising upbeat is disfigured by a dotted rhythm, giving it a grotesque character. Wicked trills wail out on high woodwinds with rapid triplet figures in the triangle chilling the hellish atmosphere. Violins cry out passionately on a mournful version of the heroic theme against the trumpets distorted reworking of the ultimate theme interplay of these thematic variants with the devils dance and a twisted version of motive why builds to a brief climax on ascending dotted rhythms, out of which the following phrase from the Alma theme can be heard gradually softening in woodwinds.
The tempo gradually eases up for the return of a chorale bridge passage from the exposition, can be heard in the distance while Celestia and string Tremeloes softly in tone, a haunting sequence of impressionistic chords.
Flutes play a rising dotted rhythmic figure on the favored fourth interval, which is echoed by timpani, it sounds like a summons to return to the serene calm and innocence of nature but the chordal fate motive major to minor infects that vision with a poison of tragedy, as a lonely bass clarinet plays the falling phrase that appears in both principal themes, horns dolefully chant the chorale against the sequence of trilled string chords. Once again, the trombones and bass clarinet sound the morose, harmonic fate motive against echoes of the dotted rhythmic upbeat of the fourth in the flutes and contrabassoon.
The chorale is briefly repeated, sounding more mysterious with Celestia embellishment and shuttering string chords softly punctuated by the rising daughter, rhythmic figure of the fourth on a bassoon, which is in turn echoed by timpani. As before, this figure expands into the following phrase from both principal themes, but this time, it leads to a new plateau. Serenity now transfigures the music evoking the first glimmer of daylight that shines through the mysterious darkness, woodwinds sing a tender variation of the Alma theme, first in G major, and then switching to E flat when the violence take over, beginning with an inversion of the following phrase common to both main themes, the variation forms and arch like figure by concluding the first three measures the Alma theme, with the falling phrase with which it originally ended.
The motive of childhood innocence is added to this milder version of the Alma theme, as a hint of its later appearance in the Andante movement. Violins expand upon this new variation of the Alma theme, echoed by horns sober statement of the original Alma theme. The theme sheds its energetic, long and self-assertive character and becomes a soothing, lyrical melody, graced by a turn figure and played caressingly by the solo violin. A bass clarinet takes up this thematic variant, it’s hollow tambor giving the theme an eerie quality, which is made more chilling by the tinkling cowbells and shimmering string tremolo from the chorale, which now return in a brief reprise. Soon the temple slows down as the music approaches a cadence, here this entire passage.
As the chorale is about to conclude, a strong, upbeat thrust in woodwinds and strings suddenly shifts the direction and the mood with it, the main Allegro tempo suddenly breaks in waking us from the sweet dreams of peace with a jolt. The tonality switches abruptly to be major and ascribed in three-note figure that falls by an augmented eighth abruptly wrenches the music from the serenity of the chorale. This strange figure turns out to be motive X, even more, misshapen than when it first appeared at the close of the first subject. As it grows into a perverse variation of the heroic theme, it incorporates both a turn figure and the Der tag ist schön from the fourth song of Kindertotenlieder, here’s sounding like a caricature of itself.
Violins invert the opening notes of this twisted theme against its original version in trombones and tuba while horns try with great effort to bring back the corral. That is not to be oboes sadly, play the motive of Whoa, falling minor second, as the key changes to G minor, against the inverted three no rising figure from the distorted motive X.
Fragments of the first subject, including the ascending mode of Y, and the three note motive X that rises only to fall back, combined with the Der tag ist schön motive and a diminutive version of chorale, all producing chaotic confusion. Soon, the three note falling fragment of motive X takes over, increasing in strength as it climbs higher and higher, while shifting its placement within each measure, as if teetering on the brink of its own destruction.
Any moment this madness could end in disaster, but instead, it generates the reprise of the heroic first theme, unabated in strength and bravado. Upon the return of the heroic theme, we reached the recapitulation, the forces bent on destroying the hero have done little more than mock him. In the process, our Faust hero is exposed to a side of himself that he did not know existed in youngin terms, the shadow side, that contains the converse of his positive characteristics. For now, he appears unaffected by the confrontation with his negative self. He can continue to bask in his own glory as he did during the exposition, but in the scherzo movement, which should follow to make this point effective, he will be forced to look more deeply into his inner being, and confront his negative side, as it marks his pretensions to greatness. In the recapitulation, the heroic first theme is presented in more concentrated form, it sounds even more intense and urgent than before. Wider leaps stretch the theme to the breaking point. Yet what results does not ring true? These distortions virtually negate the argument, dissonant intervals normal motivic material into grotesque sounds that undercut the image of positive power, oboes play a three-note inverted arching figure that has a perversely demonic quality, yet it is but a transformation of the first bar of the heroic theme when it was slightly varied during the exposition.
The presence of this figure in the reprise of the first subject seems to imply that the devilish mockery of the heroic theme during the development did have some deleterious effect upon the hero after all. This conclusion is confirmed by the appearance of the devil’s dance and the hidden harmonic shifts from major to a minor that subtly refer to the motive of fate. After the heroic theme returns curiously enough in a major, the tonality reverts back to the tonic minor, which stabilizes during the first part of the recapitulation, placing renewed emphasis on the hero’s tragic fate. Despite the strength and durability characteristic of his theme, the hero is in the end, a tragic figure, and his fate is pronounced with undeniable certainty at the close of the first subject by the return of a chordal fate motive.
Chorale returns briefly set in double time in flutes and clarinets against flitting arpeggiated chords in the Celestia and flickering string pizzicato. It is no longer calming and serene, instead, it seems agitated and flies by in haste, giving the hero’s relentless drive and unremitting exertions of power, little respite. When the tempo eases up, and both the rising and arching versions of the upbeat to the Alma theme, hint at its return. One sense is that the life force of the hero has been severely debilitated by his fight against tragic fate, when the Alma theme makes a brief, if arduous reappearance in D minor, it seems insufficient in length to have much effect against the taunting mockery of it in the development. As repetitions of its ascending three-note upbeat press forward, the Alma theme seems to regain its strength to some degree, it quickly rises higher and higher, tenaciously holding on to the dotted rhythm of its upbeat with each rising sequence until it reaches a powerful climax, and then again on a weak beat, as in the exposition. This time, however, the thrust of the climax is even more emphatic, with grace notes launching a high F sharp, sustained briefly for greater emphasis.
Struggling with himself, the hero tries not to lose the power of self-assurance. One senses in the reprise of the Alma theme of greater urgency and willful assertiveness than before, as the Alma theme slowly dies away, its last note is short by a step of reaching a full cadence.
In another fascinating example of Mahler’s telescoping technique, the last note is held for a full measure and then resolves to a complete cadence on the first note of the march tread, with which the quarter begins, seemingly debilitated. The mark tread is now beaten out softly on the sixth interval of A major rather than on the tonic attenuating, its dynamic thrust.
Even the heroic theme that follows in the trombones is played quietly, sounding like a shadow of itself, suddenly, it breaks out of its lethargy, the entire orchestra bursts out with raging fury, as if the hero suddenly recognized his weakened condition, and realizing what caused it strikes out in wild rage, a phrase is taken from the heroic theme, a downward turn, coupled with a rising dotted rhythm expresses overpowering anger as it leads into the aerobic theme itself, which is now asserted with tremendous force by the brass. As the trombones begin to stretch out the intervals of the heroic themes first measure, the hero’s rage suddenly comes to a halt, then we can almost hear the mocking voice of Mephistopheles taking his cue from the trombone. He mimics the heroic theme as he did during the development to the impish version of the rhythmic motive heard at the beginning of that section, now played on side drum and reads, the heroic theme is subjected to distortion once again.
Its opening measure inverted and its intervals torturously stretch to a super octave. The devil’s dance returns with its mocking laughter and inverted version of the rising scalar phrase from the heroic theme urges the music onward as it tries to regain stability. The original and inverted versions of thematic elements from this theme or set against each other in a savage struggle for survival. Even the Alma theme tries to enter in the trombones and bass tuba only to be shunted aside by the devil’s dance and the violins incorporating elements from the heroic theme. Clip-dotted rhythms leap upwards fiercely, to usher in a mocking version of the Alma theme against motive X and the brass. These persistent clipped dotted rhythms create a Shostakovichian galloping rhythm that is wildly demonic, akin to the witches Sabbath from Berlioz Symphonie fantastique.
How’s it tonality changes from E flat minor to the tonic A minor, the music calms down only to regenerate enough energy to continue the battle, violins quietly play the three note falling figure with which the trombones close the first subject, while other brass instruments use the rising upbeat of the Alma theme in its dotted rhythmic variant to reenergize on a crescendo, this upbeat generates the original Alma theme and the first trumpet. Sharply clipped dotted rhythms draw out the heroic theme and the brass with its opening interval stretched out of proportion. Here the common elements of the hero and the Alma themes are most noticeable when played in sequence, the arching phrase that opens the Alma theme, now he long gated for greater emphasis, resounds on four trumpets, in a bright A major, as if hailing of victorious climax, but the theme is cut short of completion, by a flourish of percussion, out of which four horns respond with a distorted version of the Alma theme from the development here declaimed with devastating power as if in defiance of its attempt to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat, its significance as further emphasized by a weighty temple. As soon as the Alamo theme concludes, a march beat in double time forces the pace to press forward. Mahler uses the falling fourth for this march rhythm as he does in so many other works woodwinds and strings, then trumpets reassert the Alma theme, while the horns play motivation X, volleys of the rapid March rhythm quickened the already brisk pace with greater intensity, overlapping entrances of the Alma theme increased the tension as the music builds becoming more and more distraught. Even the chorale makes a brief appearance in the trombone, thematic elements topple over each other in a wild profusion of polyphony.
When the horns powerfully assert motive X, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the trombone motive from the close of Liszt First Piano Concerto, woodwinds and strings bring the entire movement to a climax on the Alma theme, now made to sound like a grotesque monster by being stretched out forcefully, with its top note on an extremely dissonant German sixth chord. A tempered version of the same chord will open the finale. Here it seems to express the shock and torment that the hero must feel as he is confronted with his mortality and the absurd presumption that he is indestructible. Only those elements of the heroes theme that are shared with the Alma theme appear during the closing coda. Hidden beneath the overpowering sound of the climactic chordal outburst is the major to minor motive of fate, hinting at the tragedy yet to come. The Alma theme with overlapping volleys of its arching dotted rhythmic figure in the brass set against a clipped variant of its rising upbeat and woodwind strings, now reasserts itself after having been so grotesquely distorted at the high point of the proceeding climax.
On a powerful statement of its opening phrase, galloping frantically to the march beat in double time, the movement is abruptly and sharply cut off.
What are we to make of the disappearance of the heroic theme during the final coda? has our Faustian hero conceded defeat to his Mephistopheles and tormentor? Does the increased strength of the Alma theme indicate that the hero has given over his defense to her, is the shockingly dissonant chord with which the theme reaches its height, a premonition of the pain Mahler will feel several years later when confronted with hormones, infidelity? Certainly, the Alma theme seems to prevail at the close where the heroic theme does not, or are these themes so much a part of each other, that they should not be so completely distinguished? Can they be considered dualistic representations of heroism in the abstract, without any sexual overtones as a duality, both aspects of the heroic character fight together against the negative forces that try to destroy it? The ability of the hero to overcome the tones of Mephistopheles will be even more sorely tested when he takes center stage in the scherzo movement. The obvious influence of Liszt Faust Symphony upon Mahler should not go unnoticed. In that worklist fashion, the music for Mephistopheles had of a distorted version of Faust steam, to show that the former is both the underside of the ladder.
This application of a concept of thematic transformation is mirrored in Mahler’s distortion of the heroic themes of the exposition during the development section. In the scherzo movement, the same principle will be applied. It is the first movement’s march beat that will be treated as a caricature of itself in that movement. As mentioned earlier, the first movement is one of Mahler’s most traditionally organized Sonata movements, the most significant deviation from the classical sonata form here, other than the usual harmonic progressions that occur in the development section is the predominance of the second of the oma theme during the coda. Played a flaming a major rather than in the tonic A minor. This harmonic change from minor to major seems to contradict the fate mode, which goes Of course from major to minor, leaving the impression that the movement ends on a positive note. But if the scherzo moving follows as I believe it should, such an impression is quickly dispelled because the movement begins in A minor, reestablishing its tragic aspect. Since the duality principle applies to the movement’s two main themes, a principle that does not exclude thematic interrelationships, their development or breakdown, if you will, and their reassertion under attack by their antagonist all seem to fit quite well within a dualistic thematic scheme and tripartite sonata structure.
By Lew Smoley