Typical of Mahler symphonies, the first movement presents a conflict between theme groups that function as antagonists, which builds to a cataclysmic climax, after which resolution remains uncertain. The dualism of subject matter is presented as the substance of an existential crisis of the human spirit, as it faces modern life. Two principal subjects in contrasting tonalities of D major and minor represent positive and negative forces of the human spirit, one loving, warm and gentle, the other harsh strident and brutal. These opposing forces become increasingly combative during the course of the movement, until an overpowering climax shatters them both. Yet miraculously, the threads of these themes come together and create a comforting sense of serene calm, that restores order at the end of the movement. Several cellular figures presented during the introduction function as motives throughout the movement:
– First, a march like rhythmic figure of four quarter notes shaped in an upward arch, omitting the third beat, which I call the life affirming fate motive. It is reminiscent of the pizzicato rhythm underlying the main theme of the Fourth Symphony slow movement.
– The second motive, a syncopated four note figure of repeated tones that sounds like a rhythmically distorted and melodically horizontal version of this march like figure, which I call the life negating fate motive.
It has been suggested that this syncopated figure may have had its source in Mahler’s cardiac arrhythmia, representing his allegedly defective heartbeat, and thus symbolizing his own death. There is no evidence of which I am aware to support this theory if these two basically rhythmic mottos could well be treated metaphorically, by relating the steady March like rhythm of the life affirming fate motive, to a normal heartbeat, and the syncopated rhythm of the life negating fate motive to an abnormal heartbeat. Mahler was certainly well aware of his heart problem, and subconsciously might have applied it in music to these dualistic motives. Another analogy could be made to Mahler’s a rhythmic walking pace, compared to an even march beat. Of course, such likenesses between human physiology and musical rhythm are both fanciful and unnecessary to an understanding of the motivic duality presented by Mahler in these contrasting rhythmic figures. The third initial motive is a five note phrase that begins and ends with a rising fourth, and sounds like an heroic summons to affirm life, it is first heard on a horn.
The fourth of these initial motives is a falling second of the farewell motive from their op sheet.
These molecular figures function throughout the movement as symbolic elements in a deathlike struggle between positive and negative forces of the human spirit.
Alban Berg in a letter to his wife, written in the autumn of 1912 describes his impression of the movement. He says, “the whole movement is based on a premonition of death, which is constantly recurring, all earthly dreams culminate in this peak. That is why the tenders passages are followed by tremendous climaxes like new eruptions of a volcano. This of course, is most obvious of all, in the place where the premonition of death becomes certain knowledge. Were in the most profound and anguish love of life, death announces itself with utmost power. against that, there is no resistance left, and I see what follows as a sort of resignation”. Although such a description might imply that the musical language is purely a subjective, Theo Adorno senses a feeling of detachment, he says, “only as memory does life have sweetness, and precisely that is pain”. He also points to a sense of disintegration that follows the catastrophic climax in the development, as if life had simply fallen apart as a result of the devastating blow it received at the hands of its antagonist, death. Philip Barford sees this characteristic of disintegration as apparent from the onset of the movement, “he says it introduces holding broken phrases, fragmented figures and hesitant rhythms”. Yet Adorno suggests that the underlying antithesis of disintegration and integration also includes their identity, so that the musical material torn asunder by the terrifying climax at the end of the development can reassemble itself. Consequently, the dualism of opposing forces presented in the movement, both as a life and death struggle, and a harmonic manifestation of contrasting major and minor versions of D can be resolved at the close, even if that resolution does not represent a final and complete victory of life over death.
Donald Mitchell finds significant parallels between this movement and the first song of Kindertotenlieder, both are built around the juxtaposition of keys, in the song, a change to the major key symbolizes a transformation from as Mitchell put it, “ritual mourning and grief to the promise of renewed light, the sun rising”.
In the first movement of the ninth, the life embracing D major theme, is assaulted by eruptions of the life negating the second theme in D minor. Both song and symphonic elements also share strophic form, which takes on new dimensions in the movement by combining with structural principles of sonata form. Mitchel suggests that while the first and second themes are not marked in different tempos, Mahler might very well have changed the tempo of the latter to an Allegro had he lived. Taking this possibility into account, Mitchel finds in the movement of process of Andante, Allegro, crescendo climax, collapse, recovery, that begins again in the recapitulation, thus implying the principle of eternal recurrence that would link the movement with Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde. Gurgling sounds with which the movement begins might signify the primal ooze out of which a new beginning is about to blossom forth, thus providing yet another connection with docile lead. Structurally, the movement varies from regular sonata form as floros points out by restating the first theme, though in variation several times during the development, initially in the original D major. The ritornello, like reappearance of the first theme suggests Rondo form according to Floros. Emphasis is placed on the development which presents the conflict of forces that forms the primary argument of the movement. The pervasive use of a motive of farewell creates the impression that this conflict is viewed from a distance, more temporal and spatial. A shadow we missed in golf the opening measures, the pace is moderately slow and relaxed. The orchestration is sparse, and the musical material fragmentary cellos begin with the first half of the life negating fate motive will call motive X, with its initiating dotted rhythm played very softly, after which a horn completes the motive with the last of its three notes. The motive is then repeated, notice that it and not its convergent life affirming fate motive is the first to appear. Its unsteady pulse and low register make it sound like it emerged from the primal depths of the abyss. Its syncopated rhythm make it seem awkwardly off balance. A harp immediately follows with the contrast in life affirming fate, motive, we’ll call motive Y, unlike motive X, its pulse is steady, and even in the matter of a march, although it skips the third beat, the intervallic configuration of motive Y recalls the motto of Der Abschied arising third, that moves a step higher after a one beat rest, and then falls back to the third, stated forcefully and with resolve, it contrasts with the more self conscious, hesitant manner of the countervailing motive X. A single horn sounds a more melodic phrase, we’ll call motive Z, that begins and ends with a rising fourth, and contains certain characteristics of both motive X and Y, the syncopation of the former and the upward arch of the ladder. Motive Z sounds like a summons from afar, as if calling from a world beyond time and space, here is the opening of the movement with all three modes sounded in the sequence X, Y, and Z.
The olders enter with an undulating rhythm in thirds, that recalls the nature rhythm from the third symphonies Fourth Movement, which also appears in Der Abschied. As the harp keep sounding motive Y the horn tries to extend motive Z, with a sequence of rising seconds that echo each other. While second violins quietly enter with a falling second, the motive of farewell, also prominent in Der Abschied. At this point, the key of D major is firmly established, violas transform motive Y into a pair of gurgling tremeloes that create a mysterious undercurrent. The farewelled motive begins to take melodic shape, as orchestral forces increase. Second violins expand upon the falling second farewell, and thereby generate the first theme. A pair of horns play a counter theme, based upon the farewell motive in dialogue with the second violins during the formation of the first theme. It is as if we were witnessing a musical representation of creation, embryonic life gurgling up out of the primal forces of nature, represented by the tremolo version of motive Y, the original form of motive Y is used as a march beat in the heart, and then extended in low string pizzicato’s that skipped the first beat of each measure, as it’s still unsure of their footing. At the same time, the prominence of farewell in the first theme, and its fragmentary accompaniment in woodwinds implies an ending rather than a beginning. A three note figure, falling stepwise, often used in German romantic music to create the effect of either bittersweet nostalgia, or melancholy, is played by english horn echoed by french horn to close the first part of the first subject. Here is the beginning of the first theme.
First violins then develop the first theme against different versions of the horns counter subject and clarinets, second violins, cellos and basses, including a retrograding version of motive X, played melodically rather than on repeating tones in the cellos. These contrasting motivic and melodic elements weave a contrapuntal web, their individuated placement, making them distinctly orderable despite the pianissimo dynamic level, underlying these countervailing elements is the constant repetition of the gurgling tremeloes in the violas. The mild yet affirmative first subject softly and gently sways with inner motion, and occasionally welds up on rising figures, as if indicating that it is far from complete.
Composed for the most part of short fragments strung together, the theme seems to lack direction, it ends with the same mode of a farewell with which at first began, as if already world weary. Suddenly, the atmosphere darkens with shades of a change in tonality that radically altered the music’s temperament. When the tonality shifts to a gloomy D minor, a horn cries out the farewell motive, sounding mournful rather than soothing. Second violins answer with a falling three note figure made into a downward turn, when echoed by the horn against this phrase, cellos add a rising broken triplet that keeps repeating in different rhythmic configurations, as if yearning for something beyond itself then is wrong. ominous D minor chord ushers in the second subject in first violins, by its harsh temperament, angularity and aggressive character. The second theme contrasts markedly with the mild soothing strains of the first theme, it begins willfully on a weak beat, and forces its way upward, sounding grim and defiant, against falling fragments of the first subjects counter theme that preceded, the second themes jagged melodic contour with frequent minor modal thirds, it’s a sort of ascending line, and it’s juxtaposition of duple and triple rhythms make it the perfect antithesis to farewell, evoking an almost stubborn tenacity to hold on to life, or a negative reaction to it’s necessary and as violins develop the second theme, they play a misshapen variant of the figuration heard so long ago during the first song of Kindertotenlieder when the orchestra became more agitated after the singer envisions an eternal light that symbolizes hope of redemption from sorrow in that song, this figure related to the motive Der Tag ist schön from the fourth song, but its use here is distinctively negative, not only because the second theme is set in a minor key and sounds ominous, but also because of its strong accents on weak beats and dissonant intervals. Let’s listen to the passage from the first song of Kindertotenlieder.
He was the beginning of the second theme, including the reference to Kindertotenlieder.
Several dualities come to mind in contrasting the first and second subjects with Das Lied, particularly that of night and day, life and death. In the midst of this harsh, obdurate second theme, the farewell motive asserts itself in second violin, echoed by bassoons and double bass. A descending phrase from the first subject appears simultaneously in horns and violas and later in contrabassoon as a countervailing element, as the music builds on a crescendo, and the texture becomes increasingly complex, with the appearance of rising and falling figures and woodwinds and low strings. The fragments of the first subject disappear under the onslaught of the second theme, wide leaps, strong offbeat accents, stretched intervals, and harsh dissonances combined to create a vision of stark terror. While ends in high octaves try desperately to bring back the first subject in the midst of increasing violence, to counter the surging willfulness of the second theme. D major and minors seem to struggle with each other. The second theme makes every effort to maintain control yet one senses in its melodic configuration of feeling of great pain in its doing so, horns simultaneously assert a pair of motivic figures, a chromatic figure consisting of a falling triplet, followed by a clipped dotted rhythm, and two repeating descending chromatic triplets. The ladder appeared at the beginning of the graveyard scene in the first movement of dust lead. immediately thereafter. trumpets play a syncopated version of the first of these figures, which is derived from motive X, we’ll call it X prime. It sounds like a cry of utter despair, it has stated like a fanfare summoning us to give up the mortal coil. Ironically, the harsh negativity of the second subject has a willfulness that seems heroic, yet uncertain as to whether it in its energy should be used for or against life, such as the apparent ambiguity of evil, sometimes disguised as its opposite, clipped on and rhythms here relate both to march and folk dance music. Long plunges draw out the close of the second subject, as it builds to a great height, only to fall back into the first subject, now played in D major by the full orchestra in a complex polyphonic means of melodic and multivac fragments. With the next excerpt, we take up the second theme where we left off.
More assertive than before the first subject seems full of life. It incorporates the wide plunges that rescued it from the destructive second subject, as well as the heroic horn call motive Z. From the introduction, staccato horns and pizzicato. Low strings emphatically state the life affirming motive Y played in four eighths without any rest between them. This motif cell relates to and is played at the same time as the gurgling tremeloes on the same notes as the unbroken eighth note version of motive Y, building an intensity and visceral strength, the first theme seems to hurl itself forward on increasingly frequent wide leaps and plunges a sign of its adamant stance against its antagonist. When it reaches for a cadence, it falls on the farewell motive, it’s resolved being stifled by the forceful entry of the winds as the tonality shifts to B flat major, second violins resume the first theme, it’s assertiveness weaken, while cellos and horns add a variant of the Kindertotenlieder figure that forms part of the first theme. We’ll start the next excerpt from the return of the first subject.
With its common gentle nature restored, the first theme proceeds softly in second violins to significantly reduced orchestral accompaniment. As a consequence of the thinner texture, we hear more distinctly the gurgling tremeloes and violas under the extension of the first theme and flutes and second violins. Here Mahler makes a glaring reference to the scared soul movement of the Fourth Symphony, as one of many nostalgic allusions to his earlier works, when the music begins to build once again. First violins repeatedly state the farewell motive in syncopated, offbeat entrances with heart melting tenderness. horns add a new version of motive Y, two eighths followed by two quarter notes. During the course of the violins restatement of the first theme, the music wells up with emotion, but quickly subsides only to regain its intensity in a continuous ebb and flow, as if yearning to fulfill itself, but not quite succeeding. Repetition of fragmentary figuration in the strings creates a churning motion of symbol of the monotonous regularity of life and thus recalls the rhythmic flow of the scared so movement of the second Symphony, as well as does additional labor. Another crescendo on the first theme, brings back the farewell motive played by the first horn against yet another variant of motive why in trombones and bassoons stirred by the strings gurgling undercurrent. Suddenly the farewell motive goes awry, falling by a minor instead of a major second in the solo horn. It’s stopped resolving tone, sounding like the motive is being strangled. Farewell has become embittered turning into tragic whoa.
With farewells resolving tone choked off the ominous second theme reappears, agitated by a brisker pace. Major and Minor modes struggle with each other during the return of the second subject that follows. After violins begin the harsh second theme horns wail out the motive of despair that was first heard on trumpets before the return of the first theme, which is based upon motive X. First violins play motive Z, which had just been incorporated into the first theme, even at this early stage, the antagonists meet in what will later become a life and death struggle for survival. After they come in contact, the tempo begins to press forward on a combination of trilled rhythmic figures against harp arpeggios. Even the trilled dactylic motive of the of the devil’s dance makes an appearance, first in clarinets and first violins, and then in flutes, oboes and second violins. Once again, the first theme builds on an inverted variant of the Der Tag ist schön motive, clashing with both the motive of despair in the horns, and the second theme, played by english horn, bassoons and other horns with a sudden upward thrust and violins the temple slackens as these adverse elements build to a powerful climax, which brings the temple back to a livelier pace over a welter of conflicting triplet and 16th note figures. First violins cry out pitilessly on a musical phrase, that is a direct quote from the trink lead movement of Das Lied von Der Erde, which is sung to the words Du aber, Mensch. The full line of text that begins with these words speaks of human mortality, “all but man how long then do you live?” This confronts us with brutal frankness. It should not go unnoticed that the do other men phrase ends with a falling second, the motive of farewell. Here’s the do Oppermann phrase as it is sung in the twinkling movement of Das Lied von der Erde.
And here is how the phrase appears during the closing section of the exposition.
As a complex web of countervailing musical elements continues to develop, foreshadowing the battle to be waged during the development section. The tempo increases to Allegro, horns turn the despair motive into a battle cry, violins staunchly assert motive Z as it appears in the first theme, while woodwinds and lower strings fight against it with a rising 16th note figure from the second theme. Tension increases becoming fiercely aggressive with a wild fury of triplet figuration in winds that threatens chaos. A crescendo finally brings these converging elements together on a climactic B flat major chord with added sixth, over which a timpani roll swells briefly quieting down to a whisper after the chord ends. Thus, the exposition itself and its closing chords do not resolve but are cut off before any goal has been attained. So in the exposition, we have met the antagonists of life and death, who will soon be locked in mortal kombat. The next excerpt begins with the reprise of the second theme and concludes at the end of the exposition.
As the timpani roll that ended the exposition diminishes, for horns solemnly sound the life negating fate motive, motive X, the main tempo the movement is reestablished, staggered entrances of rhythmic and melodic motives intrude upon the somber atmosphere, with a disquieting sense of foreboding, timpani quietly beat out the life affirming fate motive, motive Y, echoed immediately by two horns, on the last note of which a third horn suddenly roars out the minor second version of farewell converted into the motif of whoa. After horns repeat this combination of motives they assert a fragment of the motive of despair, muted so as to sound as if coming from a great distance. Woodwinds and cellos add the even eighth note version of motive Y played against motive x and trumpets, the atmosphere has become cool and dank filled with a sense of mystery and dread. It is as if we were suddenly transported to a distant mountaintop, from which we gaze into an abyss, out of which awesome and alarming sounds emerge. When the horns begin again, with the notes of motive X, a sound more demonstrative, those still relatively underplayed, as do the strokes of the timpani on motive Y uncertainty reigns for a time in the tonality mixing G minor and B flat major, sparse orchestration emphasizes bass instruments that create a dark foreboding on beyonds. A bass clarinet plays a series of rising fragments heard during the exposition. recalling a similar figure from the finale of the Sixth Symphony, muted violins repeat the eighth note version of motive Y they try but fail to expand it into the first theme, forming musical figures that anticipate the opening of the third movement. But muted horns interrupt with a forceful pronouncement of the motive of despair, sounding more visceral than doleful, as the violins effort to reconfigure, the first theme breaks down, muted trombones more than fully cry out the motive of farewell as they intrude upon the horns. Before the dreadful aspect of the wind music completely overshadows the violins vain attempt to reassert the first theme, muted cellos softly enter with a warm and tender variant of that theme. In eases the tension created by the winds pronouncement of doom, harp and bass string pizzicato is a company that cellos with motive Y, while a flute B whales the inevitable end, with the motive of whoa, sounding much less disturbing than usual. The pace slackens as cellos develop the first subject, expanding upon its reference to the motive Der Tag ist schön while muted horns punctuated with repeated calls of farewell. Let’s listen to the beginning of the development to this point.
Those begins a fascinating transition that will introduce a new subject based upon the first theme. The gurgling undercurrent from the beginning of the movement now returns, a repeating sequence of four ascending quarter notes in the heart, sets a funeral march pace. Second violins enter with sustained tones that rise hesitantly one half step at a time, seemingly uncertain of their goal. First violins assist them, and both continued to creep upward, although out of sync with each other, in stumbling entrances played on and off the beat. Over this extensive bridge passage, the tonality gradually moves from D minor, toward the home key of D major, shifting back and forth between major and minor on the way. When D major is finally established, first and second violins fashion a new version of the first theme in a dialogue with the original, each taking a different thematic element. The melody that they create in this unusual manner, has been likened to one of the tunes from Johann Strauss’s was freúen die leben, enjoy life. If that were truly the source of this melody, Mahler gives it a more relaxed pace, and less the boolean character, so that it sounds as if it had been filtered through the years of a person in declining years, here’s the tune from the Strauss Waltz.
Now the transition passage to and including the new theme in violins.
Gurgling string tremeloes, and a fractured version of motive why and pizzicato accompany this gentle and graceful melody, a horn enters with farewell, and expands it into elements from the second part of the first theme. On senses in a static feeling here, a fond recollection of happier times, viewed from a great distance by aging eyes no longer sharply focused, a declining spirit no longer energetic enough to respond with enthusiasm to such light hearted amusement. When the tonality shifts to B flat major, other elements of the first theme gradually reappear in strings and winds, including a variant of the dare tog motive, played by the violins in cannon imitation. Ever a horn sounds this motive twice, the pace begins to quicken, and the new version of the first theme returns quietly yet expressively in an tiffin all first and second violins. orchestral forces increase, and thus the music grows stronger. muted trumpets quietly play a triplet tattoo, symbolizing the hero standing fast against his antagonist, trumpets, repeat their tattoos and then pass them on to the timpani. As the orchestra grows to full strength, and builds on a huge crescendo, made more resilient by a sequence of trills, rising tones and violins. The battle that was postponed during the first part of the development is now about to begin. At the height of a huge crescendo, woodwinds and stopped horns, followed by trumpets resound the heroic call to battle. Low woodwinds and strings enter one bead later, with a motive of despair, now made to sound more aggressive and fearsome by sharply articulated, descending chromatics, set at a faster and more resolute pace, the first wave of the conflict begins in earnest as the full orchestra goes into battle courageously. The hero and his antagonist engage each other in a violent clash of motives fragments from the second subject, both thematic and figurative, enter the foray, torture was dissonances twisting rhythmic counterpoint, flailing woodwind trills, and contrasting triplets and 16th swirl about the adversaries in a chaotic world when shrieking dissonances become virtually unbearable, violins and violas stretch the second theme to the breaking point, making it appear even more ferocious. Low gurgling sounds from the introduction reappear in winds and cellos. But here they rise as if impelled to do so by the surrounding configuration. For a moment, the competence seemed to stand still, suddenly frozen in the midst of their wild fury on a sustained trill in woodwinds and triangle, horns enter with enormous power on a variant of the opening horn call of motive Z, and violas and cellos respond with a fragment of the second theme, countered by an extended version of the motive of despair, now turned violent on the trombones.
This dialogue of statement and response continues as high woodwinds and first violins a certain uplifting statement of motive Z, under which horns and second violins threatened with a second theme. At this juncture timpani pound out the life affirming fate motive Y, supported by tuba and bass strings. Simultaneously, woodwinds and horns play the even eighth note version of that motor, trombones continue their aggression with scraps of the second theme, while trumpets and second violins echo motive Z, combinations of trills and triplets with rapid harp arpeggios, bring back the whirlwind reprise of the second subject from the exposition. In various guises played in close proximity, the motive of despair reasserts itself in the bass instruments, indicating the danger is on the ascent.
A downward volley of dotted rhythms turning into triplets in brass, threatened to bring the conflict to a crisis point, after two measures of the despair motive, horns play a descending variant of it against a sustained woodwind trill, rising figuration from inner strings, and harp glissandos. Their agglomeration produce a climax ushered in by a reverberating cymbal crash, and outcry of Du aber, Mensch from the orchestra is like a desperate plea for sanity, and an end to the conflict, it is one of the few moments in the development when the orchestra is almost completely unified on a single theme. Here the tonality modulates to E flat major, a half step above the tonic, but the music takes a nosedive falling in total collapse, and enormous super octave leap on a dotted rhythm upbeat, threatens to bring back the second subject, but instead it leads into a wildly rapid volley of descending chromatic sixteenths and triplets that reached down to the lowest depths of the strings under an enormous plunge and winds, t’s like a pronouncement of doom. We’ll begin the next excerpt as the freúen die leben theme winds down as the heroic trumpet tattoos emerge before the conflict begins.
As bass strings raised vigorously into the abyss, the music quiets down for the first time since the battle began. timpani sound motive Y, rather meekly, its resilience clearly deflated by the fatigue of battle. The rising 16th note fragments from the second subject gradually reassemble in low woodwinds and strings as motive Y slowly fades away, apparently certain victory, the second theme enters forcefully and passionately in strings, urging violence and destruction. Many segments of the second theme end with the falling minor second of whoa, a portent of ultimate tragedy. Once again, the polyphonic texture thickens with countervailing rhythmic elements hidden within this intricate rhythmic counterpoint are variants of both the motive of despair and the second subject, toward the end of this segment, violins virtually tear the dare tog motive to shreds, with dissonant intervals and rhythmic convolutions. When the tonality abruptly shifts to D major, the pace suddenly slackens horns powerfully assertive fragment of the despair motive, while violins develop elements of the second theme, including the dare tog figure, a heavily accented descending chromatic phrase and violas and cellos drags the music downward against an ascending violins in a frantic effort to affirm life by restating the first subject, but only the second theme is reaffirmed here, as is its minor tonality, covered over with the motive of despair and trombones and low strings. That theme sounds as it did at first, he had strangely depleted of energy and power, seeking only an end to the conflict. horns cry out the farewell mode of repeating it three times, as if in complete surrender. Even the tempo suffers from exhaustion and slows to a crawl on debilitated fragments of the rising 16th note figure, punctuated by dissonant chords blurted out by stopped horns. The music falls off meagerly on descending chromatic fragments until it simply stops, leaving nothing but the farewell motive surrounded by a horn, followed by a defiant statement of despair in trombones and tuba. It would appear that life negating forces have won the day or at least have so weakened their life affirming adversaries, that they need a respite to recuperate before the battle resumes. Let’s listen from the return of the second theme.
To the repeated sounds of farewell and stopped horns, the primal gurgling tremeloes of motive Y return in the cellos, violins struggle with the opening notes of the second subject, which break up and disappear in a few measures, it is as if their utterance is too painful to bear, horns enter on a weak beat with a falling chromatic triplet version of the despair motive, as the gurgling gradually fades away. For a brief moment, complete silence prevails, although it does not signal an end to the conflict, hardly audible in low strings, the gurgling starts up again in a shadowy atmosphere. First, violins gradually add tone upon tone, rising by half steps, as they approach the long awaited return of the first subject, as violins ascend hesitantly, unsure of their goal, horns keep repeating the minor version of farewell the motive of whoa, thus acknowledging that tragedy is the inevitable conclusion of a conflict. Second violins seem to start over again with the stretched out chromatic ascent already in progress in first violins, thus giving the rising phrase and eerie quality. At last relief is at hand with the reestablishment of the major tonic key D and the return of the first subject in its original Andante tempo, mercifully, it restores calm and order was repeated soundings of the farewell motive in horns, and a variant of the life affirming motive Y on the heart, but the first theme is far from complete, being fragmented in overlapping woodwinds and violins against faint gurgling sounds and violas. Soon fleeting cello triplets beyster the atmosphere as the orchestra thins out once again. Flitting string figures combined motive Y, and the Der Tag figure, their apparent flippancy seeming out of place here, horns rise on an anapestic figure repeated three times, each a step higher and a degree stronger. The full orchestra enters with a strong statement of a falling version of Du aber, Mensch that now ends with the falling minor second of wall, the pace now becomes increasingly pressed, urged on with rapid innerspring figuration. Here Mahler scrolls over the draft of the score, the bitter words, old days of youth vanished, old love scattered, a crescendo builds as violins and woodwinds try to continue the line from Der Abschied by repeatedly asserting a dotted rhythmic upbeat, despite their efforts to do so, they fail. Instead, they can only return to the dreaded second theme in B major, now reinvigorated and again ready for battle. Once more, the music becomes more intense, with the negative force of the second theme seeking to renew the conflict. Brass powerfully assert the motive of despair. As the second theme is vigorously stated by violins, the contrapuntal texture becomes more dense, recalling the first battle, the outcome of which favored the antagonist. Strongly accented when chords give the impression of sword thrusts, trumpets and clarinets dolefully in tone, the Du aber, Mensch phrase, horns attack with the violin version of the despair motive and woodwinds and strings continue to develop various elements of the second theme, the increasingly complex polyphony reflects the progression of this second combative engagement, momentarily weighed down by its own force of fierce attack begins with strongly accented descending triplets that create a turn figure, foreshadowing the significance of the turn in both the third and fourth movements. Here it merely functions as a weapon in the arsenal of the life negating forces. On a five node turn figure set against a chromatically descending triplet in the horns. The orchestra reaches the height of its power on Du aber, Mensch. The entire orchestra hurdles rapidly downward in a wild mania of countervailing rhythmic figures, as if being forced into the abyss. In the midst of this pandemonium, the low brass blast out an elongated version of a life negating fate motive acts with the highest power. It is a terrifying moment, a devastating blow that has struck at the life affirming forces. With this sudden and overwhelming blast of motive X. The motive that opened the symphony, we enter the recapitulation, the wild figuration quickly fades as the timpani pound out heavy blows of motive Y, trombones and tuba answer with a powerful statement of motive X in its original rhythm, followed immediately by a weakened motive Y that can only manage firm pizzicato’s in low strings, horns and bassoons cry out the farewell motive, after which muted violins play a scrap of figuration from the first subject, as if dazed by what has happened. Even the hero motive played by horns, now sounds debilitated by things staccatissimo in trombones and tuba on motive Y jab at the heart like vultures picking up the carrion of life, woodwinds call out the motive of farewell as if to begin a funeral march. With trumpets asserting the hero motive that represents all that is strong and courageous in the human spirit, timpani quietly repeat motive Y. How hopeless and dejected the violin sound on a descending cadence as the march continues into the return of the first subject, one last muted trumpet call the motive of farewell sounding with it, and the music cadences into the home key of D major. We’ll begin the next excerpt from the strong statement of Du aber, Mensch continue to the end of the development.
Reinstatement of the tonic seems to ease the pain of the deathblow dealt at the end of the development. Immediately the faithful motive Y is heard here in harp and low pizzicato strings, giving us some hope for the life affirming forces may not have been totally defeated, horns enter with the continuation of the first theme, clarinets add gurgling tremeloes to shimmering violins and muted trumpets and trombones revive the noble call of motive Z. The first theme itself as soon reached, set in an intricate web of interwoven motivic elements. After a few measures, the subsidiary freúen die leben theme returns as the orchestral forces increased to full strength. This warm, charming theme is expressed with great longing, embellished with swells in brass and string, it down seems slightly melancholy, weighed down by a sequence of wind chords entering on the second beat. In a moving plea for the resurgence of life on the Lehman’s theme, the human spirit pours out its heart with great fervor, frequent repetitions of motivic and melodic phrases set against each other, keep re-emphasizing the depth of the emotions, stirred by a plea for redemption. As the orchestra builds, the Der Tag motive plays a significant role in the development of the theme. Strong trombone chords keep intruding on the second beat of each measure, with a frontal attack that deadens the revival of hope in gendered by the themes progress, an unexpected cadence is reached only by the intervention of the second theme in its home key. It is played as if all of its elements were compacted into two measures. The motive of despair sounds prominently, almost proudly in trombones. On these life negating elements the music ascends to a piteous climax on a rising a appoggiatura that concludes on the second beat with a powerful D major chord in low brass. The effect is devastating, quickly, the convolution of musical figures dissipates and the orchestra appears down to a chamber group, while the temple slackens. What follows is but a shadow of the previous contrapuntal mix of the Matic material that had reassembled, in order to bring new life to the first subject. In one of the most fascinating chamber segments in all of Mahler’s symphonies of flute, with Piccolo added for a single bar and horn, combined with cellos and double basses in a bridge passage based on nothing but a string of triplet and 16th note figuration taken from the first subject. Together these interlaced rhythmic elements meander about quietly but aimlessly, as if numbed by the devastating climax just encountered and unable to divert the remaining energies to a positive cause. These countervailing figurative lines have motion, and yet seem to hold the music in a state of suspended animation, hovering between life and death in a purgatory, where emotion is directionless, and existence tenuous. Soon, this strange chamber music segment is interrupted by an angry restatement of the second theme and strings. The upper voices playing its second part against a rhythmic variant of the first part in lower voices. As the second theme moves forward, it incorporates the passage work of the chamber segment, until it last D major returns. horns run the air with the violent version of the despair motive, answered by 16th note figuration from the first subject based upon the Der Tag motive, the pace becomes more animated, it would seem that the life negating second theme has staved off an attempt by the life affirming first theme to resuscitate itself. Let’s listen from the chamber music segment to the end of the recapitulation.
Fragments of the rising 16th that previously ushered in the second theme gradually die away as the tonality shifts to the minor. But after these upward thrusting fragments gradually vanish, a horn raises the minor medium by half a step to bring back the tonic major, and with it a feeling of relief that brings on the coda. Rising harp arpeggios, supported by a sustained wind chord clears a path for the horns last statement of the Du aber, Mensch phrase. Now sounding calm, though resigned to the rocking triplets of the nature rhythm and cellos. This time the horn is able to continue to Der Abschied quote, only by inverting the phrase song to the words be long liebsten do thus implicitly answering the question negatively, immediately follows the motive of despair utterly dissipated by now, no hope of victory remains only the faint sounds of dissolution fill the closing moments. A lonely E flat clarinet hut is a variant of the formative motive Z, as it appears in both the first and second subjects, to which flutes and oboes respond with the motive of farewell.
Life seems to be paying its last respects to all that is positive in the human spirit. The orchestra thins out until only woodwinds remain, to solemn wind chords the first flute begins with the octave upward thrust of the second subject, and then one resolve, soft, gentle tones in eastern modality, and a rhythmic, sustained tones seem to sound from afar off from a realm beyond time and space. These serene tones sink below the plane of earthly life, until they telescope into what is left of the freúen die leben theme, played by solo violin, all is calm on this material plane beyond the conflict ridden, earthly realm. Only a few wins, harp and strings remain during the closing measures. To repeated farewells, played first by a pair of clarinets, and then by two horns in melting thirds, the freúen die leben theme gradually disintegrates as sending broken chords in the harp with an open fifth chord and cellos again plays D major on a firm footing, after the Freud theme completely disappears, and oboe sounds the last farewell, suspending its resolution one step above the tonic as the harp slowly works its way upward on the notes of a D major chord. When the tonic note is reached, it is punctuated by a single pizzicato note, the sound of which is prolonged by a sustained D and Piccolo and cello in upper register.
This combination of sounds produces a resonant ping that vanishes into oblivion.
One is left with a strong feeling of loss and defeat, but life’s leave taking seems less full of anguish than an acceptance. Life negating forces appear triumphant, he had no bitterness results from this presumed victory. The real issue here is not the fact of mortality, which is never in doubt, but its acceptance. In this respect, the Ninth Symphony is a philosophical cousin to Das Lied von der Erde, they both seek to affirm life in the face of death, and both find an answer in the concept of eternal recurrence.
In the final measures of this first movement, we witness a rehearsal of the concluding moments of the symphony and attempt to accept human mortality as part of life however, absurd human striving may seem.
By Lew Smoley