Listening Guide – Movement 3: In ruhig fliessender Bewegung


Three particular aspects of the scherzo movement should be mentioned at the outset. First, Mahler uses one of his songs as a source, in this case, St. Anthony’s sermon to the fishes from this carbon window on second, Mahler anticipates the opening of the finale in an episode that erupts out of context during the course of the movement. Third, Mahler uses dance music set to a perpetual stream of scales with a modal inflection, to portray the senseless Hurlyburly of everyday life.

In contrast with the first symphonies’ use of song material, where only themes or particular segments of previous songs appear. In this movement, Mahler virtually quotes the entire first part of the song in the scherzo sections. characterizing the incessant and meaningless motion of everyday life through an underlying perpetual motion rhythm will become distinctive Mahlerian and feature in many skirts or movements from a symphony, for example, in the seventh and 10th Symphony.
An earlier example of a rhythmic continuum used for essentially the same purpose is the Wonderhorn song does edition Laban Mahler’s sense of the meaninglessness and triviality of daily life is an important element in his existential perspective. The incessant circularity of life is likened to a revolving wheel that continues without remission or goal, never stopping to take notice of the unnecessary suffering that it causes with every revolution, it tormented Mahler that a Creator God, who professes to love his creations could permit so much injustice, apparently without rhyme or reason.

Many of the quintessential elements of Mahlerian scherzo are found here, the savage timpani strokes with which it begins, swirling string figuration that wanders about aimlessly, and finally, a premonition of the apocalypse demonic humor seems to mock the very problem represented in the symphony as a whole, nothing less than a life and death struggle for the soul, so many overtones are prominent in this movement, creating a fable like atmosphere, as in the fish sermon song, but also it generates a sinister quality. It is as if in mocking life’s absurdity, the music flitz about in wicked little dance steps propelled by the perpetual linear flow that seems to go on and on without purpose or direction, yet there is also much energy, ironic humor, and profound longing here.

Toward the end of the movement, the senseless unremitting world of daily life finally explodes in an apocalyptic vision that foreshadows the opening of the finale. It may be likened to the orchestral explosion that opened the finale of The First Symphony, which also begins with an outcry of pain, expressed as a plea for redemption.
A hint of that redemption follows in the serenity of the bridge passage to the reprise of the skirts or theme as the movement progresses, Mahler diverges more and more from the original song in regard to the orchestration, only in barely owes music before Mahler is one fine such imaginative treatment of wind instruments, such as the marking humor of the flat clarinet, although Mahler follows the first 131 measures of the song strictly, he adds a brief introduction that consists of nothing but a rising Scottish snap, played powerfully by the timpani on a rising fourth.

It is a nearly perfect mirror image of the pizzicato chords, with which the second movement ended. After a slight pause, the timpani plays the same two notes somewhat slower and less forcefully, then a second timpani takes up the snap as a repeating beat to establish the lender rhythm that provides the repeating baseline for the scherzo’s principle subject, Mahler used a similar process in the transition passage to the heroic theme in the finale of The first Symphony there for the purpose of leading into the reprise of the principal theme, rather than establishing a rhythmic pattern, as here grace note flicks and gentle strokes of the router, a set of reeds that are shaken together with the use of the Phrygian mode, give the music of Middle Eastern flavor. Out of the principally rhythmic introduction and woodwinds, the first subject begins softly and in an amiable mood, with an easygoing swirl of 16th notes in the violins.

First introducing the scherzo sections main theme, this 16th note figuration soon becomes a perpetual motion rhythm that entwines with the main theme and serves as an accompaniment, it sounds something like a whirling dervish, whose oriental character is also derived from its modal elements. An E flat clarinet expands this figuration with mocking sarcasm, Mahler directing that this brief solo be played with humor, its submitted quality is akin to the oboz wedding dance tune from the funeral march movement of the First Symphony, also in a minor key. The steady stream of sixteenths also introduces the song theme, played assertively by woodwinds.

The second part of the theme has a more strident and demonstrative character, and contains dotted rhythms that give it a Slavonic dance quality, and related directly to the landler theme from the second movement of the First Symphony, section closes on a sudden outburst of descending chromatic sixteenths, propelled by strong brass chords that seem to sneer at the unrelenting motion of this whirling figuration, marking its apparent indifference to its surroundings. Out of this sudden deluge of sliding chromatic scales, a new section begins in F major, the fluid 16th note figuration is now treated thematically.

After further development of rhythmic material, using fragments of the first theme oboes and bassoons introduce a new theme of simple charm and grace. This subsidiary theme juxtaposed against 16th note runs, and eighth note triplets recall the gentle lyricism of the second movement. A brief theory of 16th notes juts out momentarily in the winds, leading directly into the return of the principal woodwind theme, is played in puckish staccato by Piccolo, accompanied by a variant of the original violin figuration, but the mood darkens with the return of C minor, a trumpet plays arch like phrases within identifiably Yiddish character, again recalling the subsidiary material of the first symphonies funeral march movement.

In various twists and turns, the first subject is developed until interrupted by a volley of rapid falling fourths in the timpani, over which a brass chord prepares for a move to C major for the oncoming trio section. Mahler uses the same repeating fourths in the timpani, set at a much slower pace for the steady beat of a funeral march in the first symphonies third movement, and in a more rapid tempo during its finale, a strong upbeat of 3/16 suddenly thrusts out in low strings, as if hinting at the reprise of the first subject. Instead, just as abruptly, the music softens, and these instruments offer a variant of the accompaniment to the first subject with a high octave C and Piccolo and flute, giving off a radiant sheen against the dark baseline and heroic variation of the lender themes suddenly bursts out in horns and trumpets against the backdrop of flowing sixteenths and their thematic variant from the first subject. A flute, solo violin and cello form a lovely chamber music trio that serves as a bridge passage to the cataclysm that follows, just as the oboe seems to begin with part of the song theme, the orchestra explodes as the brass play the landler theme, sounding like a call to battle.

Its heroic character reminds us of the horn and trumpet themes from the finale of the first symphony. Quickly this dynamic battle cry gives way to the music of a more gentle and serene character, still in E major, Mahler’s heavenly key we hear a tender song-like theme and first trumpet.

This new theme illustrates Mahler’s use of the principle of dramatic transformation for his but an inverted variant of fragments from the heroic theme heard earlier, now refashioned to sound like a soothing lullaby, with this tender theme, Mahler brings this part of the trio to an enchanting we boost for close. Suddenly, bass strings enter in a huff on the same 16th note upbeat with which the trio section began.

The legato string figuration changes to staccato and accompanies the principal trio theme, played by an oboe against the new trumpet, the brass swells on the motive of whoa the falling minor second, threatened to darken the atmosphere, with a sudden flood of descending chromatics were abruptly shunted back to the scherzo section.

Notice that the same 16th note upbeat that ushered in the trio now serves to reintroduce the perpetual motion spring figuration of the scherzo section. C minor is firmly re-established, as swirling staccato figuration brings back the fish sermon song theme the interplay between the song theme and fragments of Lindley rhythm form a seamless web that is soon ripped apart by the same wild theory of descending chromatic scales that disrupted the musical flow during the first scherzo section oboes and clarinets bring back the second skirts or theme, but this time, the martial counter theme that emerged from an earlier now explodes in the full orchestra and presses forward on fragments of the principal theme tension mounts on repetitions of these fragments until a rapid two measures slide erupts from the depths of the orchestra.

The end of the slide crosses with a countervailing ascending chromatic scale in woodwinds and strings, that hurls the music into an overpowering climate, the entire orchestra screams out with a cry of a wounded soul that Marla referred to in his program notes tympani pound out martial rhythms from the skeletal theme with tremendous force just as suddenly as it appeared.

This calamitous outburst subsides as a sequence of falling chords, usher in an extended reprise of the trio entire passage seems to have fallen from the heavens like a thunderbolt, it is the most telling and terrifying premonition of the cataclysmic eruption with which the finale will begin.
Out of the clamor of this enormous orchestral explosion, the timpani pound out the rhythmic snap that opened the movement, and the trio material returns in low strings, much in the same manner as when it was first introduced. Further references to the finale occur in the heavenly theme stated softly by horns and trumpets, this theme is merely a reworking of the tender trumpet tune of the trio. violins take up this tune and develop it softly to the accompaniment of the trio string figuration, blissful tranquility settles over the music, prophetic of the peace that will follow upon the tortures of the Last Judgment in the finale, stripped of its martial character, the scherzo’s counter theme sounds almost transfigured, arising harp glissando glitters over what appears to be the beginning of a further thematic extension but is cut off abruptly by a sudden interjection of the upbeat that opened the treat of the movements the main tempo was re-established, as is the tonic key C minor. Instead of leading again into the flowing string figuration that served as background for most of that section, the figuration becomes fragmented, as if something is preventing the expected return of the trios few.

The confusion created by Mahler’s use of the upbeat figure in both the scherzo and the trio is now resolved by the gradual Return of the scherzo section, much in the same way as it was reprised earlier. This time, it is accompanied by a long descending glissando in two harps and abbreviated scherzo section follows, functioning as a coda, much in the same way as it did in the fish sermon song, but the thematic material used here comes not from the song theme, but from an incidental variant of it that first appeared in the scherzo section, and from the oboe theme of the trio, fragments of the string figuration gathered together into a big wave that flows into a sequence of descending chromatic scales in different rhythmic configurations.

At the crest of this wave, the flowing figuration recedes and then softly plunges to the tonic, punctuated by string pizzicato and tam tam. The movement ends just as the fish sermon song does, as the unrepentant fish dive to the depths to avoid any more sermonizing. One senses that they too wish to avoid the dreadful questions and torture is visions that disturb Otherwise I’m trouble movement.

By Lew Smoley

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