Listening Guide – Movement 3: Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell


What a shocking change of mood this scherzo moving brings in the wake of part one. Gone are its angst riddled emotions, gone the striving and hoping for fulfillment that are but for one glorious moment of prophetic vision dashed by torrents of raging fury. Having confronted the negative, destructive side of the human spirit, we must now face the senseless world of modern life, by juxtaposing and contrapuntal, interweaving, two related but disparate dance rhythms of countrified, landler and acidified walls. Mahler contrasts the simplicity and innocence of rustic life, with the complexity and sophistication of cosmopolitan living in order to mock common human foibles. This scherzo was the most strikingly Austrian of all the movements, using not only these two popular dances, but other alpine music as well, such as a yoddle like figure that recall some of the Wunderhorn or the dance themes become so entangled in each other during the movement, that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. Neville Cardus characterizes this movement as waltz rapes landler, indicating the outcome of their confrontation. During the course of the movement, the rustic landler is challenged by a sophisticated if rather brutish waltz that tries to undermine it, the landlord seems constantly under siege by the waltz, the ladder, finally besting its country cousin, just as urbanity often destroys the innocence and simplicity of nature. Although originally from the country, Mahler became keenly aware of the negative aspects of city life when a young student in Vienna, yet he equivocated between longing for natural surroundings of the country, and wishing to become part of the indian society. Although the critical implications of this movement seemed clear, Mahler had no intention of stirring up trouble by alluding to them. Instead, he tried to make light of the movements meaning, he said, “there is nothing romantic or mystical about it. It is simply the expression of incredible energy. It is a human being and the full flight of day in the prime of life.” But the music is much subtler and more thought provoking than Mahler was evidently willing to admit for public consumption. Donald Mitchell views the nature of the wall subject in part two, as an indication of lost innocence. Derek cook contrasts this movement with the nihilism of part one, and refers to it as a dance of life in opposition to the dance of death that he sees as the subject of the scherzo from the Second Symphony. In comparing these two scherzo, it should be noticed that both contain material that will reappear in the finale of their respective symphonies, in the case of the fifth scherzo certain rhythmic elements, and that of the second scherzo an entire episode in the lighthearted, uninhibited romp, that is the middle movement, Mahler creates a kaleidoscope of dramatic and motivic material so intricately woven together, that they can make your head spin. Dance rhythms are integrated and interrelated within a highly complex contrapuntal network, fugle elements, syncopated rhythms, barrel organ, figuration and thematic fragmentation keep the music energized. Folk like dance rhythms are fused with sophisticated and complex elements far into their nature, such as unusual harmonies and wide intervallic leaps, accents on weak beats and syncopated rhythms, evidence more refinement than is expected from simple country music. He had a few brief moments of contemplation, interrupted frivolity, bringing with them nostalgic longing for the serenity of pristine nature. These brief reveries are soon dispelled as the riotous clamor of the Cosmopolitan waltz races madly to its end. After the first rehearsal of this movement for its cologne Premier, Mahler wrote to Alma anticipating his audience’s reaction to this dizzying music. The scherzo he said, “is the very devil of a movement, I see it as in for a pack of troubles conductors for the next 50 years. We’ll take a too fast and make nonsense out of and the public. Oh, heavens. What are they to make of this chaos, out of which a world keeps being born, only to fall apart again at once? These primeval jungle sounds, this rushing, roaring, raging sea, these dancing stars. He’s breathtaking, scintillating lashing waves. What has a flock of sheep to say but ba to the brutish Barton’s that is ng The Singing Contest of brotherly spheres? Oh, that I might give my Symphony its first performance 50 years after my death, how prophetic he was. Not only is the polyphonic texture of this movement extraordinarily complex, but its structure is also very elaborate and complicated. Within the context of scherzo and trio form, Mahler adds a second trio as he did in the scherzo movements of the second and fourth symphonies, and incorporates elements of Sonata and Rondo into the various sections in a remarkably innovative manner. The absence of symmetry or regularity in the overall shape of movement is consistent with the impression it makes of wildly disoriented confusion. The scherzo section proper contains two subjects, and a host of motivic elements, as does each of the two trios. Although the movement can be analyzed in such a way as to differentiate between scherzo and trio sections, the subjects of each section become so interwoven as to make it difficult to tell them apart. Elements of sonata form appear in sections devoted to developing various themes, or three-note anapestic figure on the horn with which the movement begins is a principle motto. Its periodic reprise is the movement around or like character. It sounds like a rather flippant military signal, appearing nonchalantly but forcefully to wave aside, the torture was part one.

Notice how strange is falling augmented sixth sounds after the rising major third. We’ll call this three-note figure motive one, it will return in the burlesque movement of the ninth simple. Other principle motors are also on display, a rising phrase that rushes upward hastily, as if opposing the horn call, which we’ll refer to as motive 2.

The conjunction of motives one and two will return to hail the reprise of the scherzo section, each time and reappears. An obbligato horn then begins the first subject with a splendid theme, we’ll call it to theme A.
It is a jaunty tune that contains a circular phrase that will be important in both this movement and the finale, a lighthearted counter theme, based upon motive two, emerges in clarinets and bassoons overlapping with the horn theme, which continues in flutes and oboes. Accents on weak beats give the theme of sophisticated quality that contrasts with its frolicking character.

Violins then present the second theme theme be a gay landler that contains motive Z from the first movement shifted to the middle of the bar, and a variant of motive 1 from the opening horn signal. It is played against the horn theme from the first subject, theme A, which starts together with the violins on a three note upbeat, but then diverges from them.

Cheerful yoddle like figures and violins combined with motive one in two horns, and theme a and bass instruments. After a brief extension of this theme and the strings against a contrapuntal variant of its counter theme, the first part of the scherzo concludes on a delicately wrought diminuendo that reaches a full cadence.

The owners open the B section with a gruff intrusion of running eighth notes that sounds like a bustling and boisterous version of the opening store music from Act One of the Valkyrie. This same figuration will serve later as contrapuntal material in a fugato treatment of the B sections theme. Clarinets enter with a rat-a-tat staccato phrase blurted out forcefully, it contains a hint of descending chromatics that gives its fanfare-like opening figure, a demonic character. Violins take up the landler theme, theme B juxtaposed against theme A in bassoons in low string, notice how rhythmic connections between these two themes make them easier to integrate or get lost than each other.

Flutes play a variant of theme B as the key shifts to the minor. Against this thematic variant 2 other fields and noble assert a rising dotted rhythmic figure, we’ll call motive 3, alongside motive Z, and elements of theme A.

Already the integration of thematic and motivic material is considerable, and yet each element is clearly distinguishable in models brilliantly conceived orchestration, music seems light as a feather, sounding much like the ballet music of Delibes. In cross-rhythms, two phrases from Kindertotenlieder are set against each other, a fleeting variant of the motive song to the words Der Tag ist schön on the fourth song, played by violins, and a fragment of the main theme from the final song in the cellos and basses but here they both sound frivolous rather than hopeful in the case of the fourth song, or serious as in the fifth. Let’s hear the excerpts from the fourth song of Kindertotenlieder first, and then from the fifth song of that song cycle.

Here is the passage from the scherzo movement.

The B sections busy string figuration re-enters just as this lighthearted contrapuntal mélange concludes on a full cadence, trumpets, bassoons, and low strings sputter out the same staccato phrase that followed the segment when it first appeared, entrances are always canonic or quasi fugal, creating a dizzying world. Just as Wolstein A enters in trombones and tubas, violins shunted aside in favor of the lender. Get the second part of the waltz still sneaks in on the cellos and basses, and soon thereafter in the horns before the lender is finished. Here is the passage starting with the reprise of the B section.

Notice how both the walls theme A and the lender theme D have the same three-note upbeat variations of the lender theme return for further development by clarinets against a revised version of motive twos dotted rhythms in the flutes and oboe, and their inversion in the first trumpet.
Motive two is further extended and combined with elements of theme a and woodwinds awash in swirling string figuration.

Suddenly, a rising variant of the opening horn signal interrupts the wild gaiety and ushers in the first trio. At a more relaxed pace, and in the contrast and key of B flat major, violins enter softly, seeming to caress a new waltz theme. It has a hesitating quality that is typical of viennese. Recall the way that the lender theme of the Fourth Symphony is the first movement, teasingly hesitates when it returns at the end of the movement. Yet this new theme emphasizes skipped step rhythms more characteristic of a lender than a waltz. The same rhythms actually appear in the lender theme itself. This rhythmic material will take on motivic significance as the movement progresses.

As the texture thins out, the solo oboe and second violins, softly play a lyrically flowing countersubject, as the first violins develop the waltz theme. When both subjects are set against each other, the smoothness of the countersubject seems more waltz like than the clip-dotted rhythms of the Landler theme.

Without even a hint of warning or expectation, 301 is abruptly halted by the rude intrusion of the opening horn signal, motives one and two. Now it is brusquely stated by a trumpet. Just as unexpectedly the trio section returns in the home key has if caught up in around dance, thematic material from the A section is further developed and contrasted briefly, making use of a variety of motives, principally the dotted rhythmic motive three. As before, increasingly contrapuntal treatment of a section subjects is interrupted by the entrance of rapid string figuration from Section B, now marked vilt wild, is bustling figuration is treated frugally, each entrance diving in willfully on successively lower strings.

As the tonality shifts to F minor, fragments from B section themes are bandied about in various woodwinds and brass, with a bit of the lyrical waltz theme from trio one thrown in for good measure in the English horn and trumpet. A tattoo-like trumpet figure motive 4 strikes out against the energetic strength figuration and continues to play an important role as an antagonist against the rising miner seconds of a lyrical waltz theme, that waltz theme recurs during the remainder of the section.

Again, without warning, the mood lightens the dynamic level quiets down, and the tempo eases. Somehow we have wandered into a trio, too. But not full all, woodwinds assert the trios Landler theme, which gets caught up with motive one in the brass and parts of theme A and strings, then arising variation of motive one seems to do battle against the original motive. All of these elements are pressed into service in a whirlwind of mindless frivolity, as these motives fall upon and merge with each other. The tempo presses forward until a variant of motive one blasts out in the trumpet. A huge multi-octave D chord weighs down upon this motive in woodwinds and tremolo strings.
Let’s start our next musical excerpt from the sudden intrusion of the second trio.

Horns bell aloud a sequence of repeated F naturals in echo-like entrances as if we were being shoved from one part of the dance floor to the other. Horns seem to ask which way do we go next? Out of these overlapping F naturals and obbligato horn enters on the same note, extending it into a few bars on the lyrical walls theme of trio one, now played slowly.
Seems that amidst the senseless spin of a wall subject, nostalgic longing for the solitude and peace of nature, and its simple pleasures invades the spirit, a fragment of the countervailing walls theme, with which trio 1 began, is played gently, unhesitatingly for a few bars. It’s clipped out of rhythms sounding awkward at such a slow tempo. This passage is repeated, giving a greater emphasis as the obbligato horn continues its daydreaming. A chamber ensemble follows with a fragment from trio ones skipped step walz theme.

As the riotous world of life come to its senses, will at last give way to the natural innocence of the Lendler? Notice that the Lendler theme itself does not appear in this meditative interlude. It is the frivolous walls only that takes this introspective turn, for it alone needs to recognize that its constant motion without goal or respite is sheer nonsense. As the segment closes, the obbligato horn slows down on the waltz theme and stops in midstream, unsure of where to go next. In the section that follows, Mahler develops thematic material from both trios. He begins by shifting the tonality to D minor, for a veiled pizzicato treatment of themes from trio to played quietly, unhesitatingly, as if in the shadows. Mahler had already included a pizzicato variation in the scherzo movement of the Second Symphony, the combination of the use of pizzicato, and a more moderate pace is the trumpet tattoo and the lyrical waltz theme availed spectral quality that seems to subvert the original extrovert character.
First violins reintroduced the skip step dance theme that opened trio one, now with strong accentuation. Shyly, an oboe manages a few bars of co2 principal theme set against a pizzicato wolf speed.

As the key shifts to a flat, lyrical waltz theme, which was initially counterposed, with the principal theme, enters in a clarinet played legato was before as the tempo becomes more fleeting, violins dreamily muse upon the waltz theme, against a contrasting subject in the obbligato horn that seems to fit right into it.
This theme is further developed first and violins and horn and then shifted around the woodwinds as the violin line continues, the music seems to be lost in the same reverie that the meditative obbligato horn had conjured up before this developing section began.
A slowly descending chromatic figure in accented quarter notes on tuba zooms seems to mimic the lyrical walls to which continues dreamily above it on an oboe. Horns briefly take up the waltz theme as if in a trance, a trumpet moons over this theme, widening its intervals. The obbligato horn takes it up, second violins add the trumpet tattoo figure in pizzicato and bassoons bring back the main theme of trio one in a striking staccato rendition. The first flute has a turn of the lyrical walls theme, and then a trombone pompously intrudes with the scherzo his first theme. Two horns try to recall that a stylistic song of the obbligato horn, while bassoons play the waltz theme of trio one sharpened with pizzicato punctuation, clarinets insert two measures of the scherzo sections waltz theme. After the first flute plays the waltz theme, a trombone sounds the landler theme. All this confused thematic and motivic interplay is presented in little snippets by a chamber ensemble. Not a single element is lost in Mahler’s transparent texture.

But the memory of the obbligato horns musings on the lyrical waltz theme is too strong to be forgotten and returns reinforced by additional horns contrabassoon and low strings. On the obbligato horn begins to slow down, appearing to succumb to nostalgic reverie, the music stops before reaching a cadence just as it did before. After a pause just as the horn starts to continue its musings, the pizzicato trio returns. Now in F minor, its vale harmonies producing an impressionistic quality. But instead of the trio, one theme being itself played in staccato as before, it enters quietly and with a little lift in first violin, but now it is played legato rather than staccato. It gradually becomes livelier working its way back into its original tempo.

A descending 4 note figure, actually, the trumpet tattoo in disguise, enters rudely in the brass trying to cast aside the nostalgic dream world, it succeeds in bringing back the legato string figuration from the scherzo section, combined with the waltz theme from trio one, now played vigorously and at full strength by woodwinds and violins. A dashing phrase from that theme keeps repeating furiously in an attempt to recreate the maddening world that gave rise to memories of a more peaceful and innocent time. Trombones staunchly assert the first measure of trio one’s main theme, ushering in a wild stretto section, during which the two principal themes from the A section are juxtaposed in the brass with string bass support. Trumpets add their rattatat figure from the B section, made even more striking by being doubled on a woodblock.

As this dizzying music builds, it is suddenly blown away by the opening horn motives, thereby bringing us full circle to the beginning of the movement.

In the reprise of the scherzo subject that follows set in the home key of D, Mahler varies the principal musical elements slightly, changing their instrumentation, while presenting them in increasingly frenetic profusion. During the formal return of the opening sequence of motives one and two and theme A, the Delibian ballet music reappears, ornamented by descending staccato string runs, while oboes and clarinets hint at trio one’s waltz theme. Landler theme misses its cue, and in its stead, violas break in with the buguero string configuration of the V section, set against the rat-a-tat motive in woodwinds. Strings enter sheepishly with the Landler theme, as if still somewhat unsure of where it belongs. They follow with the minor key variant of that theme that was played earlier by the flutes while the flutes and oboes returned with a rising dotted rhythmic figure that sounded like an impish horn call when it appeared toward the beginning of the movement.

Instead of bringing back the B section, when it’s scurrying fugato figuration, Mahler presents a slightly altered version of the swirling string sixteenths that previously ended the scherzo section. This time the opening horn con moto, motive one does not interrupt the proceedings as before, instead, cascading string scales played against the Lender theme and woodwinds run right into the reprise of trio one.
Now trio one’s waltz theme loses itself completely in the increasing frenzy. Violins mercilessly drive the tempo forward against the Landler theme, as if trying to expel it from the scene. Soon the waltz loses control and runs riot on increasingly rapid double noted figuration for the full orchestra that climbs to dizzying heights until the full ghetto string figuration suddenly diverts the music into a reprise of the trio 2.

The waltz music no longer appears as introverted as when first heard, brass take hold of it stridently with heavy accents and wide interval like leaps to the accompaniment of the string. fugato, that scampers along mindlessly, the Delibyan ballet music joins in when the key shifts to F minor, along with fragments of the trumpet fanfare first heard as part of trio two. In what appears to be complete disarray all of these elements wind in and out of the musical fabric, threatening to tear it to shreds. Unexpectedly Mahler shifts gears, radically changing the mood. As the tempo eases up noticeably dynamic levels soften, the tonality shifts to the dominant minor and the music calms down for a brief respite. The yodel figure from the Landler theme counters, trio twos waltz theme, bras, and bassoons take over on the walls, driven on relentlessly by the fugato spring figuration. Without the slightest hesitation, the lender theme jumps back in vigorously is slightly off-balance, beginning on the wrong beat. To meet head-on the mighty walls theme from trio 2, the tonality brightens to G major for their ultimate confrontation. As fragments of the two themes battle each other without mercy, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell one theme from another. Corns use the waltz theme to try to blast away the lender with the trumpets ratatat figure and then with motive one, with even greater vigor, the tempo presses forward into a stretto on the principal subjects of the A and B sections in G minor, at the height of pandemonium, the hope the opening horn call rings out and the section ends in a flurry of descending chromatics in flutes, and violin.

Another breath pause and trio one reappears in the home key of the scherzo section D major. Soon the scherzo begins rather meekly with its principal waltz theme in two horns set against the opening horn call motive one in low strings. After only four measures, the instrumentation has flipped flopped, so that low strings have the waltz theme and woodwinds, the horn call mode, the horns dropping out entirely. This segment lasts for only three measures and the full ghetto figuration re-enters in low strings shifting to the olders. While first violins play a variation on elements from both the waltz and the lenora themes accompany by motive one and the cellos. All of these constantly reshuffled musical elements are played softly by a chamber group that functions as a string quartet. Suddenly their progress is interrupted. As the string figuration takes complete charge, it begins to build rising sequentially for a few measures, until muted trumpets enter with the first bar of the waltz theme. The waltz is dotted rhythm becomes a motivic figure, often played in relentless repetition against motive one in low strings and the fugato string figuration jumps in as the music continues to build on a fragment of the lender theme was into valid placement oriented toward motive one. Why now the entire orchestra has come together to urge the music forward. Even a glockenspiel joins in adding a note of merriment when the music reaches a strong climax on an A minor diminished seventh chord, four horns ring out in unison, the seventh note, with bells up and with all of their might, in syncopated repetitions. This passage recalls the staggered X that holds it an earlier effort to build a climax during the trio and were sounded forcefully by the horn.

Out of the enormous Welter sound, the obbligato horn arises bellowing out the last of its G naturals. The orchestra gives way for a few measures, as the horn tries to recapture the serenity of its earlier nostalgic reverie. After only a few measures of gentle musing on the trio to waltz, the fugato, as if angered by the horns having interrupted the wild merriment blast his way in on the same huge seventh chord in the full orchestra, heard only moments ago. Over this outburst, horns ring out on rising fourths, trying once again to halt the orchestral onslaught. they succeed for a moment, as the wild figuration stops short, and the obbligato horn resumes its trio to waltz theme, somewhat hastily, and quite briefly, the fugato jumps in again, though less forcefully than before, but quiets down quickly as the tempo slows to a crawl for a few more bars of the bemused obbligato horn music, here extended on a solo trombone. This alternating pattern continues with the horn asserting itself, only to be swept aside by the forgetting. Just when it seems that the horn may have gotten the upper hand, it stops in the middle of a phrase, as it had done twice already.

After the music stops for a moment, another momentary flashback to the trio twos pizzicato provides a vehicle for the obbligato horn to continue his musings on the trio’s lyrical waltz tune, but this too soon peters out. The horn apparently exhausted by its efforts to stay often maddening tunneled, keeps engulfing it. After the lyrical waltz theme sinks into the base, resting on a full cadence, the bass drum quietly but aggressively begins to tap out the rat-a-tat trumpet figure. Thus we have reached the coda, the fugato string figuration interest softly as its stalking its prey. Then suddenly, as if an apparent assurance of victory, it bursts out wildly, launching its final assault trio one’s waltz leads the charge on relentless repetitions of its dotted rhythms, over increasingly urgent and emphatic string figuration. In the midst of this madness, the opening horn call moto motive one, enters impetuously and wins and is repeated endlessly as if we’re rolling around the dance floor with the waltz motive, organs add motive 2 to the fray. Soon the music becomes so frenzied that complete chaos threatens a fragment of the ländler theme from the scherzo section joins the maddening world pressing forward against a chromatic variant of trio two’s lyrical theme in the horns laced with the trumpet fanfare.
These figures bombard each other with constant repetitions as the battle rages on. Finally, motive one takes over, clearing the way for the horns to proudly announce victory with the main theme of the scherzo section. As they hold on to their last a natural the movement ends with two sharp outbursts of motive one, the very music with which this frivolous pastiche began, it is as if we were about to start yet another go-round, which we are fortunately spared by a sudden cut-off.

After nearly 20 minutes of this delirious whirlwind, Mahler has certainly made his point. It is time to catch our breath from the wild caricature of modern life before moving on to more serious business.

By Lew Smoley

If you have found any errors or text needing citation, please notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: