Mahler’s last symphonic movement, he wrote one of his most beautiful themes, and some of his most stirring soul searching music. In his final effort to transcend human suffering and mortality, Mahler creates one final dualism. That is the summation of his search for answers to the existential questions that plagued him throughout his life. This duality has its roots in the Romantic era that had already reached its peak before Mahler’s lifetime and achieved its greatest artistic manifestation in Goethe’s Faust, and Wagner’s Tristan and Isole, the duality of love and death.
When sketching the 10th, Mahler suffered most grievously from the torment of lost love, and felt more intensely than ever, and awareness of impending death, is accidental discovery of his wife’s infidelity was a terrible catastrophe that he would not live long enough to remedy, he only began to appreciate how much she meant to him when it was too late. The pain caused by her faithlessness combined with his own deep feelings of guilt about how he had treated her, were too much for him to bear. Mahler expresses these feelings in outpourings of painful emotion, both in the music and in the abusive words he scrolled over the sketch pages.
In a Tristanesque expression of his love for Alma, Mahler joins life and death with love to bridge the gap between them in one fervent expression of his total commitment to her, für dich zu leben für dich zu sterben, (to live for you to die for you). In the final movement of the 10th, Mahler presents yet another human drama of conflict. here between life’s true worth, love, and deaths most terrifying potential, utter annihilation, is his last testament to life and love. Whole passages as well as individual motives from earlier movements appear in the finale, and recall the terrifying visions of annihilation and premonitions of death, so fearsomely presented in his last three works. The muffle drum stroke that ended the fourth movement now begins the fifth, it’s powerful blow again, shattering the uneasy silence. Another 10 silence follows, only to be broken by a climbing phrase and bass instruments, sounding like a lumbering figure crawling out of the utter darkness of the abyss. Again, silence, which is shattered by another devastating blow on the muffled bass drum, like a stroke of do, a horn quietly but ominously sounds motive B from the Purgatorio movement. And after a moment silence and other deathblow on the muffled drum. Tragic foreboding fills the air, once again a horn intercedes with an abbreviated version of the erbarme motive, no longer exploding from the full orchestra as it had during the Fourth Movement, but played softly and mournfully, it too is shattered by a muffled drum stroke. After this sequence is repeated erbarme expands into the first theme, this consoling melody played by a flute is possibly Mahler’s most endearing love theme, it casts aside the gloomy atmosphere of the introduction with warmth and tenderness. It ends with a turn figure and extends on the erbarme motive that begins with a three-note upbeat of the longing motive.
Violins take over and expand upon the love theme and a sequence of variations, during which motive B appears in flutes, and the horn repeats the barman phrase. As the love theme builds to a climax, it is shattered by another muffle drum stroke, which brings back the introduction. A contrasting scherzando subject, marked Allegro moderato is of demonic cast, and recalls similar music from both scherzo’s and the purgatorial movement. But here the inner demon cannot subvert its protagonist, represented by the love theme, remaining isolated from it throughout the movement. The destructive power that lurks in our innermost being is unable to comprehend the humane emotions that love stirs within us.
As the finale progresses, the love theme takes on a noble character that reminds us of a similar thematic transformation in the finale of The Third Symphony, but here tinges with a profound suffering. For unlike the third with the 10th death is closing in, and the loss of love is more deeply felt the monstrous dissonant chords of the first movement that evoked a terrifying vision annihilation, must yet again be suffered through. But then conquered, for the love theme will triumph in the end, struggling through this vision so as to come to terms with death and transcend the tragedy of life’s inevitable end. During the final measures, the music wells up on what sounds like a great sigh, the sorrowful recognition of all that must be lost in death. In the few measures that remain thereafter, it is clear that Mahler has found peace at last.
The structure of the finale is unusual in both its formal design and tonal progression, neither a Rondo nor a sonata-allegro, it is comprised of two divergent themes, the tender love theme, and the demonic scherzando theme, each is presented as independent subjects. The tonal scheme progresses from D minor, the same key in which the Fourth Movement ended to F sharp major, the symphonies principle key. In this respect, the movement itself is an example of progressive tonality, a term generally applied to the key relationship of the movements in a symphony, rather than two sections of a single movement.
Typically, Mahler ties the symphony together by utilizing motives, and abbreviated versions of entire passages from earlier movements. Each of these backward-looking references has a negative connotation, taunting us with its premonition of death. But through suffering, the love theme brings redemption and lasting peace. Mahler’s goal in his final period was to express in music, how through struggle and greater awareness, he could conquer his own inner demons, and face death with the assurance that he did not live in vain, but life has value and meaning after all. In his effort to do so, he shows great courage, magnificent strength of mind, and nobility of soul. The finale begins with the same muscle drum stroke that ended the Fourth Movement.
The second powerful blow coming after the momentary silence that separates this movement from the preceding one, affirms that we have entered into a completely different realm from that of the demonic scherzo two deafening silence follows this devastating blow, making even more terrifying, it’s portent of death. An extensive introduction follows in a slow weighty tempo, immersed in darkness and gloom from the lowest regions of the base, a measure long scalar phrase slowly crawls upward. Its dour malevolence evokes the image of a huge monster lumbering out from its layer. One is reminded of the sinister opening of the witch’s Sabbath finale to Berlioz softening Fantastique and of the dragon’s music in Sigfried. This lugubrigous phrase has its source in the ascending bassoon passage that separated the two principal themes of the ninth symphonies finale. Let’s listen to that passage from the Ninth Symphony.
When the basis ascent ends on a dissonant D chord, and other powerful drums stroke shatters the air. After the opening measures are repeated, the demonic motive B from the Purgatorio movement sounds softly but menacingly on a horn. In follows, another thud on the muffled drum played in tandem with motive B and the rising scalar phrase. A horn quietly though expressively plays a mellow version of the erbarme motive, heard with greater force in both the Purgatorio and scherzo two movements, horns then crescendo into a piercing dissonant chord that falls by a second to noting the motive of farewell. A decrescendo ends with a stroke of the muffled drum that sounds like a fateful pronouncement of doom.
The entire sequence is then repeated, long sustained chords create an aura of mystery. After a second statement of erbarme that ends again with a piercing thrust of farewell punctuated by another drum stroke. A bass clarinet responds by growling the demonic motive B, horns reiterate the farewell motive, and the bass tuba answers with the rising scaler phrase. Horns repeat the rising seventh that began erbarme as a lead into it, which then segues into the first theme. These twice repeated rising seventh will reappear at the very end of the movement, this soothing horn phrase telescope’s into the love theme in D major-minor, played by a solo flute it was one of Marvel’s most beautiful lyrical themes, an expression of human and divine love that can only be likened to the opening theme of the third symphonies, finale.
Mahler’s idealization of love does not overflow with passion, but is gentle and comforting, like a mother’s tender lullaby. It seems to urge us not to fear the darkness out of which it has emerged, and into which it will ultimately fade. Its minor tonality makes it sound bittersweet, rather than tragic.
Recalling the fifth symphonies adagietto theme with which would also share some musical elements, as the love theme continues to rise, it expands at length, adding a variant of the motive of longing, the original version of our barman from the purgatorial and a turn figure that recalls the finale of the Ninth Symphony. The falling erbarme phrase played and dotted rhythms no longer sounds pitiful, although it still has a tinge of melancholy, in a gentle whisper, violins take up the love theme now transpose to B major and accompanied by arching phrases in inner strings. As the violins rise on a crescendo, horns and violas ascend on a variant of our barman moving toward a climax, but no climax is reached, the violins ascent is cut off just before it comes to a resting place, and the music softens. Second violins expand upon the love theme, now more at peace with itself. A flute transforms motors B into a gently soothing phrase, a consoling tranquility envelops the music. A horn begins the process of further extending the love theme with a somber statement of the barman motor from the introduction. As first violins continue to develop this theme, it becomes more ardent an expression, soon thereafter, the love theme rises as if yearning for fulfillment, the ascending three-note upbeat of the motive of longing contained in the theme now resolves downward and gives way to the horn call phrase. The rising seventh that began the erbarmemotive, this was first introduced during the love theme, and is played movingly by first violins.
Four horns combined with the violins on further elements of the love theme, while the violins ascend to the heights with great passion, and oboes and clarinets repeat the erbarme motive.
As the music continues to rise on a huge crescendo, the painful emotions expressed here become almost unbearable, when this enormous buildup reaches a stirring a major chord Mahler’s heavenly key violins tried to reassert the rising sevens have the newly transfigured horn call, in hopes that it will take us beyond the pale of human suffering. But the climax it moves toward is aborted by a shocking stroke on the muffle drum, stunned by this shattering blow, we are brought out of our love dream. I’m reminded of the inevitability of death, the ultimate result of all our efforts to find fulfillment in this world. We will begin the next excerpt from the beginning of the love theme.
As we just heard after the devastating blow on the muffled drum, the dollar is the music of the introduction returns. Its motivic figures reappear not as quiet stirrings from the abyss but as powerful pronouncements of tragic fate. A tube of bellows out the rising scaler figure and a trumpet nastily blurts out the demonic motive be in response, violins tried to bring back the main theme, with the thrust of its upbeat seventh, but the muffled drum cuts them off with another powerful blow.
Soon the music softens, and a horn intones the erbarme phrase, sounding mournful as at the beginning, after erbarme reaches the depths of primary motives from the introduction appear once again, now they sound more like they did at the beginning of the movement, ominous murmurings from the great abyss and elongated version of air barman in woodwinds and horns, ends with a strongly accented E flat seventh chord, punctuated by yet another shattering blow on the muffled drum.
With this enigmatic chord, the first section, section A, ends without achieving its goal, relief from unendurable suffering. In Mahler’s philosophy such relief can only come after a direct confrontation with the forces that threaten the human spirit with otter annihilation. In the beef section, these forces will freely flaunt their destructive power, sometimes with sardonic cynicism, section B begins with a sudden temperature change to Allegro moderato and a shift to a steady duple meter. All three motors from the introduction former scherzando subject akin to that of scared so to each of these motors are now transformed into impish figures that characterize the inner demon as antagonist motive B combines with the rising scalar figure to produce a fleeting little phrase played by the clarinets and then the bassoons and oboe join in with a sharp edge version of erbarme, and early indication of the final resolution of the conflict between conflicting aspects of the human spirit occurs after the first repeat of the bee sections the main theme. Immediately after the theme concludes on the skipping descent on erbarme variant, a clarinet begins to play the original version of our barman. But instead of continuing upon its downward course, it ends by rising on a dotted rhythmic figure, foreshadowing its later transformation wildlands follow with an extrapolation of erbarme that begins with a rising diatonic triad. The devilish skips on those subject reappear in winds, and is developed extensively featuring turn figures that recall the burlesque movement of the Ninth Symphony, and transmuting the skipping our bomb and variant into a kind of trill devils dance. Let’s listen from the beginning of the scherzando’s second subject.
Suddenly, the full orchestra bursts out on a powerful B flat seventh chord, from which the definitive erbarme motive descends briefly, only to be interrupted by the antagonistic scherzando subject.
erbarme again begs for mercy two bars later, but such relief is denied by the winds with a more forceful assertion of the scherzando subject now the three-node update of the longing motive that was part of the love theme, is added in front of motive B implying that the inner demon absorbs and deconstructs human emotions, just as the love theme had incorporated and transfigured. The wicked motive B into a simple expression of tender compassion, even the motive of a farewell, a falling second, as a devilish ring to it, when the violins trill the first note of each repeated to note figure as an accompaniment to the winds, puckish scherzando theme. After further development of the scherzando material, the music becomes stronger and more vigorous, it would appear that the demonic spirit has won the day. But all at once the tonality changes to a sunny D major. Now the erbarme is transformed into a theme of heroic bearing and resilience, its upward thrust of a seventh that also began to love theme is now replaced by a more affirmative repeated top note. Erbarme’s falling phrases countered by the rising figure in dotted rhythm into that earlier, to which a dynamic arching phrase based upon longing is added, that also ends with an ascending dotted rhythm. Even the demonic motive B cannot subvert the heroic character this transfigured theme, it bears witness to a reaffirmation of life as if the cry of erbarme has been heard and answered at last, woodwinds expand upon this new theme of overcoming, incorporating the once antagonistic mode of the trombones and then horns still tried to strike a blow against this triumphant assertion of overcoming with a diminutive variant of the three note upbeat of longing, plus, motive B, but violins restate the new theme forcefully showing no sign of injury or decrease in strength. As wildlands continue to develop this glorious theme, demonic forces reassert themselves, first they appear in the form of a clipped dotted rhythm from scared so to and then in a rising fourfold repetition of motive B and woodwinds that presses forward with increasing intensity. It is coupled with repetitions of falling seconds in a trochaic short, short, long rhythm that ushers in the original erbarme motive in scherzo two, as in that movement, falling seconds, keep nudging the music forward into a climax. when it occurs. The entire orchestra explodes with tremendous power on a massive diminished chord that overlays the last of the repeated utterances of motive be this one snarled maliciously by the trumpets, Air barman emerges from this terrifying choral outburst played broadly by the full orchestra and another painful outcry from the depths of the soul. woodwinds respond with a fragment of the scherzando subject of Section B, trying to bring victory to the demonic forces after this fervent plea for mercy. In an effort to stave off the destructive forces, after one unsuccessful effort to assert itself with its upbeat of arising seventh, a horn answers the challenge with a tender and compassionate expression of the love theme. Thereafter, this theme and the devilish scherzando’s subjects become locked in combat, until strings attempt to end the conflict by forcefully repeating a twisted variant of a fragment from the love theme, thereby suggesting another aspect of that theme. Its toughness, and durability. Orans key keep repeating the love themes rising seventh upbeat, in an effort to drive the inner demon away. It should not go unnoticed that both erbarme and the love theme begin with a rising seventh horn seem to succeed in staving off another attack by the inner demon for the moment. Despite one last gasp of motive B played rapidly on a flute for the music calms down and gradually leads into the return of the A section and the love theme. It is not the love theme that sounds after the key signature changes to B major, instead violin softly intone the erbarme motive, again transformed into a calm and soothing expression of a soul at peace with itself. As this transfigured load of gently falls a horde and plays in the sending scale of dotted rhythms that recalls erbarme‘s earlier transformation into a heroic theme. By contrary motion of rising and falling phrases. Mahler integrates the compassionate and heroic aspects of this important motive. A trumpet tenderly plays the love theme that sounds like a lullaby again, soft harmonies and winds and strings. After the strings take over the love theme clarinet sound, the modified version of motive B lacking its former demonic character, motive B now sounds sympathetic and loving, violins ascend quietly on a rising phrase from the love theme that forms an arch when coupled with the falling figure of erbarme as an oboe plays a dotted rhythmic version of the newly transfigured motive B. Here the tonality begins to modulate to D minor, with a sudden about-face, the D section scherzando subject returns with renewed vigor. Despite a valiant effort by flutes and violins to continue the love theme, with repeated surges of its rising seventh upbeat counters countervailing volleys of fragments of the skirt sandals subject in horns and trumpets, drive away from the love theme and reinstate the demonic music of the B section. As the tempo presses forward. It sounds just as impishly malicious as ever, with a trill the devil’s dance motive inserted into the scattered sound or theme as before.
Once again, elements from the love theme are transformed, so as to become part of the demonic scherzando subject. The downward turn figure played staccato sounds wicked, and the falling erbarme phrase is transformed into the devil’s dance itself, violins enter forcefully with a theme of overcoming to drive away from the inner demons, violins repeat this theme with greater force holding back on the falling figure from erbarme that builds toward closure. But before the dynamic theme of overcoming turns upward from the falling phrase of erbarme a crashing dissonant seventh chord shatters the themes will to strive further, like a tremendous thunderclap. This sudden explosion shocks us with his force and demolishes the feeling of confidence that the reassertion of the overcoming theme has engendered upon its return, as if by magic, the tonic key of the first movement F sharp major returns as the tempo races forward frantically. horns blare out motive be in its dotted rhythmic configuration in the scared sandal music, violins fall from the heights on a descending modal scale that recalls a segment of the Andante theme that opened the symphony. During this passage of trumpet sustains the same high a natural that had formed a bridge between the horrific piled up dissonant chords, appearing toward the end of the first movement.
When the violins finished their descent, forcing out each note derisively, they give way to the trumpets high A, we brace ourselves for what we can only anticipate will be the return of the terrifying dissonant chords that threaten to erupt in the wake of a sustained tone and so they do an abbreviated version of the overlapping triadic chords from the first movement that generated an excruciatingly painful dissonant chord begins to pile up on each other.
This time repeated wales of motive B in the clarinets, and a fragment of the scherzando theme, which contains that motive in the trumpets, jot out rapidly as if to challenge the victory of overcoming those shorter than its original length. This incredibly modern episode has lost none of its shock value, this time trombones pierce through the welter of sound with a repetition of the trumpet skirt sandal phrase.
Thus, we have witnessed the final onslaught of the demonic forces that tried to prevent the human spirit from overcoming the fear of death, Mahler brings back this painful episode because he cannot finally resolve his inner conflict until he confronts and overcomes its horrible vision of annihilation. When the trumpets a natural cuts off the extremely dissonant chord that results from the piled-up triads, horns assert the Andante theme from the first movement. But here it no longer has a doleful character, but sounds heroic, as if signaling a great victory. Thus, the human spirit has triumphed over its inner demons, no longer will the demonic scared Sandow try to undermine the spirit’s renewed self-confidence with biting cynicism. From here on love sings its last farewell to life with the music of the deepest, most heart-wrenching emotion that Mahler ever permitted himself to compose. A woodwind choir begins a series of variations on the love theme that become more passionate with each successive statement, woodwinds caress each note of this blissful theme, as the music settles into a restful mood, clarinets take up the melodic line, while an oboe and English horn add harmonic and melodic CounterPoint, horns follow with a thematic variation that begins our rising fourth, and contains a four note phrase with stress on the second beat. This phrase both relates to the opening notes of the love theme, and the opening measure of the Adagio theme from the first movement here transformed into an expression of soulful compassion.
When the tempo recedes to an Adagio, and the key modulates to the symphonies tonic key, the violins take up and expand upon this moving phrase in a dialogue with violas and cellos, the three note upbeat of longing introduces this new variation of the love theme, the intervals of the four note Adagio figure are now stretched to a rising minor seventh, hinting at the love theme, and a falling augmented sixth, thus reconfigured this variation of the love theme recalls the inverted version of the second theme from the finale of The Sixth Symphony.
Frequent use of the seventh brings to mind its significant role in dust leave on the air that soon the rising seventh of the to the original love theme is replaced by a downward plunge, as the Adagio theme variant continues to develop horns and inner strings counter with a fragment of a love theme that is sourced in scherzo two, but also recalls the horn motive played at the beginning of the Ninth Symphony. Second, violins softly float the love theme over string harmonies enhanced by attenuated harp arpeggios.
First violins take up the Adagio thematic variant when the music bills a syncopated version of air barman is added to the melodic line, this mode of no longer bears any trace of angst, it’s a plea for redemption from suffering has been transfigured with the light and warmth of the love theme, a fragment of the Adagio theme merges with the love theme, symbolizing the transformation of sorrow into everlasting love. Let’s listen from the violins reconfiguration of the Adagio theme into the love theme Gorgeous.
Enter string harmonies grace the love theme as it continues to develop softly and gently and violins in a resplendent G major. At the close of this variation, violins rise while lower springs fall, working their way into yet another warm, consoling version of the love theme in the symphonies principal key, graced by the angelic variant of motive B played softly by the trumpets. During this brief variation, the newly transfigured Adagio theme takes over and builds ardently to a fortissimo only to suddenly plunge downward to a strongly accented C sharp that gradually fades.
After this tone diminishes inner strings re-enter forcefully with a thrusting ninth chord in F sharp with the open fifth, we are stunned by the sudden intrusion that chills the atmosphere and expects the worst. But what emerges out of this terrifying chord is a new variation of the love theme poured forth from the strings with overwhelming paddles. It may well be Mahler’s most moving statement of his love for Alma and for life itself. This new love theme variation incorporates the three-note upbeat of longing, a group pedal figure or an extended turn, and the syncopated erbarme phrase, arising scalar phrasing, cellos and clarinets adds poignancy to this moving thematic statement and recalls the tuba solo with which the movement began. Soon the opposite of longing continues to rise in repeating phrases that refer directly to the auto gentle movement of the Fifth Symphony, which Mahler supposedly wrote as a love song for Alma, once more violence restate the love theme with wrenching passion in its denouement, the melodic line falls gently by a fifth instead of continuing to rise, implying that it no longer needs to strive for what was long for has now been achieved. From here, the love theme gradually subsides for a moment, comfortably resting in first violins sounding like a summons from on high horn softly intone the rising seventh with which the theme first began, coupled with the angelic conversion of motive B.
After a reference in flutes and second violins to a fragment of the first movements Adagio theme, flutes ascend on the rising scalar figure first heard at the beginning of the movement, oboe’s and first violins invert the rising seventh upbeat to the love theme, indicating that intense yearning has been stilled by the solace of eternal peace as further evidence that the human spirit and Mahler have at last found an answer to the existential questions that seemingly plague them. A bass clarinet inverts the morose climbing phrase with which the movement opens, gently taking it to its final rest. It’s dactylic rhythm reverses the anapest of motive B, and makes a veiled reference to rhythmic material from scherzando two, these motivic conversions are not intended to signal a negative turn of events, but the transformation, possibly conversion of the inner demon that had tortured the soul unceasingly. What has been achieved is not a state of nothingness or Oblivion, but the serenity that comes from the union of opposites that heals the rift in the human spirit, torn apart by inner conflict, the fulfillment of the prayer for redemption that stirred us so deeply during the finale of the Ninth Symphony.
As we approach the final coda, only the sounds of farewell and the calming strains of the angelic version of motive B echoes softly and woodwinds and horns. When motive B passes to the violas, it is doubly long, aided, seeking final rest against the gently consoling motive A farewell in the bass clarinet. The rising seventh upbeat from the love theme sounds twice, first in the cellos, and then on the solo cello, the contrast between the falling second of farewell and the rising seventh of the summons that calls for the love theme, conflate, to form a phrase that expresses the essence of life’s tragic irony. The downward pull of suffering from love, and the upward thrust of desire for love. How still the music becomes as we await the end, it reminds us of the hushed stillness that pervades the final measures of the Ninth Symphony.
When violins and violas begin to repeat the love themes rising upbeat for the third time, they suddenly thrust upward on a surging crescendo that reaches not to a seventh but far beyond.
This extension of the rising seventh upbeat parallels the stretching of the light motive, from an octave to a ninth at the end of the Eighth Symphony, where it heralds the illumination of being with the power of love. Hear the stretched interval has a valedictory connotation, a last grade sigh for all that one must leave behind in depth. After this great upward thrust reaches its high point, low brass and strings plunge to the depths on an open B major chord, with its last breath, the human spirit expels the inner conflict that has tormented it for so long as the sustained chord at the height of the swell begins to diminish. Upper strings descend on the dotted rhythms of erbarme come to rest on the tonic chord, when the strings settle in quietly on that chord, horn softly summons the spirit to an everlasting piece on a twice repeated rising fifth, that replaces the rising seventh with which the love theme began, how different these rising fifth sound when compared with those asserted by the horns off stage during the finale of the Second Symphony, another summons to eternal peace, settling on the dominant of the tonic chord, the music slowly fades away, as both movement and Symphony come to a quiet and peaceful close.
If the last movement of the ninth is a prayer for the redemption of the soul, the finale of The 10th is Mahler’s answer to that prayer. It is an answer attain through confrontation and struggle with the destructive forces within him. By grappling with these forces, Mahler finds a way to make peace with his inner demons.
In his last though incomplete work, one that might have been his greatest had he lived to finish it, Mahler confronts the dualisms that dominate most of his symphonies one last time, life and death, love and hate, the heroic and the demonic, or again, the subject matter of a symphonic drama that seeks to both expose and resolve the conflict between them, which is so necessary to a healthy human life, and the ability to manifest itself in artistic creation. Thus, Mahler discovers what was implicit in his music all along the action concept of the union of opposites, one that retains its significance in humanistic philosophy to this day, that he was able to comprehend the significance of this principle as necessary to affirm life and conveyed in musical terms is a remarkable achievement, that he was able to work out his personal anxieties by universalizing them in his music is both a measure of his artistic genius and the depth of his philosophical spirit.
By Lew Smoley