The juxtaposition of a Christian poem with the words of the most notable anti Christian philosopher in western history, Friedrich Nietzsche, is striking, but since Mahler conceived of a symphonies formal structure as a progressive development of being, the angels would certainly play an intermediate role between man and God, it would be inappropriate to presume that this sequence implies either a denigration of nature’s vision of man’s eternal conflict and striving so profoundly expressed in his midnight song using the Fourth Movement, or a complete identification with the Catholic ideology of guilt and absolution presented in the Wunderhorn text.
What is most evident is the strong contrast in mood and atmosphere between the two movements, the gray gloomy music of man seeking eternal joy in the face of inevitable death, followed by the light-hearted innocence of the angel’s song, momentarily troubled by guilt and remorse. Notwithstanding the naive harmonies of the choral part, almost always sung in unison. The movement is replete with novel ideas, the use of the children’s chorus to imitate Bell tones on the syllables of Bhim bomb is ingenious. A slightly articulated B gives each tone a ringing sound and the hummed M generates greater reverberation. To accompany the choruses, Mahler highlights wind tambours, in a manner typical of many of his Wunderhorn songs, violins, oboes trumpets, trombones and drums are silent throughout the movement, thus resulting in the specially light texture beaming with bright colors. The altos corrals refrain and several motivic figures appearing here recur in the Fourth Symphony, particularly in its finale, the song does English elated, also a wonder horn song. These cross-references evidence Mahler’s original intention to make the song the finale of the Third Symphony.
He realized, however, that as a concluding movement, it would seem anticlimactic if it appeared after the magnificent Adagio. After the somber sounds of the nature movement fade away, the joyous sounds of church bells ring out with without a moment’s pause. They are enhanced by the bim bomb figures sung by the children’s chorus, making way for the Mary song of the angels. Nearly half of the movement will be graced by these delightful been bombed vocalizations of Bell tones, particularly the A sections. The sudden appearance of a bright sunny atmosphere is somewhat of a shocking contrast with the dark ponderous conclusion of the Fourth Movement. The repeated use of dotted rhythms in the sprightly principal theme gives the music a bohemian lilt. A subtle hint of the finale appears in a rising three-note figure in oboes, and clarinets, which is but a variant of the rising dotted rhythmic phrase in woodwinds at the beginning. Against that phrase transferred to low strings. The women’s chorus sings a variant of the principal theme, ending each two-bar segment with that same rising three-note figure, woodwinds quickly join in with a contrapuntal overlay of the Mary principal theme. The chorus closes the A section with a dactylic figure that anticipates the altos chorale reframe while functioning as a variant of the opening woodwind theme. These motifik connections are easy to miss because of the brisk tempo and decorative accompaniment. Clipped dotted rhythms appear as part of the thematic thread throughout the movement.
After the chorus concludes the verses of the A section, violas and cellos continue their song against a variant of the principal theme in bass strings and harp, shifting to D minor to introduce the B section. Entering tenuously on a variant of the opening woodwind theme marked bitterly bitterly, the alto offers her repentance on a brooding variation of the main chorale theme of the A section, accompanying her plaintive song, clarinets plays scurrying 16th note figuration that rises playfully into repeated minor seconds in oboes decorated by grace notes, they’re falling minor second suggestive of the motive of the wall. This entire phrase will return in the finale of The Fourth Symphony. Repeated eighth note triads on horns suggest the jingle bells motive that appears in the outer movements of the fourth. Without any change in the temple, a two-bar church-like chorale is sung quietly with a touch of melancholy by the Alto, to the silver strains of this refrain, she admits her sin in anguished reverence, his chorale refrain will also return in the finale of The Fourth Symphony.
After a brief continuation of the bim bombs in the woman’s chorus, over clipped dotted rhythms in low woodwinds and strings, the alto returns with the same music that opened the B section, followed by an expanded version of the chorale refrain, still sung softly as the alto begs for mercy. Her melody is telescoped into the sea section, a minor key version of the principal theme of the A section, accompanied by bim bombs, and clipped dotted rhythms, builds up menacingly as the ensemble swells to full force, once again the life-negating forces return, subjecting the music to a fleeting specter of satanic horror, but this terrible vision quickly subsides as horns play a version of the A sections principal theme that reveals in its ultimate origin, the symphonies opening horn call.
Just as suddenly, as the minor key had cast a shadow over the movement at the beginning of the B section, the tonality reverts back to the major and with it the music of the A section, as is his want, Mahler does not simply restate the opening section but varies dramatically. Not with the opening chorale theme, but the subsidiary version of it heard earlier.
As the chorus proclaims the giving of eternal salvation through Jesus, trombones extol the power of God’s eternal love on a heroic rising phrase that foreshadows the grandiose conclusion of the finale, while also referring back to the rising phrase that ends the vec roof theme from the first movement. Confidently woodwinds sing out the opening theme, to the joyous ringing of bim bombs in both choruses, made even merrier by being doubled on the glockenspiel and decorated with the clip dotted rhythms of the principal theme. The music gradually dies away until one last bell ringing softly and fades into the infinite.
By Lew Smoley