How could one conclude a symphony that has gone through so many different musical settings, expressing such a range of moods and characters? Mahler originally intended to end the third Symphony with the Wunderhorn song Das irdische Leben, an expression of heavenly bliss viewed from a perspective more commonplace than sublime. But he rejected that idea, because he found the song insufficiently weighty for the finale of such an enormous Symphony. He admitted that he didn’t have a specific reason for ending the song with an Adagio movement, but considered it a higher form, in contrast to a lower. He was not the first composer to end a symphony with a slow movement. Tchaikovsky had done so in his sixth two years earlier, and before him, Liszt concluded his Faust Symphony, and Haydn his farewell Symphony with slow sections patched on to the end of their finales.
With this Adagio movement, Mahler offers one of the most touching and deeply moving expressions of redemption through love ever presented in symphonic form, the concept of love is not conceived as earthy eroticism, wallowing, and overwrought passion, but as an idealized composite of blissful serenity, and tender yet fervent yearning, these being the passive and active aspects of the spirit that if kept in balance, could enable man to achieve the quintessence of his earthly existence, and thereby, his redemption. Mahler’s identification of love with God was already manifest in his second Symphony. He once said that he could have called the finale of the third what God tells me, the mode of expression here is not that of Brucknerian or even Beethovenian meditation, as in the late string quartets. It is the divine in man, as Philip Barford appropriately noted, which ultimately masters the flux of creative energies in his soul. There was also much pain expressed here three times during the movement, the anti-life forces of the first movement break through and confront the positive life force as it strives to achieve fulfillment.
In its final assault, the antagonist is literally crushed into submission. The notations Mahler first scrolled on the manuscript at the head of this movement, and later withdrew, indicate the depths of his suffering. Father, Behold my wounds, let none of the creatures be lost. In the finale, Mahler achieves a nearly perfect union of the human and the divine, represented by the two principal themes around which the entire movement revolves. The first theme seems to express the blissful perfection of divine love, and may be likened in character to the peace of love music from the opera Siegfried. The second theme containing a Wagnerian turn represents the need of love, motivated by deep yearning, a quintessentially human characteristic. The incorporation of the peace motive in this second theme, ties it conceptually to the first, implying that the goal of the former is the sublime perfection of the ladder. These themes are like two sides of the same coin, eternal perfection, and the primal urge for it. on another level is nature’s joy that seeks eternity, that forms the pinnacle of human life in love, the aspect of the human spirit by which we come closest to godliness.
Mahler expresses a sense of profound reverence and simple gratitude for the gift of life here, as in no other work he ever wrote. with the possible exception of the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony. There is also a strong sense of resolution, a feeling that the Dark Side of Life has truly been defeated, even harmonically the progression strikes a positive note from the dark, gloomy regions of D minor, that dominates the opening movements first section, to the radian glory of D major, in which the symphony comes to its glorious close. The majestic march with which it ends is the ultimate expression of the triumph of love of the life asserting forces and therefore of God over the forces of darkness, inertia and negation. The concluding processional functions not only as the divine counterpart to the pan march of the first movement but as the climax of the entire Symphony. That brings it to greater heights than had ever been achieved at the end of the opening movement, and thus to more satisfying fulfillment.
The finale begins immediately with the first theme, a slow winding lyrical melody composed exclusively of quarter and half notes, providing an even rhythmic pulse, the theme is played softly by violins against an inverted version in low strings. Other sections of the orchestra silent for the first 50 measures, a slow steady tempo, linear flow, and legato phrasing all give the theme a sense of spaciousness and timelessness, characteristic of the eternal. It is an expression of Divine Love, serene and tender, it confident and secure. The inclusion of rising scales recalls the resurrection theme from the second Symphony, our most fitting reference.
Many sources for the first theme have been postulated the opening theme from the Adagio movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 135, for instance.
Others have suggested as sources of the first theme, the main theme from the finale of Brahms first Symphony, and by way of it, the famous principal theme from the corral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, it also sounds very much like the principal theme from the slow movement of hahns rocks Symphony an E major, Hans Rott was a colleague of Mahler’s and Mahler, we do know was familiar with this score.
Of course, the rhythm is slightly changed and there is no upbeat of a fourth to start Rott’s theme. That upbeat should not go on notice, it is with this same leap of a fourth that the third Symphony began. In fact, the thematic connection between the opening Vic roof theme played by the horns, and the first theme of Finale is certainly more important to the meaning of the work than any possible source of its themes in other composes music. Viewed as a transformation of the symphonies opening horn call, made more linear, rhythmically, smoother, and couched in consonant harmonies and intervals, the opening theme of the finale provides a response if not an answer to the summons that opened the symphony. Love is the ultimate response to the call to awaken the spirit of life sounded in the first movement, of which the nature movement demanded that we take heed. The second theme played by cellos in high register is an expression of human love, yearning with passion. It’s less stable rhythmic motion contrasts with the even flow and steady pacing of the first theme. Embellished with passing chromatic tones and Wagnerian turns, the second theme seems to yearn for fulfillment that can truly come only with divine love.
The first theme returns in a variation that reverses the motion of its first state, it begins to take wing slowly ascending on the first violins as if transfixed against a strongly accented counter theme in second violins in contrary motion. After reaching the heights, the music subsides on a stepwise descending phrase, coupled with the dactylic rhythm of the first themes opening measure. Now the strings softly and tone a heavenly corral passage of Brucknarian sublimity. Its use of half note chords is comparable to the woodwind chorale and the first movement that served as a transition to its B section.
Soon the chorale takes on thematic proportions relating to the second part of the first theme, as it develops, its mood becomes more agitated, stirred by soft syncopation and violins. A subtle hint of the first theme appears in low strings against a variant of the chorale and the second violins. Soon, winds are added with the entrance of an oboe and then a horn on a canonic treatment of the chorale theme. Then the horn plays a version of the resurrection theme against continued variations of the first theme in the strings.
Once again, the first theme climbs heavenward with increasing force and urgency on strongly accented scales and violins. As the music ascends to a high point, four horns emerge with enormous power and wail out a dreadful cry on a fragment from the trombone solo that appeared during the reprise of the dismal opening section in the first movement.
Although it only lasts for a brief moment, this intrusion of dark forces that haunted the first movement brings with it a sense of danger, a threat to the merger of Godly and human love that would overcome fear and despair. Disappearing as quickly as they came the anti-life forces seem to grope about on-off bead F’s. In the horns, seeking a foothold in the darkness they have conjured up their vain attempt to disrupt human fulfillment. Horns past their strongly accented F’s to the cellos in their high register, seeming to say all our need to be gone to the life-negating forces that have been treated in an attempt to deny the advent of eternal redemption. As the sustained F tone gradually softens, it leads back into the second theme, and thereby quills the dreadful specter of the dark, forbidding music from the first movement, cellos extend their sustained tone into a variation of the first theme, thereby easing the pain these visions of road.
Soon first violins join them to continue developing the second theme. Then the first theme returns in the violins, this time embellished by a desk counting woodwinds. Once again blissful serenity descends over the music, porn softly plays the chorale theme, to which the strings respond with an inverted version of it that overlaps with the horns. Further extension of the chorale contains several variants of its opening for node figure. As the tonality changes to C sharp minor, the music becomes more agitated, as it had earlier before the first crisis when the opening movements negative forces intruded divided second violins play the downward turn figure with which the second theme begins, repeated at successively higher levels until it merges with the first violins in a passage that unites elements from both principal themes. Despite the union of these two themes, the resolution of the conflict between life-affirming and life-negating forces has still yet to be achieved. The combined themes suddenly soften the passion engendered by their first effort as synthesis, dissipating to await a more complete convergence of the close of the movement. After a wide ranging modulation, the mood darkens as the tonality devolves into a flat minor, and the orchestration thins out, as woodwinds softly restate the chorale theme, with a mere whisper of yet another variation of the first theme, the second violins revived by a momentary low, the music’s passion reasserts itself even more intensely on a melodramatic variant of the second theme in the violins in E flat minor, that touches the heart with its ardent expression of compulsive longing. To these passionate strains. A single trumpet plays a variant of the chorale theme, but once again, the music fails to achieve consummation, and sinks back in frustration, on a hesitant syncopated, descending phrase and violins that leads to the reprise of the A section. As the music fades, a key change to be major brings with it a brighter atmosphere, filling the two principal themes with hope, as fragments of each seem to call and respond to each other in continuous interchange, rising ever upward, they take on strength of character that they had not yet manifested. Brass ring out the opening notes of the first theme, against a version of the second theme and violins, its passionate expression intensified by frequent syncopation through ascending chromatic modulations, a new key of E flat major is established a key that Mahler identified with spiritual redemption in the Second Symphony, as the music presses forward in the full orchestra with ever greater urgency, once again, the terrifying specter of the anti-life forces break in to dash asunder the renewal of hope for eternal joy. The second onslaught of the first movements Darkside is much more painful than the first because it forces the tempo to press forward, and is thrust out by the entire orchestra with enormous power. The crisis reaches its peak as the chorale theme and the brass supported by woodwind chords lead directly into an augmented version of the anti-life model, the trombone solo in the first movie, asserted in D minor, with overwhelming power by all eight horns.
This same terrifying figure is also a direct quote from the nature movement. Every song to the words Tief ist ihr Weh, Deep is its grief, and functions as a counterforce to the finales first theme, a reminder of profound suffering, expressed in that movement. Violent jabs of C sharp, scattered about the strings cut through the long sustained chords that end the segment, like knife thrusts, but they soon die away, leaving only a single sustained tone in the cellos for the anti-life forces have only succeeded in momentarily postponing the long-awaited fulfillment of life’s quest for redemption.
After the music calms down, while in they softly offer a more placid version of the second theme in D major, soothing the pain of the second crisis has wrought. As woodwinds enter in support of the strings, the music gradually becomes stronger, and the tempo broadens, the turn figure becomes more and more prominent, as the theme of human love again struggles to assert itself more forcefully. Soon the tempo becomes more agitated, and the tonality more unstable as the music presses toward its goal. Eight horns ring out a dynamic variation of the first theme, featuring a descending chromatic figure that usually has negative implications, but hears sounds forthright and confident. As this phrase continues to descend, strings suddenly rise upward, but their ascent is cut short, because they are subjected again to the dreadful anti-life forces from the first movement heard during the previous crisis, now played with enormous power by the horns. This dark and menacing phrase chills the atmosphere freezing the violins momentarily, but they make another attempt a stronger effort to rise fighting off the horns dark motto by replicating it. And then with woodwind support, using a fragment of the second theme, it is a terrific battle for the soul of man. When the tempo accelerates on staggered entrances of the terrifying four-note Moto, the third and last crisis reaches its climax. It is the crux of the anti-life forces final attempt to subvert the goal of redeeming love and the union of the human and the divine. Powerful dissonant chords and shuttering Tremeloes shake us to the very marrow of our being, horns tried to continue the battle, hurtling out their malevolent model from the first movement. Finally, they are virtually choked into submission on their last note, which is played on muted horns in one of the most gruesome passages in all of Mahler’s music. The anti-life forces have been virtually smothered at last, the battle is finally over, as the music dies away, tremolo violins still shaking from the experience.
The similarity between the horns motto on a passage during the opening scene and verities Otello should be noted here.
Out of the ashes of the final conflagration, the image of a nightingale rises on the flute, singing the second theme. We are reminded of the songbird that hovered over the last trump, before the chorus of resurrection entered in the finale of the Second Symphony.
The opening temple returns and the hushed atmosphere is filled with anticipation. Suddenly, the nightingales’ tender melody is broken off, leaving nothing but the faint sound of string Tremeloes that are punctuated by pizzicato rising fourths, which cue in the reprise of the main themes. Even this pizzicato figure serves a purpose, being the converse of the falling pizzicato bass notes that precede the return of the Pan march in the first movement. Now Mahler begins to set the stage for the magnificent conclusion that will give meaning and purpose to the entire Symphony. When the A section returns, a trumpet and trombone softly combine on countervailing variants of the first theme in D major, with a sense of regal grander, a new variation for the same instruments begins to take on the shape of the opening Vic roof, tying these seemingly disparate themes together, and thereby the entire Symphony. The second theme returns in an even broader tempo in horns and cellos. But now the harmonic chromatics, interwoven into the melody rise rather than fall as before, on the version of the second theme that contains the Wagnerian turn, and the heavily accented scalar phrase, the music builds to great heights as the first theme returns. Now it sounds more majestic declaimed by the full orchestra, as the culmination of its expression of divine love. It is one of the grandest moments in all of symphonic music. At its height, a Brass Ensemble mightily proclaims the theme of God’s love to a variant of it that anticipates music from the closing section of the Eighth Symphony, in which the theme of love is also prominent.
As the brass ascend heavenward, holding back and softening as if unsure that this last attempt to reach the goal will succeed. Their climb is suddenly halted in mid-course, by a breath pause that heightens the tension of approaching fulfillment.
Held in suspense on a deceptive cadence or quietly shimmering G major chord, we anxiously await the attainment of the goal to which the entire Symphony has striven the union of human and divine love. Beginning cautiously in a whisper, the brass tried to ascend once more, this time on an augmented version of the passage just interrupted. The tension is overwhelming as they ascend higher and higher. Building on a long crescendo that seems to well up from the very depths of the soul, and that its height, the goal is reached at last. A powerful D major chord proclaims the triumph of love. A pair of timpani Thunder out a processional march tread in the main temple on molars favorite interval of the Fourth, sustained brass chords proclaim the ultimate triumph of love as the union of the human and the divine. Mahler directs that the closing measures be played, not with raw power, but full with a noble tone. Thus, he emphasizes the distinction between this grandiose procession and the frivolous, sometimes even course Pan march. It’s crude precursor from the first movie, the symphony concludes with a demonstrative augmentation of the temporaries March tread, pounded out forcefully by the full panoply of temporary, followed by another enormous D major chord held at length without any diminuendo or crescendo. As Neville card has aptly put it, if ever composer sang out of a full heart, it is here.
By Lew Smoley