Listening Guide – Symphony No. 4 Intro


The Fourth Symphony was conceived during and grew out of the creative process that produced the third. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the last of the Wunderhorn symphonies should be connected both dramatically and motivetly to its predecessor, Mahler considered ending the Third Symphony with a Wunderhorn song Das irdische Leben as a celebration of childlike innocence, the highest of nature’s three metamorphoses of the human spirit he revealed ironically, through a Christian text after Mahler decided against closing the third with this song, he included it in the fourth both as its finale and focal point, having achieved redemptive fulfillment in the Third Symphony, though from a more worldly perspective, than in the transcendent second.
Mahler approach the searching questions grappled within these two earlier symphonies from a completely different perspective in the fourth. He reverts to a lighter, simpler, and more classically oriented style, pairs down the gigantic symphonic forces utilized in the earlier symphonies to a smaller ensemble, and omits instruments that added dramatic weight and power to the supercharged climaxes of those symphonies, such as trombones, tubas, and a vast array of percussion instruments. Unlike in the third, string sonorities prevail over woodwind coloration, Mahler relegates woodwinds to nature, sounds, and harmonic support for the most part, with an essentially classical orchestra, he is better able to produce music that have greater intimacy. Given the lighter musical content, it is appropriate that the fourth be shorter in length, so as to properly accommodate its charm width and relative simplicity. However, tempered the music appears in comparison with the first three symphonies, models orchestral writing is anything but simple. In the fourth, he continues to develop his contrapuntal and instrumental skills with ever greater subtlety and inventiveness, while the fourth is overtly classical in many respects, it takes a rather jaundiced look at the music of the past, caricaturing Viennese classicism, by frequent diversions from its formal principles, and witty references to some of its most distinguished representatives, principally Schubert, Mozart, and Haydn. But it was certainly not Mahler’s intention to mark his great predecessors, he virtually worshipped them, but to poke fun at his own society’s decade and conservatism, yet notwithstanding Mahler’s blasphemous mimicry of the music of a bygone era, there is a touch of nostalgia, a longing for the past as a more natural less complex and troubled time when music could provide relief from inner turmoil rather than expose it. Always concerned about the problem of applying traditional symphonic structure and procedure to music of a dramatic, even implicitly programmatic nature, Mahler continues his efforts to utilize classical principles in such a way as to organize his diverse and complex musical material in a cohesive manner. At the same time, he expands upon or diverts from traditional forms and rules of composition, when necessary to achieve his goals as a symphonic dramatist. He definitely refines his art here, with complete self-assurance and a conscious eye on linear clarity. It only in the Adagio movement does Mahler deviate significantly from formal classical principles.

Of course, the use of a song as a concluding movement is certainly a structural novelty, but Mahler subtly related to the rest of the symphony, in a manner that is in marked contrast with the more obvious relationships between the finales of previous symphonies and the preceding movements. Far from contempt to simply juxtapose the old and the new, Mahler once admitted that I am a conservative who was forced to become a radical, his reluctance to acknowledge that he was a progressive indicates his internal conflict between form and substance that is apparent in all of his symphonies. The fourth might have been something of a purgative for him, after the struggles he characterizes in his earlier symphonies.

Despite its lighthearted character, the symphony was written when Mahler was neither happy nor healthy. He was discouraged by the negative reaction of the public to his little simply, as he called it. The audience presumably expected him to continue on the path he had already chosen, providing them with yet another massive symphonic word, powerful and uplifting, but instead, as Neville Cardis described it, the fourth contains no cosmic gestures, no wrestling with beasts spirit Virtual or otherwise, no technical miscalculations, no tonal excess, more to the point, it seems to derive the very characteristics of the classical Symphony that the Viennese public came to identify with truth and beauty in artistic expression. Whoever dared to take the grand traditions to task even with good-hearted humor and without A Touch of Malice would be treading on sacred ground. Mahler’s critics accused him of mocking their beloved classics, an unforgivable sin, and conservative Vienna. Consequently, Mahler would later call the fourth his persecuted stepchild, but he longed for respite from his arduous and sometimes treacherous efforts to ascend to the heights in his music. That’s in the fourth, he devised a complex means by which to achieve a simple mode of expression and had great difficulty in doing so. He would revise the work several times after its initial publication.

When the fourth had its premiere in Munich, no program was provided by the composer, a severe disappointment for those who had come to expect an elaborate analysis of the symphonies meaning, as Mahler had provided for in his previous symphonies. By this time, Mahler had come to be suspicious of such program nodes, fearing that they might direct the audience away from the music itself, and cause them to look for descriptive representation, rather than experience the music in absolute terms. He wanted his symphonies to speak directly to the soul, but not as theater, notwithstanding the many theatrical effects he used to achieve this goal. When putting together the original outline for the symphony, Mahler included titles for the symphony and each of its movements, originally six in number, rather than four. From his first book, Kestrel Wunderhorn’s song collection, he took the title humoresque for the entire work. He had already intended that a song from the same collection would be used for the finale. He also included two other leader as indicated in the original plan. In that plan, the first movement was called Die Welt als ewige Jetztzeit, the world as an eternal present, and that is presumably the first movement we have in G major, second movement was the song Das irdische Leben. The third was entitled Caritas and Adagio the fourth Morgenglocken morning bells in F major, the fifth movement, Die Welt ohne Schwere, the world without gravity, or scherzo in D major, the title being an implicit reference to nature and the original sixth movement was going to be the song Das himmlische Leben. While it may be presumed that the first and last movements were the same as those that found their way into the fourth Das irdische Leben was never used in any of Mahler symphonies, except by fragmentary musical references in the Third Symphony. And the fourth, which he called morning bells in this early outline became the angels movement of the Third Symphony. What became of the movements and titled Caritas and develop on a sphere is hard to determine. It is far from certain that Caritas became the fourth symphonies Adagio, especially since the stated key of A former is not that of the ladder. Later Mahler considered using Caritas as a title for a part of the Eighth Symphony.

Lagrange believes that the D major scherzo the welt owner schmira, there was you’re ultimately not used in the fourth became the centerpiece of the Fifth Symphony. In any event, Mahler eliminated all of these titles, save, of course, that of the song finale. Regarding the finale, Natalie Bower Lesnar confuses the matter further by relating that Das irdische Leben was added to the fourth after the first three movements had been written, even though the song itself was written earlier than all of the other movements. But the public and other critics felt that Mahler was wrong in refusing to provide a program for the fourth. In fact, many contemporary commentators contend that the fourth is no less a programmatic Symphony than its predecessors. Donald Mitchell, for example, suggests that the symphonies program is music history itself. The neoclassical components as Michel may be interpreted as both a symbol of the innocence that was the dramatic theme of the work, and also as a form of classical reaction of a very sophisticated kind, against the elaborately programmatic, second, and third symphonies. Yet at the same time, the fourth both conjures up reminiscences of the past and tends toward abstraction, sometimes by reason of these very reminiscences, Mahler himself recognized that his change of heart toward providing a program did not mean that he changed his firm belief that nearly all music had an inner program. Even let it be known that a complete understanding of the symphony could not be achieved without knowledge of such an inner program. Mahler defined the overriding atmosphere of the symphony as followed.

The uniform blue of the sky, which is harder to suggest in any changing and contrasting tense, but sometimes the atmosphere darkens and grows strangely terrifying. Now that the sky itself clouds over it goes on shining with its everlasting blue, but we suddenly become afraid of it, just as on a brilliant day in the sun-dappled forest, was overcome by a panic terror. The scherzo is mystical, confused, and eerie, so that your hair stands on it, but in the following Adagio, you will soon see that things were not as bad everything is resolved.

Mahler described the symphony’s gaiety, as coming from another sphere, so that it is terrifying for humans. Only a child can understand and explain it, and a child does explain it in the end. Bauer-Lechner tells us that Mahler once called the Adagio, the smiling of Saint Ursula, a childhood image that he had of his mother’s warm tender smile that radiated through the tears she shed as a result of her interminable suffering. While Mahler admitted knowing nothing about the life of the saint, the connection remained fixed in his mind, beside possible extra-musical references, the Fourth Symphony contains numerous dramatic and motivic material that links its four movements together, and also connects with the Third Symphony, not only is the main theme of the finale quoted toward the end of the proceeding movement, as the opening of the finale to the second was in the Scherzo movement, but hints of the finale appear in the first and second movements. Through an ingenious technique of transplanting themes and motives from one movement to another. Mahler integrates them while also directing them toward the finale. He generates musical material from thematic and motivic fragments that both look back to earlier movements, even to previous symphonies, and forward to the finale.

Adolf Novac went so far as to tie together the cyclical process, and the concept of a program by offering the suggestion that the story of the entire Symphony is in the transformation of the finales motives. Harmonically the tonal scheme progresses from an earthly G major to a heavenly E major. Unlike the second and third symphonies, however, the concluding major key is not achieved through a struggle with minor-key visions of the dark side. In the fourth, the atmosphere is clear, and the mood gay from the start, with only a few minor key diversions that do not trouble the spirit for very long. Even the spectral scherzo movement, written in a minor wears a devilish grin.

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: