Listening Guide – Symphony No. 5 Intro


With the Fifth Symphony, Mahler frankly admitted that he started over again although he returned to an extensive structural format as in his second and third symphonies, after the simpler and shorter fourth, his approach to the fifth takes a considerably different turn. Formal design, dramatic conception, musical language and presentation move in a new direction. Beginning with the fifth, and continuing with the two symphonies that followed. Mahler avoids explicit extra-musical subjects, having openly disavowed programmatic content, he now concentrates on purely abstract music-making, he no longer expresses nature as the quintessence of worldly existence, or otherworldly spiritualism or pantheism, as a path to ultimate truth. After proclaiming that he needed the world when the music itself is insufficient to convey his universal message. Mahler was now satisfied to create a symphonic world devoid of vocalized texts. He hones his technical skills, already highly developed by 1900. He uses purely orchestral forces, rather than placing his trust in the word to communicate his intentions, and he continues to develop a symphonic form to fit his dramatic philosophical Weltanschauung. During the period that begins with the Fifth Symphony, and ends with the seventh, Mahler sought to explore the meaning and value of life through the dramatic nature of his music. Despite his disavowal of programmed music, he organizes these three purely orchestral symphonies, around quazy narrative frames of reference, detectable by the expressive character of the musical presentation. Its divergent mood swings, and developmental Dramatic Structure. A central philosophical concept seems pervasive, a search for redemption from suffering. Within this conceptual framework, Mahler infuses the music with implicit psychological and philosophical overtones, in an exploration of the human subconscious. He plumbs the depths of human emotion to expose that which fills the spirit with dread, to reconcile our fears of death with our desperate need to find meaning and truth in life. This self-reflective orientation is not new to Mahler, it pervades or intrudes upon all his works in one way or another.

What changes with the fifth is that the music becomes more abstract, subtle, and modernistic and approach and in musical language. Psychological states projected through shocking orchestral explosions, shrieking dissonances jabbing punctuation, and violent outbursts. contrast with music expressing exuberant happiness, touching sentiment, or frivolous mimicry. Mahler moves from the sublime to the ridiculous, the mournful to the outraged, the calm to the storm, sometimes without the slightest warning. form follows function here, always in the service of the music’s dramatic nature. diversions from classical form, enable Mahler to express a myriad of emotions that appear in disarray, their chaotic manner of presentation, mirroring the confusions and disaffection of modern life. This is not to say that traditional symphonic structure is either ignored or eliminated, but it is made to serve the dramatic content.

The Fifth Symphony, as a case in point, presents a life crisis in the abstract, explores its manifestations, and then overcomes its tragic nature through a courageous struggle with its most destructive aspects. In this respect, the fifth is quintessentially Nietzschean life without God for nature has lost its foundation so now we must derive meaning for life from within, for without meaning life would not be worth living, as Mahler himself had suggested in one of his programs for the Second Symphony. Modern Life thus presents a paradox, we seek eternal joy, as Nietzsche stated in the passage that Mahler used Also sprach Zarathustra in his Third Symphony, but our search is subject to the fear and angst that thoughts of our mortality generate. We search for meaning where there appears to be none and suffer from both our search and its failure to achieve fulfillment. a resolution of this human paradox for nature can only be achieved on a worldly plane through direct and unflinching confrontation with the negative side of life. If we have the courage and the strength to engage and conquer the destructive forces within us that are bent on negating lives of value and make them serve positive ends, we can find redemption in life, rather than in fantasies of paradise. Thereby we can overcome the nihilistic fatalism that engulfs and weakens our spirit. Ultimately for Mahler, it is love that enables and enables the achievement of such a life-enhancing goal. His concept of love is no longer idealistic, as at the end of the Third Symphony, or divine as in the Second, but profoundly human tinge, but not tainted by the tragic sufferings of the world, through such suffering, love matures and becomes strong enough to prevail over anti life forces and make use of them in our search for fulfillment and redemption in this world. In this sense, the Fifth Symphony might be considered the first of Mahler’s existential symphonies, a musical representation of Nietzsche’s concept of amor fati, the love of fate and affirms life in the face of death, without reliance on the promise of a better world after death.

With the fifth, Mahler reconfigures and expands upon classical forms reorients linear flow and musical progression, both melodic and harmonic. Explore explores new modes of thematic and motivic development, and integration expands the orchestra and sharpens his contrapuntal technique, all with greater acuity than ever before.
In doing so, he hoped to refashion the symphony so as to better express the realities of the modern world from an existential vantage point. To serve this overriding purpose, Mahler utilized every possible means at his disposal, whether tried and true or experimental. While radically revising classical forms, he would also make use of Johan Sebastian Bach in counterpoint, not merely as a nod to tradition, but to replicate the complexity of modern life through multi-layered linear polyphony. Sometimes he uses traditional procedures such as fugue and canon, he retains classical forms such as Sonata Rondo, scherzo and trio, while expanding or refashioning them to suit his dramatic purposes.
Movements are interconnected dramatically and motivicly and organized into parts as Mahler had done in his original conceptions of the first and third symphonies, the thematic and motivic interplay between movements becomes a principal element in the overall symphonic design, more than any of his previous symphonies, modern links movements together cyclically, but unlike Beethoven, or Bruckner, who also quote themes from one movement in another, Mahler transforms a quoted theme when it returns in a later movement, revealing a different aspect of his character that is radically different from the original. Thus, he implies that just as the natural energies of life can be used for positive or negative purposes, so to the same thematic material can be used to convey contrasting aspects of human nature.

In the Fifth Symphony, Mahler applies this principle more purposefully and with greater success than he had in any of his previous symphonies, virtually organizing the entire Symphony around this concept of thematic transformation, for example, rather than merely superimposing upon the musical landscape references to popular music, such as military marches, trumpet calls, or familiar dance music, he integrates these thematic and motivic References into the musical fabric so that they serve as symbols or, if you will, players in the symphonic drama.
Mahler’s musical language also undergoes a radical change in the fifth, particularly evident is the unusual nature of musical ebb and flow, passages build on music that had already reached closure, others fail to build at all. Still, others are shunted aside abruptly, some musical subjects respond to stimuli unrelated to the music out of which they grow, aborted, or on anticipated climaxes, sudden interruptions and radical diversions all wreak havoc upon formal musical design, and even disorient the listener momentarily. Both Alma Mahler and Derek cook called such aberrations schizophrenic, by means of such abrupt shifts, Mahler sought to characterize psychological traits that were explored in greater depth than before during the end of the 19th century. With the appearance of new theories about the mind and the spirit, making the rounds during this period, life could no longer be considered as simply governed by rational principles that could be relied upon for their consistency and predictability. The modern life-world and the world of the mind are increasingly viewed as much more complex and unfathomable. The sharks that flesh is heir to, that make a mockery of any perceived ground plan for life, took hold of Mahler sensibilities. In keeping with some of his romantic precursors, Mahler instinctively understood that the orderly presentation of musical material according to rational principles of construction, in symmetrical formed, would no longer serve to present a true picture of modern life. Principles of reason, order, and symmetry, leave unexplained life’s vicissitudes, uncertainties, and insecurities. The dilemma of the human condition could only be expressed in a symphonic setting if the manner of musical presentation was radically changed. Self-understanding and self-overcoming are now the principal goals, man becomes the central figure in the modern symphonic world, a tragic hero struggling with disruptive forces, both internal and external and seeking an answer to the nihilistic accusation that life is meaningless. To achieve his dramatic and philosophical purposes, Mahler altered classical forms, fusing them with his extensive musical ideas, while making them pliant enough to encompass them. Mahler’s use of instruments also undergoes significant development with a fifth, following and expanding upon berrios principles of instrumentation model forces woodwinds to play at ranges beyond those to which they were accustomed, he uses unusual instrumental groupings to generate special coloristic effects that enhanced musical characterization to create a particular effect, he adds glockenspiel or woodblock to the already extensive array of percussion instruments.

As in previous symphonies, the finale of the fifth continues to be the focal point and contains the resolution of its principal argument. Although its five movements form, an arch of which the middle movement is the longest. Mahler presents the musical argument primarily in the outer movements, connecting links between the first two and last two movements are so essential that Mahler divided the symphony into parts, pairing each of these couple movements so that the five-movement work is conceived in an overarching tripartite form, like the middle movements of his earlier symphonies, the centerpiece of a fifth scherzo movement seems at first hearing to be but a diversion from the main argument. It’s frivolous character worlds away from part one’s tragic character, and part three is an expression of love and joy, a celebration in having founded while the scared so does divert attention from the unfolding drama initiated by part one, it does so by caricaturing the social world of cosmopolitan Vienna, which Mahler found superficial, decadent, and ultimately disruptive. This is not the first time that modern engages in parody as social commentary. He poked fun at a classical style that permeated Viennese music in the first movement of his Fourth Symphony, and caricature and folk music bohemian and Jewish in the third movement or the first, but in the Fifth Symphony scherzo Mahler’s mocking disdain for the social traditions of an aristocracy and decline during the fin de siècle period in Vienna, knows no bounds. He treats Viennese dance music so coarsely, and with raucous frivolity, that board is on the maniacal yet it is also self-reflective. Motivic elements play a greater role in the fifth than in any previous Mahler Symphony. Mahler integrates motives into the musical fabric with ever greater subtlety and inventiveness, he uses them as rhythmic Foundation, or as subjects for contrapuntal interplay, often creating a motivic web of considerably intricate design.

Unlike his earlier symphonies, Mahler no longer fashions entire movements out of songs or song themes, instead, musical references to his Lieder that do occur are more subtle and occasional, suggesting either a mood of an earlier song, or the text that accompanies a particular passage that he associated with the symphonic content, in which it appears. Phrases from the Ruckert-Lieder and Kindertotenlieder appear with ever greater frequency from the Fifth Symphony on, creating a relationship between the subjective character of the songs and the implicit philosophical connotations of the symphonies in which they appear. Although Schubert already used song themes and purely instrumental works, Mahler was the first composer to integrate into his symphonies, phrases, or entire passages from his songs to bring out their connotative meaning. Mahler also interrelates the whole symphonies motif ugly and thematically with cross-references. For example, the opening of the fifth is great From the der Kleiner Appelle passage that appeared at the climax of the development section in the first movement of the Fourth Symphony. In the corresponding movement of the Second Symphony, Mahler used a slightly revised form of a rhythmic pattern that appeared in the First Symphony, first we’ll hear the excerpt from the First Symphony, and following it from the Second Symphony.

Such inter Symphony references function as both musical and dramatic unifying factors that connect entire symphonies, both musically and dramatically. The principal tempos of the fifth symphonies movements are organized in symmetrical tripartite form. Slow, fast, scherzo slow, fast. Overall tonal structure varies from traditional formalities. The tonal progression from C sharp minor and the first movement to D major and the finale, parallel the dramatic progression of the symphony from its tragic beginning to its joyous conclusion.

Nontraditional key relationships and harmonic progressions enhance the characterization of musical events. Mahler became increasingly aware of the effect that certain tonalities can engender, and how they can enhance dramatic impact. Does he use particular key centers to create a special mood or atmosphere, C minor and a minor for their tragic character, E major to evoke heavenly bliss, and E flat major or C major for their triumphant quality. Sudden shifts in tonality to remote keys can make a radical change in tempo or subject matter even more effective, will create a sense of unexpected change in direction as a musical event. Many commentators referred to the similarities between Mahler’s fifth and Beethoven’s, for example, their parallel key structure. Both begin in the minor Mahler’s in C sharp, Beethovens in C, and they end in the major Mahler’s in D and Beethoven’s in C. They both use funeral music. their respective last two movements contain structural or thematic connections.
The appearance of Beethoven’s fate model beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth is similar to the trumpet model that opens Mahler’s first movement, and they both contain joyous conclusions that resolve their tragic beginnings, yet differences also distinguish these works. Unlike Beethoven’s Fifth, Mahler’s middle movements include both a parody on cosmopolitan life and a love song of tender if bittersweet sentiments. Mahler’s symphonic world goes far beyond Beethoven’s in both scope and dramatic import.

Mahler was never satisfied with the fifth, he kept revising and re-editing it during the last decade of his life. Alma Mahler claims to have criticized his original orchestration, as too muddled and full of broken arionisms, particularly in the grand corral that occurs in both the second and fifth movements.
Mahler conceded the first argument and tried to simplify the orchestration to achieve greater clarity. In fact, he became obsessed with that goal, revising the score numerous times until his death hit he never accepted almost cutting remarks about Bruckner, choosing to retain the glorious grand corral as a momentary vision of redemption, and functions as the focal point of parts one and three.

When Mahler wrote the fifth, he was at the height of his powers, yet he felt the need for self-renewal. Therefore, he abandoned the nature world of the First Symphony, and the Wunderhorn Lieder, the quasar religious spiritualism of the second, the pantheism of the third, and the childlike in Seussian. of the fourth in as La Grange suggests, an attempt to achieve a tighter polyphonic web, and a new orchestral style, an enriched and broader variety of sound and a denser, more coherent structure.
Despite the thematic and motivic connections with the songs he wrote at the same time, the fifth represents a break with Mahler song world that permeates the Wunderhorn symphonies, while creating a new more realistic world in which the Ruckert-Lieder and Kindertotenlieder play an important role.

By Lew Smoley

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