The light-hearted effervescent atmosphere of the first movement recalls the music of Mozart and Haydn, while it’s gently flowing lyricism as a Schubertian flavor, but beneath that simple, seemingly bright veneer, lies a wealth of automatic and motivic material creatively reworked in a myriad of variations, permutations and combinations. Hans Redlich compares Mahler’s dramatic treatment to the reshuffling of a deck of playing cards. Neville Cardus considers nothing less than kaleidoscopic. He locates as many as five separate themes in the exposition while Constantine Floros finds seven.
Generally speaking, the movement is structured like a classical Sonata with Rondo elements but deviates measurably from traditional first movement form in a number of ways. It contains a false recapitulation, and epilogue in the home key instead of the dominant and numerous disconcerting pauses, shifts, and meanderings. The predominance of seventh chords and an emphasis on the second interval are also unusual. Irvin Stein points out that subordinate themes are more predominant than would be expected in the classical format. Mahler’s use of scraps of rhythmic and melodic material from this movement in the finale goes far beyond his predecessor’s occasional inter-movement references. Notwithstanding the charming, breezy quality of the exposition themes, that cook calls whistling tunes and the atmosphere of a pastoral walk through the countryside that Mahler evokes through them. There is a moment when clouds gathered progressively until a nightmare climax occurs immediately followed by a gay trumpet tune. This passage contains a hint of the main theme of the finale. Few symphonic movements by Mahler are entirely free of the dark side but as the opening movements of the first and eighth symphonies, this first movement is one of Mahler’s most consistently pleasant and untroubled. It begins with a three-bar introduction that appears to start in B minor, only to lead directly into the home key of G major, during which flutes immediately establish a light playful atmosphere, with flickering repeated eighth notes, garnished with grace notes and accompanied by sleigh bells. After one measure, two other fluids enter with a combination of bird whistles and Yoda-like rhythms, while clarinets play a sequence of running 16th notes, all treated more typically throughout the movement. Out of these perky rhythms emerges the first theme on three rising notes in violins slightly held back, imitating the typical Viennese practice of beginning a waltz theme slowly and gradually working into the tempo. In fact, this first principal theme has the character of walls, yet it is set in 4/4 time, it’s been admiring quality and genders a sense of nostalgia. This first of an unusually large number of themes contains three important motives:
- First, a variant of the motive of longing in the rising three-node update, that then falls by a sixth, introducing the theme.
- Second, a decorative gruppetto like or turn, figure, the motive of peace.
- And third, a cadential phrase constructed in two parts, consisting of a rising scale in dotted rhythm, followed by 16th note filigree. Mara said that this charming theme represents supreme bliss.
Immediately after the theme reaches a cadence, lower strings expand upon the cadential phrase, beginning with a three-note upbeat, shaped like an upward arch that foreshadows the opening melody of the finale. Horns play with the sleigh bell rhythm, with the 16th note triplet added at the beginning of each couplet, while strings continue to develop the theme shifting its various elements out of their original positions. A variety of dotted rhythms, inversions, appoggiaturas, imitative figures, decorative triplets, and grace notes, give the music rococo character, after the first theme undergoes extensive treatment, a new theme in the home key, G major enters in a perkier tempo and clarinets, more lively and extrovert than the first theme, it projects itself firmly Gately onto the accompanying string figuration that is itself sourced in the first theme.
This second theme has an interesting structure, its second measure is but a variation of its first its continuation in strings on a bouncing rhythm is followed by dactylic rhythms and 16th note figuration that play upon elements from the first theme, and it ends abruptly at the end of a long 16th note descending scale, which is the converse of the ascending phrase and low strings heard earlier.
Since this new theme is presented in only six measures, it also functions as a bridge passage, contrasting with the dance-like first theme, and the more lyrical song-like theme and D major that follows in the cellos, oboes add a rising three-note upbeat to this third theme that likens it to the first.
Floros suggests that this lovely kuntala theme is very similar to a melody and Beethoven’s E flat major Piano Sonata Opus 27 number one, cellos soon add an after theme that is essentially a variation of the third theme. That theme closes after two brief fusions of sheer happiness but follow upon the after theme on its way to a gentle flowing cadence, which is itself boarded by a breath cause just short of closure.
The tempo now eases up as an oboe enters with yet another new melody, stressing repeated anapestic short-short-long rhythms and once again containing a second measure. That is a variation of the first staccato eighth song the bassoon accompany the oboe, adding to the perky coquettish character the new theme when a horn joins the oboe virtually playing the new theme in reverse strings suddenly pick up the tempo, with a rapid descending run of 16th pushed along by descending dotted rhythms in woodwinds that appear to be the end of this segment.
This downward thrust stops unexpectedly in a manner similar to but more demonstrative than the closing measures of the brief second theme. Then the fourth theme continues in a clarinet trio, offering another version of this lively theme. The theme’s opening figure imitated by low strings functions as a transition to the return of the introduction, by its likeness to the sleigh bells rhythm, with which the movement began. Music from the introduction now returns with other modes from the beginning of the movement slightly varied and infused with falling seconds. At this point, the first themes reprise in G major appears to signal a full recapitulation, but instead, it serves to round out the exposition and introduce an element of Rondo form by its frequent appearances throughout the development and the recapitulation. In a sequence of deck variations, the first theme is presented first and canonic imitation over repeated pizziacatos with a counter theme in the bass, clarinet, and bassoon, and then in interplay with other thematic fragments scattered around the orchestra. Mahler’s deft integration of divergent thematic material within a chamber-like setting is very impressive. A brief co-data ends the exposition in a restful mood on an inversion of the first theme, it eases up delicately to close on the themes dotted rhythms, now sounding more like a variant of the opening euro figure.
The developing section begins with a sleigh bells of the introduction, after which the yodel figure returns in an oboe against a rising dotted rhythmic phrase from the first theme. Each thematic cell is developed, sometimes in isolation and other times in conjunction with others. A sudden boisterous intrusion of the pizzicato eighths that had accompanied the theme breaks the musical flow for a moment ever breathed into play in woodwinds on elements of the first theme, the violin softly plays an endearing variation of it, the opening notes of the first theme rise sequentially as the music builds to a strong climax after which whirling sixteenths on the strings wind down quietly to the baseline.
Out of the bass string figuration that concludes this segment of the development comes in on pi eighth-note rhythm, to which is added a sustained trill and cellos, providing both an introduction to and an accompaniment for a new fifth theme in A major stated boldly by four flutes in a brisker tempo. It begins like a clarion call on three strongly stated high ease that are reminiscent of the opening repeated notes that begin the cello with a third theme. They also recall the motive of the Herald from the first movement of the Third Symphony, a variant of the dotted rhythm a couplet from the first theme is added by bass clarinet to the Yoda like treatment of this figure that appeared at the close of the exposition in the cellos. String figuration keeps the music constantly aware of the flute themes outline recalls the shape of the chorale, refrain from the angel’s movement of the third Symphony. A second wave of 16th notes spills over into the flute theme, now played even more audaciously by a clarinet with its Bell held high. Arising chordal triplet is added as an upbeat to the repeated notes with which it begins. That same upbeat is also added to a descending scale on dotted rhythms loss inverting the form in which it appeared during the exposition.
Suddenly, the tonality shifts to E flat mind the sleigh bell rhythm returns in flutes, together with a rising scale and dotted rhythm in an oboe, and 16th note figuration played by a clarinet. How creatively Mahler both separates and combines small ensemble groupings that playfully reconfigure fragments of the thematic material, treated with a variety of coloristic effects in the strings, such as col legno, meaning playing with the wood part of the bow, harp harmonics, playing on the bridge pizzicato etc. Yet Mahler always maintains perfect balance and clarity of inner voices and the key changes to F minor, woodwinds add a strident quality to the variant of the sleigh bells rhythm, as they take over the course of the development for several measures. Birdcalls and yodel figures appear just before the violins enter on a minor key version of the first theme that suddenly casts a shadow over the otherwise bright and breezy atmosphere.
As the violins expand upon this theme, always against a wealth of thematic fragments strewn around the orchestra, it begins to take on a yearning quality on wider intervals and shifting minor tonalities. Now will completely unexpected change of mood occurs, horns on a rising variant of the first theme, usher in a section that asserts a renewed confidence as it bursts forth in the resilient splendor of a sunny see major winds herald the noontime sunshine, with a hearty treatment of the second theme, sounding more demonstrative than earlier the second theme takes on the characteristics of a miniature triumphal march, to which the horns respond with the third theme, now transformed from a lyrical romance into a heroic horn call, triangle and tambourine provide decorative elements and enhancing the glitter of this rollicking procession, scraps of the first three themes are interwoven in woodwinds to form countless melodic lines, the strings 16th note figuration that pulled the exposition forward like a strong undertone, but was absent during the development now returns in an upsurge of overlapping waves that propel the music onward into a powerful dissonant, A flat major chord with added augmented sixth, this chord casts a shadow over the joyous celebration.
After a momentary low, emerges an augmented version of the turn figure from the first theme that will be transformed into the finales principal theme. A subdued trumpet call follows, known as der grosse Appell, the little summons to distinguish it from its older cousin, the grocer uphill from the finale of the second Symphony, the same trumpet call will open the Fifth Symphony. As der kleine Appell diminishes a strong trumpet signal bursts like a clarion call the motive of the hero, reminding us of its intrusion at the close of one of the post-torn interludes in the third moment of the Third Symphony.
Mahler creates one of his brilliantly conceived telescoped transitions here. He is about to begin that recapitulation, but instead of letting the development close with the end of der kleine Appell he brings in the beginning of the first theme in woodwinds, just after the trumpets the last tattoo hangs in midair. Then the music stops in its tracks, as if confused as to what to do next. Why it’s simple, since the woodwinds seem to have come in with a theme before it was due. Let’s just go on with it rather than begin the theme all over again. So after this pause for reconsideration, the strings sheepishly resume with the theme at the precise point at which the woodwinds left off is this Mahler’s Jai but the problems conductors may face with unfamiliar music.
Coincidentally, the second part of the main theme with which Mahler begins, the recapitulation contains the rising dotted rhythmic phrase that will be prominent in the finale. One can easily imagine the sheepish grin on molars face when he penned this delightful pawn on sonata form. A capsulized rendering of the movement’s principal themes now follows, with a new jollier version of the third theme, asserted staunchly by a solo trumpet in tandem with the woodwinds, providing a provocative combination of elements from the first two themes. They all end the refrain wildly on a rapid 16th note descent that comes to a dead stop, as in the exposition, woodwinds and strings add a more assertive version of the lyrical third theme, marked shroom fall effusively. Mahler adds the three-note upbeat of the first theme, as an upbeat to the third theme, to bring it to a huge climax that leads to a full cadence. After the orchestra catches its breath, cellos and horn sing out the second part of the third theme. Once again this theme builds quickly to a strong climax 4/4 orchestra, ending as it did earlier, just before it reaches full closure.
Another breath pause briefly suspends the music’s forward motion. Then the perky little woodwind fourth theme from the exposition meekly asserts itself. violins at a contrasting lyrical counter theme and as in the exposition, clarinets arrogantly declaimed the woodwind theme until it’s interrupted again on a fresh set of descending 16th notes and dotted rhythms storming rapidly down the scale in a huff. The woodwind theme returns yet again, this time in darker coloring on the low register of the clarinets, how cleverly mala uses the opening notes of the woodwind theme and bass strings as an entree to the return of the sleigh bells, and with them the music of the introduction. Fragments are the first theme follow in variation, the turn figure played backwards by the violins, yodel figures sound even more flippant than earlier, when played in the shrill upper register of the flute and clarinet. How gruff the expanded turn figure sounds in staccato low strings, and how demonic the grace noted bird chirping phrase seems when played by muted trumpets. The coda begins as the music becomes more restful, still reworking the dotted rhythm and turn figures from the first theme. Violins reach upwards, seeking respite from the unrelenting activity of the extensive development.
The mode of longing with which the first theme began now has a yearning quality that tenderly evokes the eternal joy that Nietzsche expressed in the passage from alzo strux, our through strict set to music and the fourth movement of the third Symphony. It is as if we were drawn to the same distant mountain heights, to which Strauss ascended in his album Symphony, or horn plays a variant of the first theme, answered by the original opening of the theme, which is played by an oboe, and then horn again in turn. The music softens to a hush on a sustained minor third chord and violins then the solo horn gives out a quasar military call much in the manner of the post one from the Third Symphony, based upon the sleigh bells motor then ends with a falling second, a few pizzicato eighths in the strings at a delicate touch to the refined atmosphere.
Slowly and quietly, the violins emerge with the first themes three note upbeat, each note of which is held as if coyly hesitating to continue, when the upbeat reaches its high point, the first theme slowly unfolds as if toying with the listener, but it quickly presses up to speed, even passing it until a jolly allegro on the cello theme ends the movement with unrestrained joy.
What fun Mahler has here with the quirks of Viennese style that he knew his audiences delighted him, for example, by exaggerating the way a waltz usually begins slowly at first and then gradually increasing into the temple with somewhat less exaggeration, he had introduced the first theme at the beginning of the movement. His parody of this of affectation provides the crowning touch to a delightful spoof on classical style, a subject that Mahler will return to his seven simple.
By Lew Smoley