Thursday, January 26, 2023

Mahler - Symphony No. 3

The Third Symphony was first sketched out with the help of a program as Mahler wrote down headings for each of the movements he planned. As he did preliminary work on the symphony he changed the program numerous times before the music was completed. The original program for the symphony called for seven movements with the following titles:

1. Summer marches in.
2. What the flowers in the meadow tell me.
3. What the creatures in the forest tell me.
4. What man tells me.
5. What the angels tell me
6. What love tells me.
7. What the Child tells me.

He worked on the symphony from 1893 to 1896, doing most of the work on it during the summer  hiatus of the Hamburg Opera where he was chief conductor. At this time Mahler was passionately influenced by Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of German folk poems. He set many of them to music, and used the songs in his early symphonies, sometimes with words and music and sometimes with only the music. The Third Symphony also includes some of these songs. The 7th movement was to be a setting of another Wunderhorn poem Das himmlische Leben, a poem he had set to music in 1892, but Mahler thought better of it and used the song in the final movement of his 4th Symphony. Mahler  dropped the entire program from the symphony before it was published and premiered. He made his feelings about titles and programs known in a letter to a fellow conductor and composer Josef Krug-Waldsee:
Those titles were an attempt on my part to provide non-musicians with something to hold on to and with a signpost for the intellectual, or better, the expressive content of the various movements and for their relationships to each other and to the whole. That it didn’t work (as, in fact, it could never work) and that it led only to misinterpretations of the most horrendous sort became painfully clear all too quickly. It’s the same disaster that had overtaken me on previous and similar occasions, and now I have once and for all given up commenting, analyzing all such expediencies of whatever sort. These titles . . . will surely say something to you after you know the score. You will draw intimations from them about how I imagined the steady intensification of feeling, from the indistinct, unbending, elemental existence (of the forces of nature) to the tender formation of the human heart, which in turn points toward and reaches a region beyond itself (God). Please express that in your own words without quoting those extremely inadequate titles and that way you will have acted in my spirit. I am very grateful that you asked me [about the titles], for it is by no means inconsequential to me and for the future of my work how it is introduced into “public life.”
The Third Symphony is the longest symphony Mahler composed, and is the longest symphony currently in the repertoire. It takes at least 90 minutes to play, with the first movement alone taking over 30 minutes. Couple that with the huge orchestra Mahler uses, the label of megalomaniac was being used by his critics to describe him.

A group of movements was heard in concert as early as 1897 when movements 2,3 and 6 were played in Berlin.  The premiere of the entire symphony was in 1902 and was conducted by Mahler.  The orchestra calls for quadruple winds, eight horns, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, two harps, a large percussion section plus two sets of timpani, alto soloist, women's choir, boys choir, and the usual strings. Mahler split the work into two main parts; the first movement constitutes the first part, the other five movements the second part:

I. Kräftig. Entschieden (Strong and decisive) - The first movement was written a year after the remaining 5 movements. Eight horns playing in unison announce the beginning of the symphony:
The introductory theme continues and is punctuated by the orchestra. This introduction brings forth the first theme of movement proper, a slow march in the minor that expands for quite some time. It is solemn intone but is full of whoops and calls from the orchestra. A short drum solo acts as an introduction to a second theme in the major that is lighter in texture. This theme is interrupted by cat calls from the clarinets and a third theme (although at this first hearing it is short and more like a motive than a theme) rushes through the orchestra. The first theme returns and contains a prominent part for solo trombone. This theme grows in intensity until it slowly fades into a repeat of the second theme as well as the cat calls from the clarinets and the following third theme,which this time around is expanded into the fourth theme, another march that is in the major and begins subdued in volume but gradually grows and is punctuated by the snare drum. The new march grows in volume and density as it is played full on by the orchestra. The fourth theme runs its course and the music segues to what can be considered the development section in a very loose sonata form. The first march theme is developed and leads to another solo by the trombone, followed by a solo for cor anglais. The second theme makes an appearance and is developed, followed by a reference to the fourth theme march. Snippets of themes weave in and out as the music moves to a variant of the first theme march that expands. Snippets of other themes enter and leave as the music grows in intensity and speed until it dies away. This is interrupted by snare drums that play in the distance and as they fade away the introduction for eight horns reappears with slight variations, which signals the beginning of the recapitulation. The  first theme is expanded until a very quiet section brings back the fourth theme march. This theme builds while a variant of the horn introduction is played in the background. This major variant of the horn theme (which was also heard briefly in the development section) comes to the fore as Mahler varies and expands it. Motives of themes are combined as the music builds to a climax. A variant of part of the first theme is heard and the orchestra gallops to a rousing ending in the major. When this symphony is given in concert, there is sometimes a short intermission taken at the end of the first movement.

II. Tempo di Menuetto - Mahler writes music in the style of a minuet. More specifically, it is a minuet in the style of Mahler.The middle section has some stormy sections that scurry through the orchestra. But for the most part this movement serves as a few moments for the listener to catch their breath after the rough hewn character of the first movement. The movement ends gently with a violin solo.

III.  Comodo (Scherzando) (Comfortably, like a scherzo) - This movement makes references to a Wunderhorn song Mahler wrote titled Ablösung im Sommer (Relief In Summer). The text of the song deals with a dead cuckoo and a nightingale. There's been many translations of the text  of the poem, but when Mahler set the words he also inserted lines that he wrote himself. As with so many aspects of this huge work, there have been many interpretations of the meaning of the song by itself and in the context of the symphony. Suffice to say that falls in with Mahler's original heading for the movement What The Creatures In The Forest Tell Me (especially the birds evidently).  One of the novel features of this movement is the sudden change of the mood as an offstage trumpet plays a theme over a very quiet accompaniment. Mahler instructs the soloist to play  the instrument as a posthorn.  Sometimes the solo is played on an actual posthorn, but more often it is played on a trumpet or flugelhorn. The offstage trumpet interrupts the scherzo 3 times. In between the 2nd and third interruption, the scherzo gets particularly vigorous and loud, and to encourage the general raucousness Mahler writes the direction in the score Grob! (complete with exclamation point) which translates to roughly or crude. The third trumpet interruption is the longest and more complex, complete with bird song imitations. After an almost inaudible transition, the scherzo starts up but quickly gains power and volume as a tremendous climax thunders through the orchestra. this leads to a fragment of the scherzo returning in a loud, highly punctuated version, and amid another tremendous climax the movement ends.

IV. Sehr langsam—Misterioso (Very slowly, mysteriously) - The previous movements have shown Mahler's love and understanding of nature, but with this movement the music depicts the darkness of night. The movement begins with strings alternating gently between notes with harps adding a hushed texture. The entire movement remains quiet, the accompaniment hardly moving harmonically as the alto soloist sings a simple melody to the words of the Midnight Song from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra. Mahler gets a particularly novel effect for the oboe and cor anglaise by writing a slur over two notes with the direction hinaufziehen, literally meaning to pull or move up. There is general agreement that Mahler intended a glissando with this word:
This is not possible on the modern version of the oboe used by most players. But it was possible on the German made instrument used in the orchestras Mahler directed. Modern scholarship and technique have shown ways this directive can be accomplished, and while it may seem a minor detail, the sliding notes give a particularly earthy quality to the music, something Mahler evidently intended. The above musical example also shows the detail and care Mahler took in notating his scores.

Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra, Midnight Song:
O Man! Take heed!
What says the deep midnight?
"I slept, I slept -,
from a deep dream have I awoken: -
the world is deep,
and deeper than the day has thought.
Deep is its pain -,
joy - deeper still than heartache.
Pain says: Pass away!
But all joy seeks eternity -,
- seeks deep, deep eternity!"

The movement ends in the same dark, quiet tones in which it began and leads directly to the next movement.

V. Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (Cheerful in tempo and cheeky in expression) - Another Wunderhorn text is used in the 5th movement, Armer Kinder Bettlerlied (Poor children's Begging song) written for women's choir, boy's choir and soloist. The movement begins with the boy's choir imitating bells.

Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Armer Kinder Bettlerlied
 Three angels sang a sweet song,
with blessed joy it rang in heaven.
They shouted too for joy
that Peter was free from sin!
And as Lord Jesus sat at the table
with his twelve disciples and ate the evening meal,
Lord Jesus said: "Why do you stand here?
When I look at you, you are weeping!"
"And should I not weep, kind God?
I have violated the ten commandments!
I wander and weep bitterly!
O come and take pity on me!"
"If you have violated the ten commandments,
then fall on your knees and pray to God!
Love only God for all time!
So will you gain heavenly joy."
The heavenly joy is a blessed city,
the heavenly joy that has no end!
The heavenly joy was granted to Peter
through Jesus, and to all mankind for eternal bliss.

VI. Langsam - Ruhevoll - Empfunden (Slowly, tranquil, deeply felt) - In length and complexity, the final movement resembles the first massive movement, but the character and tone of the finale is quite different. It is full of joy and pain as Mahler unwinds some of the most heartfelt music he ever wrote. The music ebbs and flows, echoes things heard before (in this symphony and in the 2nd Symphony). Ending a symphony with an adagio movement was not common. Mahler had done it in the 2nd Symphony, and as in that work the 3rd Symphony adagio is the culmination of the symphony. If this is what Mahler meant when he wrote out headings for the movements of this symphony, that this is what love told him, he takes the listener through his complex and deep emotions with this music. It takes its time as it describes in tones Mahler's depth of compassion and spirituality. The movement seems to suspend time, but the build up reaches an incredible ending the timpani, low strings, bassoon and contra bassoon play the notes D and A, the tonic and the dominant of D major. The trumpets play a noble motive while the rest of the brass and woodwind play chords, all over divided violins and violas that play shimmering tremolos. Mahler has one last request written in the score when the full orchestra reaches the huge final D major chord, Nicht abressien, don't cut it off. Let the final chord ring out to end one of the most stunning symphonies ever written.