Overture Magazine - 2015-2016 Season March-April 2016 - Page 36

everything still revolved around providing Mahler with peace and solitude for his composing. Nevertheless, new feelings of joy surely influenced the symphony’s conclusion as he created the gorgeous string-and-harp Adagietto (which his friend the Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg believed was a love song to Alma) and the exuberant Rondo-Finale. With the Fifth, Mahler realized he had created something “completely unlike anything I have written before.” In the broadest terms, it marked a break from the three preceding symphonies, which incorporated sung texts into the symphonic fabric. Though they still contain melodic quotes from his songs, Mahler’s three middle symphonies, the Fifth through Seventh, are wordless, exclusively instrumental compositions. The composer’s development and transformation of themes become more imaginative, his contrapuntal interweaving of lines more complex, his harmonies more daring, and his orchestration leaner and often harsher. Yet, although the Fifth Symphony contains no external program, it still intimately reflects the patterns of its creator’s inner and outer life. Only the mercurial Mahler could juxtapose such wildly conflicting moods as this work contains. In the words of Deryck Cooke, “The symphony might almost be described as schizophrenic, in that the most tragic and the most joyful worlds of feeling are separated off from one another, and only bound together by Mahler’s unmistakable command of large-scale symphonic construction and unification.” The symphony’s five movements are grouped into a larger structure of three sections. The death-obsessed movements one and two, which share much of the same thematic material, form Part I. Part II is the Scherzo, the work’s longest movement. Part III comprises the Adagietto as a slow introduction and the Rondo-Finale. Movement one is a funeral march — a favorite Mahlerian trope — in the dark key of C-sharp Minor; its various sections are linked by the searing solo-trumpet fanfare that opens it. After the fanfare, the strings in low register introduce the principal theme, a dry-eyed lament over the 34 O v ertur e | www. bsomusic .org The BSO Movement one is a funeral march—a favorite Mahlerian trope —in the dark key of C-sharp Minor. muffled tread of the cortege. When the fanfare returns for the third time, it is immediately engulfed by a wild outburst of grief from the violins introducing the first trio section. Later a second trio takes a different emotional approach with consoling, very Viennese music in the strings. But this too builds to a climax of pain Mahler labels “Klagend” (“Lamenting”). Marked “Stürmisch bewegt”—“with stormy motion”— movement two is the angry working out of the themes and the emotions largely kept under control in the march. The strings open with a wild paroxysm of grief, burdened by harmonic and rhythmic struggle, that seems an intensification of the march’s first trio music. Then cellos introduce a contrasting mood: a marvelous long-spun theme that expands the consoling music of the march’s second trio. Above them, high woodwinds tremble and cry out an important motive— a wailing upward leap that immediately falls back. These themes and moods battle for control until an exalted brass chorale in the brilliant key of D major seems to proclaim triumph. But it is too soon, and the music flickers out in woodwind cries. The symphony now undergoes a schizophrenic mood swing from tragedy to comedy. This buoyant dancing Scherzo Ch r is Lee { program notes in D Major — the symphony’s harmonic goal — was the first music Mahler created for the work, and it portrays the untroubled pastoral pleasures of his retreat at Maiernigg. The scherzo music itself is in the style of the Austrian country dance known as the ländler, but its naiveté is contradicted by the composer’s sophisticated rhythmic cross-play. It is succeeded by a first trio section, a lilting Viennese waltz for the strings, and a second trio, in which the principal horn — which has an important solo role throughout this movement— creates gentle, dreamlike music with strings and woodwinds. Cooke calls this Scherzo “a dance of life,” and in the rest of the symphony Mahler will choose life over death. In Part III, the beautiful Adagietto for strings and harp serves as slow introduction to the Finale. Often excerpted, its sensuous beauty speaks for itself. Written in the first summer of his marriage, it is, if not a love song to Alma, surely an expression of the peace of his composing retreat. Its music recalls his contemporaneous Rückert song, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the world”), which ends with the words: “I live alone in my own heaven, in my love, in my song.” The ebullient Rondo-Finale in the new home key of D Major follows immediately. Solo woodwinds introduce a collection of folksong-like themes that will propel the movement, then the French horns spin out the mellow rondo refrain. At this time, Mahler was entranced with Bach’s contrapun