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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mahler First Symphony – A Reflection

Almost a week after the Mahler’s concert, some of my ideas and assumptions are being confronted in some other way.

The first movement that comes to my mind is the forth and last. A certain process in this movement has to be rethought and I am talking about the fake ending that comes in the middle of the movement and its development into the big fanfare ending.
In the middle of the movement arrives a fake ending in D major. I must say that studying the score, I didn’t really understand the significance and real proportions of this episode.
Let’s try to examine first the score.

After the big opening, the music goes into a B- section1, slow and melancholic, which leads into a big fanfare2 in major key, always in the interval of major quarts. The big fanfare does not really arrive to its peak moment and evolve into a C-section 3, which is a quotation from the first movement with some alternations in orchestration and composition. Then we arrive to the D-section4, which holds the solution and big fanfare5. (To be examined later)

Studying the score at home I didn’t realize the real proportions of the C-section. It seemed to me very long and detached from the previous fanfare and B section. What I found out in the performance that in fact this section is the real end of the piece, which means that the symphony has in fact three ends:

1. Fake end, (note no.2)
2. Recollection or nostalgic end (C-section, until the oboe motive) note no. 3
3. Realistic end (note no. 5)

The 1st end is defined a fake-end only because chronologically another one comes after, but in a way it is the real moral-end of the piece. What I didn’t understand before is that this end should be played as the big real end and not as a preparation or a “to be continued” to the big fanfare in the end. Ideally one should feel that the piece is over and should be surprised by the continuation. This way of performing would go hand by hand with my entire idea for this symphony, after all, it is only after end-1 that the C-section comes and Mahler creates this huge dialog between the movements.

Woodwinds (motive of the descending forth)
Clarinets (water motive)
Trumpets (military rhythms)

We observe here three changes that bring to life a lot of questions and ideas:

Strings (motive of the descending forth)
Horns (water motive)
Clarinets (military rhythms)


Reh figure 15


Reh figure 34


Reh figure 38


Reh figure 45


Reh figure 54

1. The woodwind’s motive has been taken and given to the strings. Why? Maybe to show the society in confront of the individual? (a solo wind instrument in front of the hole string section?) Maybe to show how the voice of nature is in fact the voice of human kind? To show that the tragedies we create as humans enter into our souls? Is it a moral criticism? Does Mahler say that we cannot separate what we do and who we are? We can go one step further, are the acts of a person in one side of the world reflect another’s on the other side?
2. What happened to the clarinets? The water motive, as I described it, becomes a silent roar of the horns. Why? Is it the same water only now it has lost its vivid powers? Or if we leave the water and ask the clarinets to be the noises of an animal, what happened to him? Did he loose his “naivety”, a fact that changed his voice? Think about the direct symbolic meaning of a wood-instrument motive that changes into a metal-instrument motive.
3. The trumpets military march changes into clarinets: this change has to do more with the 1st change described here than with the 2nd. While both the 1st and the 2nd share the same direction of changing: better to worse, the 1st has another unique idea, which is the moral-sociological change: a voice of nature that change into the voice of mankind.
In the 3rd example we see again the change in a much higher level only that this time it is nature that took the voice of mankind. The trumpets with its clear military character change into the clarinets that imitate the military character with their own voices.

After a careful observation of this section I start to understand it’s importance in the piece’s proportion. Now one can more easily understand the real importance and meaning of the end-1. After all it is after end-1 that Mahler put this C-section and deal in a very precise way with all his ideas, fears and lessons of the first movement. I don’t think that it is by chance that Mahler does not quote nothing of his second and third movements, and instead he creates a very unique and direct dialog between the first and the forth.

This discussion now brings us into another very interesting and important section: D-section. This section starts with the oboe, singing a melodic fragment taken from the C-section. This choice of the oboe is not accidental, I think it has to come from the “scream” the oboes play in the beginning of the first movement. After the long and important discussion Mahler has created, the oboe plays this very sad melody; using a color we have heard short time ago as a very primitive-archaic scream. All this develops into a great outburst of sound and rhythm, which almost immediately return into a ppp atmosphere. From R.F. 45, Mahler starts to build again a huge process leading to the big and final fanfare end. The beauty of this moment is in the fourteen bars that come before it.

Mahler, in a very minimalistic but precise way, shows us the birth of the motive; A birth of the huge end expecting us which starts from a very small and aggressive fragment in the violas. This motive that we have heard before is being presented to us now with its origins, we can see where did it come from and obviously what its potential. I find all this unbelievably
inspiring. After all what we have talked about, after all the discussions, moral criticism, nature, wars, Mahler is taking us back to the origins of all this. He is doing it not only by showing us where did this motive was born from, he also chooses the counterpoint technique in order to create an “old” music.
A deeper examine of this birth explores another beautiful idea. This bars start with a FFF simple fragment in the violas, then as the motive evolutes it gets softer up to the moment where the first violins starts the counterpoint in PPP. I find this deeply inspiring; the idea that along with the rhythmic-melodic evolution we have a dynamic evolution is wonderful.

One can now get philosophic and say that a roar can become a melody. One can even say that Mahler shows us the evolution of an idea: as primitive the idea is, as louder we need to express it; and the obvious opposite: a precise PPP is much more then a primitive FFF.
We can even go further and try to see how all this reflects my general theory about nature and vegetarianism.

If we now go back to look at this piece from distance another interesting thing jumps to our eyes:

A-section - beginning


1st End



Oboe melody--- a birth of a motive –

D-section - counterpoint

3rd end fanfare

The necessity to recreate the motive again from scratch demonstrates even more the ending- significance of the 1st end. 1st end together with the C-section concludes in fact the whole  piece. This is why, and not by chance, Mahler chooses to restart the whole thing from the oboe: the scream of nature - the creation power of nature, every time, again and again.