Just when you thought you could get some sleep … Nocturnal Serenade, painted by Jan Steen, via Wikimedia Commons

Where We’ve Been: Movement I – Tenor horns and galloping. Movement II – swaggering night procession. Movement III – Spooky witches’ sabbath.

Which brings us to the fourth movement, which is the slow movement of the symphony and it’s a total head-scratcher. We know Mahler is capable of creating some achingly beautiful slow movements when he wants to, but instead he opted for this strange piece that alternates between utter schmaltz and some slightly sinister moments.

Essentially (and the Night Music title is a giveaway of this), Mahler is creating his own version of the nocturnal “serenade”, where an enthusiastic person would stand in the streets at night and sing to his beloved, with a small band around him. (If you ever get a chance to see the opera The Barber of Seville, it opens with one of these serenades.) So if you imagine, as you listen to this, that the violin is a singer and the other instruments are his backing band, you’ll get a bit of the drift.

It is still a bit cheesy, though, but then again Mahler loved to put a bit of old Viennese nostalgia into most of his symphonies, and this is probably the movement that contains the most. (I do partly understand this. I have always loved this particular song by Air, just because that lazy trombone reminds me completely of the muzak that used to play in shopping centers when I was a boy in the 80s.)

I’ve heard this movement many times and I’m still not sure what to make of it, which means you’re just going to have to listen for yourself and see what you think about it.

(Track 1 – 0:00) Opening flourish on the violin, and then a small group of musicians (with special guest stars, the guitar and mandolin) play out a little love song. Pay attention to that violin flourish, because it signals a new “verse” of the love song each time it plays. This is a kind of chamber music (music for small ensembles), where different instruments get to take the lead, while the others switch to the background.

(Track 1 – 3:27) A little bit creepier here. A bit like a Spanish villain in an old 60s suspense film.

(Track 1 – 3:56) But only for a moment. The chirpies come back pretty quickly. The music continues on in this vein for the next few minutes …

(Track 2 – 0:00) An alternating middle section with a nice bit of solo work for the French horn. I like this middle section a bit better than the first half, but it’s still pretty naff. Notice also that it’s still very much the chamber music sound.

(Track 2 – 2:54) The opening serenade theme re-enters, a touch more quietly.

The movement has a bit of a climax at (5:14)

(6:22) Followed shortly after by a low-key ending which actually is genuinely beautiful. You just had to wait 10 minutes to get there …

Hmm … all right. I think after listening to it again, I can see some of the nostalgia that he was conjuring up (strange as it might be in this symphony) and I might even be starting to like it more. But what did you think?

See you next week for the most controversial symphony ending Mahler ever composed …

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2 thoughts on “The Mahler Symphonies Guided Tour – Symphony No 7: Movement IV (Night Music II)

  1. It’s not as Mahler-y as the other pieces we’ve listened to so far… maybe this is a better starting point to get people into this whole adventure?

    1. That’s quite funny, actually. I’ve always thought that the light and fluffy stuff would be more boring to a modern audience nowadays than the dark and dramatic stuff … but maybe I’m assuming too much of the audience? Anyway, if you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably like what he does in the 4th Symphony, when we get to that.

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