Where We Have Been: Movement I – childlike fun. Movement II – more of the same, but with the creepy spectre of fiddling death overshadowing things. Movement III – beautiful slow movement contrasting the wonders of heaven with the pain of earthly life.
And that brings us to perhaps the most underwhelming ending of any Mahler symphony. (However, that was the effect the composer wanted, so it’s certainly nothing to complain about.) He introduces a soprano (occasionally, there is the odd recording that uses a boy soprano, to make the music even more childlike).
The soprano sings the song Das himmlische Leben (“The Heavenly Life”). This was from a strange collection of old poems called Des Knaben Wunderhorn (“The Boy’s Wonderhorn”). Mahler quite liked this collection (he references them in every one of his first four symphonies, so we’ll run into them a bit later). And it was this particular poem that inspired the whole 4th symphony. You can read the lyrics here:
As you can see, the poem is all about a child enjoying the delights of heaven, and most of it seems to revolve around food. (Apologies to any vegetarians who might be reading this.) It’s quite a naive view, and perhaps not one that’s likely to catch on in Catholic churches anytime soon, but Mahler obviously thought it was endearing enough to create a whole symphony based around the concept.
As for the music, it’s not the kind of movement that really needs much explanation, and so I’d suggest you pop over and just follow along with the words. But to give you a heads up, musically, this is like the song equivalent of the first movement. There are some lively orchestral interludes in between the verses of the song (featuring the “Jingle Bells” motif), but for the most part the words tell the story.
And there you have it, Mahler’s most “feel-good” symphony. Did you enjoy it? Too light and fluffy? Your favourite one so far?
If you were feeling that this was a bit light-on, then have no fear – we’ll be back next post with something a bit heavier.