Mahler was apparently inspired to write his second movement by this painting  … (“Selbstporträt mit fiedelndem Tod” by Arnold Boecklin via Wikimedia Commons)

Apologies: I have been a bit side-tracked of late and thus it has been a longer gap between movements than I would have hoped. That might partly have been to do with the launch of the 2016 concert season for my current employer, which I will just give a brief plug for because if you’re in Sydney next year, you can actually come and hear the Mahler 4 performed live.

Further Apologies: I posted this yesterday and completely forgot to include the Spotify link. This is now in place.

But back to the tour …

Where We’ve Been: Movement I – a lot of ice skating and other jollity.

This is the Scherzo of the work and as such features a Scherzo theme alternating with a gentler Trio theme. Mahler once supposedly said that this movement was meant to represent Death striking up a tune on the fiddle. (An idea which he apparently got from the Boecklin painting above, which features that extraordinary image of death standing behind the artist with a violin.) As such, you’ll notice that it features a slightly out-of-tune violin. It’s a strange combination – it’s not somber and heavy, but yet there is something decidedly sinister about the main Scherzo theme.

(0:00) Scherzo. French horn, woozy flutes and the creepy violin. The violin is answered by the woodwinds.
(0:44) A drumbeat, a drone, and a hypnotic back-and-forth interlude on the strings, then back into the creepy tune.

(1:33) Trio. A light and bubbly dance tune that starts on the woodwinds (lots of trills). It’s more of the same “children’s music” sound as the first movement. The mood gets dark again …

(2:42) Scherzo. Back to the creepy theme again, the hypnotic interlude like last time, then back to creepy. Have a listen out for the bizarre little kiddy squeals he drags out of various parts of the orchestra on the way through the theme.

(4:43) Trio. The friendly Trio dance. Schmaltzy solo violin at (5:44). Almost turns into chamber music, but then things get dark again … You think you’re about to head into the Scherzo again but instead …

(6:22) … A beautiful version of the Trio dance starts up. (Possibly beautiful because it features high strings. Everything sounds more beautiful with high strings – especially the next movement. This may just be a partiality of mine, though.)

(7:14) Now the Scherzo starts up again. But notice it doesn’t sound quite as creepy this time? Now, its more like a strange friend that we’ve gotten used to. Everything has a lighter touch this time around.

(8:26) Ends with a bunch of shrill little repeated notes, a bit of dark and brooding stuff, before finishing with one last kiddy squeal.

2 thoughts on “The Mahler Symphonies Guided Tour – Symphony No 4: Movement II

  1. Dave, I feel the same way.

    I’m reminded of Halloween movies…appealing to kids, with the mix of of playful and tense music to keep the listener engaged.

    I was surprised, well more shocked, by the reference to the artwork inspiration. My first interpretation of the music was just an imaginary trip to the playground: running around playing tag, riding the swings, and spinning on the merry go round…and subsequently feeling dizzy. Your interpretation was just another illumination that I have a lot to learn.

    Matt, visiting the Sydney Opera House is on my husband’s bucket list. We’re thinking about going sometime in 2016-17. I’ll have to check out the schedule. Thanks for the link!

    That reminds me, I still need to pick up tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra Mahler concert this October.

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