Mahler’s wife, Alma, described the Trio of this movement as “the unrhythmic games of the two little children, tottering in zigzags over the sand”. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Where We’ve Been: Movement I – a powerful opening movement that contrasts a marching militaristic sound with a sweeping romantic second theme. We felt as though we had won the battle, but not sure if we were going to win the war.

Now, at this point, you would either head into the slow movement (if you’re part of the raft of modern scholars who follow the slow movement/scherzo order) as the second movement. Or, if you follow a lot of older recordings and my personal preference, this scherzo movement follows next.

(0:00) The scherzo is in the military style we’re familiar with from the first movement.

(0:56) Note the strange little off-kilter interlude here. This theme will turn into the Trio in a minute. The Scherzo continues on in a creepy way. Finishes with the decaying Major/Minor Seal (1:54) from the first movement.

(2:06) The Trio is a strange innocent-sounding thing with a rhythm that is all over the shop. Alma Mahler once described this arrhythmic sound as children playing and “staggering through the sand”. Given that one of Mahler’s daughters had died, this would make it quite a tragic sound to create with music. (Though scholars, of course, debate whether this is really what he intended.) Either way, the innocence of the Trio is a stunning contrast with the ominous sound of the Scherzo.

(4:33) The Scherzo starts again with the incredible sound of a mocking brass section, followed by a Halloweenish skeleton dance, and then back to the full-blown marching sound. (Notice the creepy xylophone again back from the first movement.) Listen out also for the Major/Minor Seal.

(7:04) Hesitating woodwinds introduce the Trio again, this time sounding even more innocent.

(9:23) The Scherzo, now starting to sound less monstrous and almost a bit comical. (I think of a cranky duck when I hear this music, but I’m pretty sure that’s my own impression, not Mahler’s …)

(10:57) The movement fades out with the sound of the toddlers, but listen in the background and you can hear that decaying Major/Minor chord, repeated over and over again from about (11:51) onward. Again, we are reminded of that tragic inevitability of fate that’s never too far away.

2 thoughts on “The Mahler Symphonies Guided Tour – Symphony No 6: The Scherzo Movement

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