Listening Guide – Movement 5: Rondo-Finale. Allegro – Allegro giocoso. Frisch


In the finale, Mahler attempts to resolve the conflicts and answer the existential questions presented in the proceeding movements, the thematic and motivic interconnections with each of the earlier movements make the finale the focal point of the symphony. Mahler offers a wealth of musical material here, whether newly conceived or called from other movements, except for the return of the adagietto theme and the grand chorale from the second movement. The finales thematic material is derived from the movements opening measures, where principle motives are presented in embryonic form. The joyous mood suggests that the existential questions about the inherent injustice of human suffering and the apparent impossibility of fulfillment in mortal life, which are presented in part one, will be resolved positively in the finale. That resolution is directly related to and merges out of the adagietto, Mahler’s most personal expression of human love. In that movement, he exposes his deepest fears about entering into a love relationship, given his own strong feelings of alienation from the world that mirrors his internal conflict. Idealizing such a relationship, as he will later learn is not enough to bind it fully and completely, he must affirm the very aspects of life that fill him with dread and disgust if he is to give of himself fully to another in love. After having endured the pain and anguish, mounting to rage at the injustice of inevitable death, and the absurdity of senseless human suffering, and laid bare his doubts and fears about love, Mahler can now affirm life by accepting and overcoming its negative aspects. Love is the only possible justification for a world gone mad with brutality and inanity, in the wake of internalized fear and trembling and its own mortality, but nothing must be lost or destroyed. Without the negative aspects of life, love would have no value.
In this respect, the fifth is Mahler’s wholehearted expression of Nietzsche’s amor fati, this love of fate is not expressed as a heroic victory over internal or external life derogating forces as in the first and third symphonies, as transcendental spiritualism in the second, or as the simple faith of an innocent child in the fourth, here Mahler gives us a worldly, even profane resolution, the return of the grand chorale from the second movement can be seen as a logical outgrowth of the joyful spirit from which it emerges. Even if the grand chorale may appear as a kind of Deus ex machina, thus implying an otherworldly source of salvation, it may more appropriately be considered an internal wellspring that suddenly emerges as a premonition of worldly redemption, which is only capable of realization after being tested in both the external and internal worlds of human conflict in the scherzo and adagietto movements. Having absorbed and withstood those external and internal conflicts, the human spirit now has the capability to not only resolve them but appreciate having experienced the entire arduous process with profound joy.

Some commentators such as Adorno, consider the joyful mood of this movement to be inauthentic, to them, the finale sounds forced and unconvincing. When compared with the earlier movements, it seems out of place, and therefore contrived, the downward pull of the main theme going against the grain.
Alma thought the movement further evidence of schizophrenia or grand remarks upon what may sound like pastiche, he says, if the gaiety of the Rondo finale often seems to verge on caricature, it is because as Adorno says Mahler in line with musical classicism, and certainly with demise, the singer still often associates counterpoint with humor and play. He also betrays himself by accelerating the lovely melody of the adagietto, which, like ich bin der welt, had symbolized the sacred isolation of the artists and finds itself desecrated and brutally dragged into the bustle of everyday life. Of course, this is precisely the reason for the reference to the adagietto theme in the finale, that Mahler has conquered his fears and doubts about love, and made it an essential element of his personal life. If Mahler intended to mimic the theme, by making it seem happier than it had, during the adagietto, he could have done so more effectively by simply speeding up the pace or changing the rhythmic construct, but he leaves the second part of the theme that he quotes here is essentially intact, does not try to distort its character, and yet at the same time makes it sound joyful. It smiles pleasantly rather than laughs heartily.
Mahler often makes such dramatic transformation a key in the symphonic resolution he offers in his finales, but Le Grange persists, how good the chorale apotheosis is taken at face value when it is nothing but an augmented variant of the musical clarinet figure in the opening bars. The answer is that world rather than otherworldly redemption derived from life itself, no longer appears as a vision from another world, as in the second movement. In fact, the grand chorale is a glorious transformation of that flippant little clarinet figure of the introduction, thus implying that all forms of life-giving substance are quintessentially neutral until they are fashioned to serve a particular purpose, and can be used for good or ill by a simple act of transformation. The transformation of the bittersweet adagietto theme and of the trite little clarinet figure that opens the movement implies that all aspects of human expression have value.
In purely musical terms, the structure of the finale defies classical explanation. It combines elements of Rondo and Sonata in such a way that their combination as sonata-rondo hardly provides a satisfying explanation for its complexities. The opening fanfare has Brucknerian and overtones. While a quotation from the Wunderhorn song Lob des hohen Verstandes recalls the playful innocence of Mahler’s youth. Although the mood is generally lighthearted, the technique employed to achieve it is more modern than any of the finales from all his previous symphonies, unusual key relationships about contrapuntal interplay is extremely complex. Yet Mahler went to great lengths to free the texture from the excessive density that might detract from the clarity of the line.

In a fascinating analysis of this finale, based upon temporal and phenomenological principles, David Greene sees the movement’s progress as being formed upon a series of waves that strive toward a climax. Each attempt to reach closure and thereby fulfillment is either aborted, diverted, or obtained with too little effort to be convincing. The ultimate goal of these strivings being the reemergence of the Grand chorale that brings about final resolution. During these rites of passage, the two principal themes the first theme, first played by a horn, which Greene likens to a peasant dance, and the transformed adagietto theme become increasingly integrated by references to other movements. thrusting chords that green refers to as bumps, disrupt, and divert the music’s forward progress. Greene sees these bumps as representations of life’s unexpected vicissitudes that jolt us momentarily out of the routine of daily life. These vicissitudes test our faith in life and our fortitude to withstand the impact of these often unexpected changes, if they may serve to strengthen us and enhance our ability to progress toward goal fulfillment. If these sudden discontinuities can be harnessed or directed to positive ends, they may serve a more creative purpose than as merely painful experiences, or frustrations to be avoided. In a sense, the finale as a testing ground for the spirit to prove its mettle is a microcosm of the previous movements taken as a whole. As the strings continue the adagietto on a low A, that slowly fades away. The Rondo finale begins without pause, on a high A of its own, thrust forward by the first horn and then sustained for an entire measure. Coming immediately after the low A that ended the previous movement has disappeared. The horns octave higher A rings out like a bell summoning a resurgence of life-giving energy. When the horns A ends first violins quietly take up the same low A with which they concluded the adagietto as the simplest of reminders of what had just taken place, and as a connecting tone that further integrates the last two movements. Both of these tones are held under four models, without any temple marking, causing the listener to be uncertain whether the fourth movement had in fact ended before the horns entrance. The sense of not quite knowing where we are is dispelled in the next measure as the horn expands upon It’s A by dropping it by fourth, and then returning to it. These three notes now played an affirm Allegro tempo. The fourth interval has been as important in the Fifth Symphony, as in many other Mahler’s works. What follows is virtually a dramatis persona of basic motives that will be developed during the movement. Each one of these motives has its own special character. What we’ll call motive one, is this three-note horn call, consisting of a falling and then rising fourth.

Motive two played by the bassoon is a quote from the opening figure of the song Lob des hohen Verstandesthe tails off in a stepwise descending phrase in a light-hearted and playful manner.

Motive three is an inverted variant of the motive of longing that ends with a falling second, played shyly by the oboe.

Each of these motives is varied or expanded upon individually and in a different order. A descending phrase is added to the motive tw buy the bassoon. We’ll call this motive two A.

The solo horn reverses the falling fourth of motive one, now an octave lower and adds a phrase consisting of a sequence of three double notes, a malaria and metaphor for childlike innocence. These notes first rise by a fourth, then followed by a third, and rise by a minor sixth to the A with which the movement began.

Clarinet expands upon motive three by adding to it, the second half of motive two, just played by the bassoon, so we’ll call this motive, motive three A.

The oboe then uses over the last four notes of the clarinets expanded figure, holding on with some uncertainty to the final B natural. The horn takes up the middle B natural from the oboe, swinging directly into a frisky new temple, as it dives into a gay theme, fashioned out of the oboes augmented version of the short descending phrase that ended the second part of motive two a second horn plays the oboe is descending phrase in strettle like imitation against strong open fifth and seventh chords in the tonic key D major. The simplicity, linearity and repetition of cellular phrases that constitute the first theme seem to give it the character of a peasant dance as Greene suggests, although there is an initial downward pull, the theme tries to change the center of gravity during its development, when the woodwinds and low strings force it upwards, after its circles about itself in several turns. Frequent thrusts quickly recede, giving the impression that the feeling of happiness this theme should elicit, is somewhat forced. The first theme concludes with an assertive phrase in woodwinds that contains a hint of the grand chorale, we’ll call this motive X, when the theme reaches closure on a cadence, listen carefully for an imitation of the whole figure from the Verstandes song quoted during the introduction.

The second subject begins on the upbeat of the closing cadence, an example of Mahler’s telescoping technique. The upbeat rises by a fourth in the cellos into rapid figuration similar to the string fugato subject of the scherzo movement, thrusting upbeats throw the forward motion of this figuration of balance, basically contrapuntal in nature, the second subject proceeds in canonic fashion, on various modes from the introduction, particularly motive three A and then extended version of motive one A. Even the string figuration is really an embellishment of these motives and continues in perpetual motion throughout the second subject, shifting around the orchestra, and interweaving with its constituent motives as they develop into a double fugue.
Flutes and violins enter with a lively new theme based upon motive one A, in which the fourth plays a significant role. Arising sequence of trills and flutes and strings leads to a bravura statement of the heroic phrase motive X, played forcefully by woodwinds with their bells held high. This phrase contains the grand chorale in outline, it made a subtle appearance at the close of the first subject.
Mahler adds to this phrase a falling figure from motive two A, as well as the dotted rhythms of motives three A and one A. Horns then begin to pull together a theme from motives one and two, augmenting the falling figure that ends the latter. This newly formed melody becomes the main theme of the second subject.

Before the second subject concludes, the music quiets down somewhat, and centers on the strings, delicately as if tiptoeing they expand upon motive two A inverting it’s first measure in first violins against its original second measure in second violins, all lightly sprinkled with the underlying figuration in the cellos. First violins add a new phrase, a sustained tone, followed by three short notes. That sounds like near filigree but will become increasingly important as the movement progresses. While the violins continued to develop these motivic figures, the heroic phrase motive X returns and woodwinds, corns add the second measure of motive two A against a broader version of it in bassoons and bass strings. The profusion of melodic and motivic elements is as staggering as it is clearly delineated. Mahler makes full use of his orchestra, playfully shifting motives from section to section.

Suddenly, one of Greene’s bumps occurs on an unwelcome B flat and the brass that gives the music a jolt, as if trying to set it off-kilter. But at first, it fails to do so as the second subject continues for a few measures on the figuration of motive three A. Another bump also seems to leave the second subject on shake, but it has thinned out considerably. The aftershock generates a reprise of the introduction, beginning with motive three A proceeding in the same manner as before, though with different instrumentation into a sudden reappearance of the first subject.

Violins and lower strings engage in interplay of former carrying the main theme, the ladder continuously repeating the falling for note phrase that begins theme would when soon join in as various elements of the theme overlap and jockey back and forth among instrumental groups, while strings continue with the main theme, woodwinds burst out joyfully, on the heroic motive X, imitated in brass and low strings. Its last repetition, serves as a bump that falls by almost two options, and ushers in the return of the second subject, now in B flat.

After the frisky string figuration gets going for a few bars horns enter with yet another permutation of principal motives to fashion a new theme, called theme Y. To the falling fourth of motive one, Mahler adds a three note rising upbeat, in staccato eighths from the fourth bar of the first subjects main theme, thus hinting at the opening notes of the adagietto theme that will soon reappear. This same upbeat figure is the opening notes of the motive of longing. It may be found in different permutations in every movement.
Besides serving as the adagietto themes upbeat, it also begins the first theme variant from the A section of the scherzo movement and starts the optimistic rising theme from part one. The leaping up beat that concluded the first subject is now tacked on to the end of a new theme. These elements combined, almost making the jocular themes sound arrogant.
Could Mahler have intended to mark the adagietto theme? Or did he want this characterization of it to suggest that love no longer needs to be riddled with angst, as it was in the previous movement when the woodwinds take hold of the new theme, the Y they replace the whole note that followed the three note upbeat with the motive song to the words Der tag ist schön in the fourth song of Kindertotenlieder, suggesting the advent of a new day. That motive also appeared briefly in the adagietto movement, and will reappear when a portion of the principal theme of that movement returns in just a few measures.

Having set the stage for its return, the second part of the adagietto theme follows softly and graciously in the first violins with the fugato figuration likely accompany it in the second violins. violins play this charming tune like a faint memory of unfulfilled longing, they expand upon the theme in much the same manner as in the adagietto, but without its former bittersweet character, Mahler directs that would be played schungvoll, with exuberance, for it has been given new life and greater confidence to express newfound happiness. This wonderful thematic transformation contrasts with the change in the funeral march theme from the first movement when it appeared again and the second. Such a transformation provides the means by which the troubling questions about life and death that underlie parts one and two can be answered in part three. Notice that the Der tag ist schön motive is inserted in the theme as it proceeds.

The adagietto theme ends on a long cadential suspension that reaches a full cadence. First violins telescope into the next section that begins with a sequence of mysterious hushed chords that provide a harmonic setting for the violas to quietly sneak in isolated fragments of the adagietto theme. As these fragments shift first to the horn into the oboe and strings, the temple becomes livelier, when the tonality suddenly shifts to G major, woodwinds quietly begin a fugle section based upon theme Y, under which the strings continue their perpetual motion figuration. The dotted rhythm with accented upbeat that ushered in the second subject with a bump now propels the music forward as it once again begins to strive for fulfillment.
In the movement’s principle key D major, the heroic theme X in woodwinds now combines with the main theme of the first subject and violins, the latter incorporating modes one, two, and two A. As the music becomes more assertive, the main theme and theme Y are developed in a variety of combinations and permutations, all urged on by the scampering string figuration rising and falling fourths are emphasized during the development of both themes.

When the tonality modulates from A to C major, the violins powerfully assert a new striding theme called theme Z. This theme sounds like a hearty folk dance with its weight on the second beat, an emphasis on falling fourths from motive one. Triplet runs and violins accompany bouncing eighth note figuration in low strings. After horns and trumpet play with motive three A, woodwinds develop this heroic theme Z, giving it a somewhat more lyrical quality, while martellato strings beat out a caricaturesque variation of the adagietto theme. Even the yodel figure from the scherzo joins in the fun rarely has smaller written music that expresses such boundless happiness.

In the midst of such joie de vie, a bump interrupts twice as before, setting the music off balance and trying again to force the tempo to shift gears. This time, the second subject will not budge. In fact, it starts up with renewed vigor, continuing to display its thematic and motivic elements in a variety of formulations that go through a series of uncharacteristic keys. The music again strives to reach its goal, horns lead the way on the variant of theme Y that caricature is the adagietto theme, with an inversion of its three-note upbeat, repeated endlessly in bassoons and bass strings. This gives a distinct impression that a celebratory march is about to commence. On waves of string figuration, the married man soon builds to a fever pitch. As the music moves toward a climax that reminds us of the whirling frivolity of the scherzo, especially when the trumpets bring back the syncopated chords played by horns in that movement.

In the midst of this seemingly endless joy, the adagietto theme returns played even fuller and more expressively than before. Now it is accompanied by woodwinds toying with scraps of the string figuration. How utterly happy the adagietto theme sounds now, not a hint of It’s bittersweet melancholy remains developed at considerable length. It closes with a briefer version of the bridge passage that led to an earlier reprise of the fugal section, now played by woodwinds instead of strings. Mahler exercises the continuation of this bridge passage and jumps immediately into the fugle the second subject in B flat instead of G, staccato strings begin the perky theme Y passing it quickly to the woodwinds, who add the Der Tag ist schön motive as it appears in the adagietto theme. The string figuration remains an undercurrent over which winds present numerous transmutations of theme Y, one played off against another. This segment may well be considered a parody of the baffles waged in the second and third movements, as the tonality modulates through D minor to D major, horns take up theme Y, against its retrograde inversion in stretto on bassoons, and basis, organs then engage the trombones in more mischievous interplay on this theme. Soon woodwinds, trumpets, and tuba join together in a contrapuntal treatment of various thematic inversions. Once again, the music begins to strive toward a climax. The tonality makes another shift, this time to A minor, as the Y is again subjected to innumerable twists and turns. The full orchestra virtually pounds out this theme against its own inversion. Soon the music seems to lose its balance as the violins play theme Y in syncopation against its original version. A huge crescendo builds into an enormous climax on frenetic eighth note figuration in strings and woodwinds as the horns mightily proclaimed theme Y and the trumpets ring out with the heroic theme X. Trumpets and trombones answer, with a falling fourth, the former adding motive two engulfed by waves of eighth note figuration. The maddening world recalls the senseless hurlyburly of the scherzo echoing descending chords and the brass imitate the lead into the first subject of the introduction. And sure enough, that subject returns like a ritornello woven into a contrapuntal maze of staccato triplets in strings.

The frenzy of the proceeding sections seems to have made the main theme even more robust, almost muscular, quietly, a hint of the grand chorale. Essentially a broader version of theme x can be heard only slightly as it rises tenuously above the throng on a swell in the trumpets.

Strings gaily playing with the main theme, until the hee haw figure that so hilariously appeared at the end of the first subject, now intrudes in woodwinds of flighty gesture, but seems to mark the music’s forward progress. The last of these hee haw figures becomes a bump, which again interrupts and the fugal subject re enters forcefully in B flat major. A disconcertingly abrupt modulation directly from D major, it sounds as if the bottom fell out of the music.

Trombones enter with the tail end of motive to A yet another stepwise falling figure, accompanied by the animated string figuration that keeps the energy in motion. This motive is then set against the rising phrase. That caricature is the adagietto themes opening notes here played with a sharp edge. When the tonality shifts for a moment into C minor, trumpets play the motive of two in retrograde inversion that is backwards and partially upside down. Then begins yet another effort to reach a climax, the full ghetto figuration combines with an inverted version of the rising phrase from the adagietto theme, played staccatissimo and in constant repetition, pressing forward on a long crescendo. It features the second subject’s main theme in the brass sounding ever so brilliant in the bright sunlight of C major. On the falling forth from this theme scattered around the winds against waves of forgettable figuration whirling about in strings, the music once more strives for fulfillment. Despite an extensive build-up, the long-awaited goal is not yet reached. Instead, the advance collapses, as if from sheer exhaustion, and the base lumbering with a peasant dance theme in A flat Major.

Softly but firmly scraps of the main theme overlap as the tonality modulates to A major on two soft sparkling chords in winds and harp, that recall the transition passage that led into the fugle subject after the general theme was first introduced. Lower strings and woodwinds continue to develop the first subject’s main theme oboes and flutes enter with a pixelated variation of the adagietto theme against the perky rhythmic figure in clarinets, while the horns intermittently play the first measure of the main theme from the first subject. When the instrumentation changes to clarinets and brass, the music becomes more assertive, as it begins yet another effort to strive toward its goal, instead of merely reiterating its previous strivings. The focus shifts gently to the mimetic version of the adagietto theme. Now when G major is played softly in octaves on two horns, over a flooding phrase from that same movement. Now played by second violins and violas, this phrase recalls the light-hearted gaiety of the scared so in canonic imitation, the strings flit about on the variant of the motive longing with which the adagietto theme began. They do a bit of a jig on the Der Tag ist schön motive, unexpectedly softened to the piano. With marking insolence, woodwinds play the motive of the devil’s dance, which consists of an anapestic figure with the long note trill. This is another reminder of the scherzo movement.
Violins respond with the original lyrical version of the adagietto theme, played tenderly and softly in octaves against the flooding phrase that at a company did earlier now and woodwinds. Notice that the following figure that ended motive two A from the fugal second subject suddenly makes an appearance in low strings, little scraps of thematic material from each of the last three movements are sewn together and suffused with the violins tender expression of love.

Woodwinds, brass and strings each take a turn with these countervailing elements of the adagietto theme, as they begin another build up, seeking fulfillment in much the same way as earlier. Half note couplets of the inverted motive one change from a rising fourth to a sixth, they become even wider, each note being heavily accented, as if stamping its foot to demonstrate its insistence that the goal at last be achieved. But the firm foot stamping rhythms soon loses its balance as it had earlier when played against its own inversion, and becomes heavy with excitement as a long crescendo begins, when the tonality shifts to a minor, on its way to the tonic D, trumpets blare out a fragment of the trumpet tattoo that opened the symphony heralding the completion of this remarkable life journey. The music takes on a march like character on a long descent in quarter notes, played stridently by the trombones, horns summon the grand chorale on the same call that ushered in the second climax of the finale from the Third Symphony. At long last the brass gloriously resound with the magnificent grand chorale, in a luminous D major, energized by the eighth note figuration of the second subject in woodwinds and strings. Instead of falling from heaven Deus ex machina, as in the second movement, the grand chorale occurs in the natural course of events, result of several attempts to strive for it, each of which contains elements from previous movements that symbolize life’s experiences, now integrated into the developing life world of the finale. The grand chorale’s resurrection as it were, at the end of the finale is not only the climax of the movement, but of the entire Symphony.
At the high point of the corrals grandiose theme, it now rises nobley to a thrilling G major chord and continues to ascend to A major from which then descends on an elongated version of motive two A.
No music of anger and fury follows as it had after the grand corral subsided in the second movement. The destructive elements experienced in parts one and two have been fully integrated into the whole and transformed so as to function in the service of life and not against it. Only their energy and vitality remain to urge the music towards the closing coda.

The coda begins as the temple races to an Allegro moto, motive one from the first subjects peasant dance theme, combines with the glorious rising version of the grand chorale theme. To this mix is added the broaden the variant of motive two A that close the grand corral and motive to from the introduction.
Fulfillment is at last complete, but this is no redemption in the afterlife as envisioned at the end of the Second Symphony, the glorious vision of the grand chorale does not come after a world-ending Cataclysm. What brings with it a revelation that can bring redemption in earthly life? A redemption that brings great joy, though achieved through profound suffering, is yet another example of the romantic principle of achieving victory through strife.
The music overflows with Boolean energy, as both the original and diminutive versions of the opening notes of the first subject’s main theme, keep repeating and repeating, nearly driven to distraction by the sheer joy of self-fulfillment. But the racing energy and almost maniacal whirlwind in which the music is now consumed is not the senseless frivolity of the scherzo, the spirit is lightened to the point of giddiness at the thought of what has been achieved. One last strong bump, a mighty blast of B flat from the fall brass tries to derail the happiness love has wrought. But a cascading wave thrusts this intrusive annoyance aside from good and all. As the horns try again to begin the first subject’s main theme, and it appears that the joy in music will continue unabated, the celebration is cut off by the first measure of motive three A, the remarkable world of the Fifth Symphony ends on a sharp stroke.

In the fifth, Mahler once again takes us through a life journey that seeks fulfillment and redemption. This time he ends his quest within rather than beyond the world. Like Wotan in the ring cycle. Mahler traverses the earthly realm, to find a means by which to extricate himself from that which threatens to destroy life’s true worth. In our experience of this life journey, we find strength in the love that is stronger than death and enables us to conquer and re-channel our emotional energy in the service of life. In this respect, one might consider the Fifth Symphony as Mahler’s remedy for the feelings of world-weariness and alienation expressed in each been developed a bond angekomme, after all, as Nietzsche wrote of himself, I am not alone in the world. The world is alone in me.

By Lew Smoley

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