Listening Guide – Movement 4: Nachtmusik. Andante amoroso


The Fourth Movement and titled “Nachtmusik” as was the second, is everything implied by its principal temporal direction on “Andante Amoroso” and more. It is one of Mahler’s most amorous and agreeable symphonic offerings, a chamber music serenade that recalls the beginnings of classical symphonic style, extremely close to divertimento, cessation, and serenade, strumming guitar and mandolin at a touch of the remote past, evoking the music of medieval troubadours tender lyricism permeates the entire movement evoking the world of Italian opera, and the romantic aspects of Wagnerian music drama.
Hans Redlich describes the movement as an attempt to recreate the vanishing world of medieval romanticism, with its nocturnal fountain murmurings, moonlight serenades, and the amorous strumming and retuning of guitar and mandolin, in keeping with his criticism of the other movements, readily thinks this one also suffers from as he put it, “unintended resemblances to other compositions. Of course, if these resemblances were intended as self-parody, as I contend, they would certainly not be evidence of a lack of creativity or inspiration.”
Floros describes the second novel “Nachtmusik” as a “night piece full of sweet voices of love, mysterious whispering, the rippling of fountains, and the rustling of linden trees in the moonlight square of a quaint little old town”.
Donald Mitchell compares it with the first “Nachtmusik” as “indoor music would be contrasted with open-air music”.
Peter Davidson relates the expression of romantic love in this andante to Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll“, he sees Wagner’s orientation as more personal, Mahler’s more universal.

One might also compare the Andante with an earlier slow movement that has a romantic character be adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, the principal themes of both movements have distinguishing characteristics. The adagietto is bittersweet and rises to heights of passion, or the Andante is more congenial and charming, and rarely becomes overcast with gloomy sentiments.
Mahler’s thoughts of love seem more self-assured and less subject to self-doubt in this Andante than in the adagietto. A key factor in such a change of heart is most likely Mahler’s marriage to Alma. Instrumentation for the Andante is lighter and leaner than for the other movements lacking heavy brass and percussion, climaxes are achieved more by chromatic inflection than by marshaling large instrumental forces at crucial moments. Instead of extroverted emotions, Mahler expresses internalized feelings that may well have been repressed but are now released tenderly and warmly without grand rhetorical gestures, or pathetic outpourings. Mahler creates several interesting and unusual effects during the movement, he begins with a descending phrase on the solo violin that relates to the theme of Schumann’s ever-popular “traumerei“, though it also has an affinity with the same composes reverie, from the fourth piece in the piano suite Nachtstücke Opus 23 a night piece in its own right. What is unusual about this opening violin solo is that it is merely a short cadential phrase that would be more suited to close a theme than beginning it, it also keeps turning up as a ritornello during the movement’s progress, always as a credential phrase, disengaged from any thematic material.
Might Mahler have intended to spoof yet another traditional element of compositional practice? With this curious the out-of-place opening cadential phrase.
The lilting main theme is musically unrelated to the opening cadential phrase, a little tripping motive of clip double dotted couplets introduces it in a manner that seems out of keeping with the gushing lyricism of the violin cadence. This motive sounds like the chirping of cricket or some other night creature that intrudes upon a lover’s effort to serenade his sweetheart. These chirping figures contrast with the lyrical theme in a manner that might relate to the more abstrusely annoying interruptions of “beckmesser” soul, in that two of devices singer by socks cobbling with his hammer, a solo horn carries the main theme, dominating the principal sections, especially in the counter laners of the B flat major middle section. This lovely song theme is always prefaced by soft light strumming on the guitar in the style of a moonlight serenade, in earlier work smaller road passages for other instruments to imitate the guitar. The harp played with a plectrum in the finale of The Sixth Symphony and strummed chords on the piano in the early song fantasy. The mandolin’s appearance foreshadows its use in both the Eighth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde. Mengelberg’s score of the seventh contains a notation about how the mandolin is to be played, that may well have come from Mahler himself. He writes, “all quarter and half notes are Tremeloes, or eighth notes ordinary.” His direction aptly corresponds with the Italian School of mandolin playing, the delicate lyrical melody that begins on the horn is set against the chirping woodwind figure that is similar to a motor from the slow movement of the Sixth Symphony, and is a variant of the motive of childhood innocence. Baroque rhythms relate the fourth movement to the first occasional oriental harmonies add a mystical quality to the music. The orchestration is brilliantly conceived. Mahler uses every imaginable orchestral resource for its special coloration and creates a chamber music quality with a variety of interesting instrumental combinations that enhance the Night Music atmosphere, rippling rhythmic effects, and the accompaniment recall the third symphonies nature movement. The major to minor chordal motive of fate is given an unusual twist, sometimes momentarily darkening the atmosphere, threatening to disturb and serenity. Twice the horn melody seems to be trying to rise from the tonic to the median of F, but each time it only succeeds in reaching the minor median A flat. The third time it finally reaches the sought-after A with a sense of achievement and relief that carries it up higher to see for a soulful post reframe. The middle section captivates with its long Cantabile theme for solo horn. Briefly, the violin takes over this lovely theme with mandolin accompaniment. But the guitar makes no appearance during the middle section.

A cadential phrase on overlapping 16th note figuration also appears in the slow movement of both the fourth and fifth symphonies. When the music becomes more passionate, threatening to disturb the calm composure of the evening song, it is soon gently brought under control. During the first principal section, a series of double noted open fifths rise upward in the orchestra, appearing at first as a variation on the repeated notes of the main theme. Most commentators compare this passage to the tuning of a guitar on which Haydn pomp so delightfully in his Symphony number 60 “Il Distratto” but there is another way of viewing this passage, after the double noted phrase, a dactylic figure from the main theme is added, giving the entire phrase a melodic contour, it makes it beyond a spoof of tuning fifths. It sounds more like a clever variation on one of the most popular of children’s night songs “twinkle twinkle little star”, of course, this tune has been set to many different texts, for example, in french, it is called Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman, Mozart set 12 variations on the french version of this nursery tune, it is crucial 265 while Ernest Van De Velde variations on a nursery tune relates to the children’s tune “twinkle twinkle little star”.
A variant on this passage occurs during the finale, creating an important link between the last two movements, although we have no evidence that Mahler had such a reference in mind, it would not be out of keeping either with the supposed nocturnal subject of the seventh, or with Mahler’s fondness for subtle, sometimes childlike humor, and musical reminiscences of childhood.
Might Mahler have sung some version of the song to his children? If he intended to play upon this nursery rhyme, it would be perhaps his most ingenious witticism in the entire Symphony, even if not, the comparison would probably have tickled his fancy. The Andante movement opens with the charming little cadential phrase played by solo violin. This lovely four-bar phrase descends from its initial upward leap of an octave on a dactylic rhythm that relates to the tapping figure from the second movement. It is followed immediately by the chirping motive on a clarinet and a delicately broad variant of the motive of the devil’s dance on the bassoon, contrasting the melting lyricism of the cadential phrase, with the flitting playfulness of the chirping and the Devil’s dance motives provides the basic musical duality of the movement.
After but a few measures, the first horn enters softly with the main theme. It begins on a rising fourth (Mahler’s favorite interval), which plays a significant role in many of the themes in the seventh. It continues with couplets of repeated notes that recall the answer phrase from the introduction to the second movement and proceeds with a measure of the devil dance motive, followed by two dactylic figures. Those at the very outset, rhythmic and melodic aspects of the light, simple subject relate to principal motives used earlier in the symphony, an oboe plays an after phrase to the theme that is a further extension of the devil’s dance rhythm, the chirping motive, and the dactylic figure. The scoring is sparse with lighter winds prominent eighth note figures on the harp and strings sound like the occasional strumming of the guitar that accompanies them, Mahler shifts tambours from high woodwinds to mellow horns and cellos, plucked strings enhance the ambiance of a warm summer evening, sparkling with starlight. Soon the descending cadential phrase reappears in solo violin like a natural outgrowth of the main themes extension in high cellos.

Hash strings develop the extension of the principal theme on a warm tender phrase that tries to hide its resemblance to a figure from the fourth Kindertotenlieder.

Here’s the passage in the Andante:

As we just heard, once again, the cadential phrase returns now in solo cello and leads back to the main theme in the first horn with guitar and harp accompaniment, a thoroughly captivating this theme sounds when played by an intimate chamber group. A turn figure is added to the end of the theme, giving it a yearning quality that looks forward to the movement and titled “Of Beauty” from Das Lied von der Erde, oboes and mandolin play a variant of this theme, in which repeated eighth’s combined with dactylic figures. The passage concludes on the cadential phrase played with fervent emotion by the solo violin. From this point, violins developed the first theme, adding a falling 16th note tag that is an inverted variant of a similar figure that appears in the finale of the Sixth Symphony is tag in combines with the chirping and devils dance figures in a lightly scored passage for strings with guitar and horn.

As the serenade theme continues to develop, it becomes more impassioned. Its little tag alternating with the chirping motive In a short time, the theme’s romantic passion is brought under control but rather than returning to the delicate strains of the serenade, a dark shadow descends upon the scene for a moment, as low strings and bassoons play a minor key version of the first theme.

Without hesitation and just as quickly as this dark cloud appeared on the horizon, a crescendo leads to a trilled seventh chord, that gently slipped back into the first theme in a tonic major. It is played cheerfully by an oboe, with the solo violin adding the tag as rhythmic accompaniment. High woodwinds and violins expand upon the theme’s rhythmic elements, inverting the 16th note figure, solo violin begins to rhapsodize on the theme.
First violins join in, propelling the theme forward rapidly on a bit of 16th note figuration that is suspiciously similar to the più mosso interruptions of the trio theme in the scherzo movement, but this figuration is cut off abruptly, and the simple serenade of the first subject resumes, as if unaffected by the sudden surge of passion that threatened to overwhelm it.

After flutes and clarinet play upon the main themes, rhythmic figures for a few bars, to the accompaniment of a strumming guitar and broken chords on the harp, what I call “the twinkle passage begins” a sequence of repeating quarter note couplets related to the first themes repeated double notes. It begins in low strings, guitar and plectrum plucked harp. These double notes rise upward, in sequence, giving the appearance of a circle of fifths that might be used in the tuning process caricaturing by Haydn. But Mahler uses diminished intervals that give this series of double tones and air of mystery. Then they give way to the dactylic rhythm from the main theme, woodwinds take over the twinkle phrase to the accompaniment of the mandolin, then high and low strings without violas play a variation of it. This fascinating passage will return in the finale in a slightly different guise, ultimately becoming the quintessential night song.

As we just heard a light and airy passage on the principal rhythmic elements of the first subject takes over in a small grouping of winds and mandolin in A flat major violins play a variant of the main theme against a counter variation and cellos, the former on a falling phrase, the latter on a rising one. As this music expands, a sudden blast wind drives the violins to their highest register, the music threatening to burst out in a flood of emotion, but instead, it quickly softens, and the tonality shifts to F minor on the dactylic rhythm, followed by the brisk 16th note tag. Once more a gust of wind stirs the air, but this time the minor-key variant of the first theme that darkened the atmosphere earlier, returns more emphatically in an elongated version, it is still played quietly but sounds more sinister than before. Dark gruesome sounds give way to a boisterous combination of cross-rhythms from the first subject it skips along merrily to music played quietly in its first appearance, and now played forcefully.

Such quick mood swings add a comical touch to the moonlight serenade. After further development, the first subject concludes and the twinkle passage returns played briefly and softly by the low strings. The middle section and B flat major follows featuring one of Mahler’s loveliest themes a rhapsody played with flowing grace in the high register of the cellos. It is actually an expanded version of a cello phrase heard earlier. Here, accompanied by two types of bird sounds, the chirping motive, and a twittering figure of repeated sixteenths that begins on a rising third or falling fourth. Notice how the conjunction of a lyrical melody and flickering sounds replicates the opening section of the movement. Let’s begin the next excerpt with the twinkle phrase that leads into the trio.

With a key change to G flat, violins bring in a more passionate variation of the trio theme that incorporates the motive of longing, certainly appropriate in the serenade. Its after theme consists of the first measure of the trio theme, repeated three times and decorated with isolated plucks on the mandolin that makes it sound flippantly gay, in contrast with the romantic effusions of the trio theme. Soon the trio theme becomes more impassioned, the same combination of eighth note and dotted rhythms from the opening a section follows, providing yet another curious contrast between heightened passion and childlike playfulness.

Somewhat mellower treatment of the cello theme, now an F major, regains its former order as it ascends in the strings, after reaching a high point on an inverted variant of a longing motive of the recalls the fifth symphonies adagietto. The themes passions cool, and the music softens on a suspended Brucknerian and F major chord with rising harp arpeggios, ending with a fragment of the trio theme, played by an oboe in french horn.

At the end of the last excerpt, we heard the opening cadential phrase absent for a long time, now reappearing to usher in the reprise of the A section with its first theme again played by the solo horn and its dactylic theme by solo violin.
Violins follow with a calm variation of the first theme against which cellos muse over a phrase taken from their trio theme. How serene the music becomes, wafting gently through the summer air on the violins expanded treatment of the first theme, which ends with the Der Tag ist Shön motive, solo cello then sings the cadential phrase, which leads back to the first theme, played softly by the first horn. A hint of the twinkle phrase follows incorporating repeating eighth from the first subject, and a flickering figure in bassoons. The segment concludes with a brief climax on an overlapping sequence of the descending 16th note tag that recalls a similar climactic passage in the fifth symphonies adagietto movement.
Only the sound of the guitar can now be heard plucking its repeating notes, skipping the first downbeat of each grouping, as if an imitation of a dance. The second part of the first subject begins softly violins also off the beat, as the tempo presses forward, the music becomes increasingly arduous and more agitated. It would seem that the serenader is again in danger of losing control of his emotions. The music becomes increasingly passionate on a variation of the first subjects after. At the height of this emotional outpouring, low woodwinds and strings, state the first theme rather darkly, and with uncharacteristic assertiveness, there are an outpouring quickly abates as the first theme returns, with its lightness and delicacy unaffected by any blush of embarrassment at the momentary discomposure. Let’s listen from the guitar solo.

Chirping sounds return in woodwinds and staccatissimo violin, a clarinet, and then flute and violin take up the after theme, with its gently rocking tripping motive. During the closing section, the orchestra pairs down to a chamber ensemble, as in the movements opening a variety of rhythmic and thematic fragments from the first subject are sprinkled lightly about the reduced orchestra. How delightful to hear again, the delicately tripping dactylic figure decorated with guitar strumming and the flickering of the devil’s dance motive its uncharacteristic guys as frippery. Glittering trills and grace notes ornament the main theme. Gently the glow of moonlight begins to fade As evening turns into night, and thematic material breaks into fragments as the movement draws to a close. Various woodwinds sing the first theme softly against the sustained high F and violins. A warm glow envelops the summer evening atmosphere, twittering sounds first heard on the clarinet at the beginning of the trio are flicked out on repeated staccatissimo notes by violins.
In the closing measures, Mahler parodies the chirping motive, played in double time on a rather boisterous persoon against the dactylic figure of the first theme, sweetly and tone by muted horns, accompanied by heavenly string chords, one can almost smell the sweet air of the summer’s evening. Despite the distraction of incessant tripping, now quietly, but arrogantly asserted by a bassoon the double notes with which the first theme begins, sound softly and low strings, and are succeeded by a two-node flicker of the chirping motive and the flute. All these delicate sounds are played against the long sustained trill in the clarinet. The trill eventually gives way to a turn figure that ends on an F major chord, which provides the harmonic backdrop for the guitar to close the movement tenderly with an arpeggiated chord, Mahler will use precisely the same upward arching turn figure to close his Ninth Symphony.

By Lew Smoley

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