Listening Guide – Movement 5: Rondo-Finale


The finale often bears the brunt of negative criticism about the Seventh Symphony. Some commentators find it too bombastic, others cannot come to terms with its unmitigated affirmatives or its persistent diatonism.
Donald Mitchell for example points to the endless series of dislocations and discontinuities that cause blunt changes in mood, as well as in tonality and rhythm, all of which can be very disconcerting. No doubt the numerous thematic cliches, trivial themes, blatant noise, bizarre accumulations of sound, weird instrumental effects, and cheer boisterousness can be overbearing, frequent, sometimes abrupt shifts between march and minuette subjects can make the movement seem too rigidly segmented as if it’s contrasting sections were pieced together haphazardly. Consequently, overall cohesion seems to suffer and attempts by conductors to coordinate the divergence subjects often appear unwieldy and discombobulated.

Derek Cook goes so far as to derogate the finale with the pejorative term kapellmeister musique. Yet what Mahler offers is simply another example of juxtaposing and confusing march and dance music as part of his parody on the popular music of his day. In this respect, the finale mirrors the first nacht musique. However, Mahler avoids the sly, impish humor of the earlier movement. Instead, the music of the finale is aggressive, blatant and unabashedly frivolous, though always good-fun, and appropriate conclusion to a symphony whose underlying subject is a parody. It is difficult to hear this boisterous movement without getting caught up in its pervasive affability.

Like the Sonata Rondo finale of The Fifth Symphony, there is not even a suggestion of anxiety or a hint of moodiness. The entire movement is bathed in sunlight and overflows with joy and exuberance, bright day overcomes the nightshades of the previous movements with their dark images and mischievous devilry.

The predominance of the tonic key causes Mitchell to label it and apotheosis of C Major, Floros considers the prevalence of that key and the virtual absence of any minor keys as a major weakness of the movement. Yet it is most often the constant stream of dramatic variations that troubles critics, at least as much as its unremitting, bright tonalities variation technique is extended to its limits here, applied not only to thematic material but to rhythmic elements as well. We witness a new and interesting harmonic twist or coloristic image on virtually every page. In fact, the creative way in which Mahler transmogrified his themes is often the source of his best efforts at parity. Structurally, the movement functions as a Sonata Rondo, divided into eight episodes, with Rondo elements more prominent than in its sister finale in the Fifth Symphony. Each subsidiary section is linked with others, resulting in a chain of variations on the resolute C major march that opens the movement. The evolution of Mahler’s musical material seems natural, although aborted cadences can be unnerving. Rather than being metamorphosed into something far into their nature, they become what they are to paraphrase a Nietzschean expression.

What seems unduly under-emphasized in the commentary is the importance of Mahler’s parody musical styles popular in Vienna during the time the seventh was written. Mahler slyly and cleverly subjects to witticism and parody, a well known German opera, and operetta from the grand delinquent march of the Masters in Wagner’s demise to the singer to the famous Merry Widow Waltz in the ever-popular operetta of the same name by Franz Lehár, Mahler also parodies are coquettish Haydnesque minuet. There is no doubt that he intended to make the connection between the final march subject and Wagner’s Meistersinger march. He suggested as much explaining why he programmed the prelude to demise to the singer in the same concert in which he premiers the seventh, hoping that the audience would make the connection.

Mahler did not simply paraphrase Wagner’s famous march however, he parodies it, where Wagner’s march is grand and noble, Mahler’s version with its strutting rhythms and the omission of dotted rhythms seems disingenuously pompous, we’re evolving this theme conveys a sense of historical pageantry, Mahler’s at best unauthentic mimicry. In essence, Mahler achieves this artistic twist by leaving out the noblest musical elements in the original, making the theme sound flatulent. Donald Mitchell recognizes that this often misunderstood finale is firmly rooted in Wagner’s comic opera, with the march fulfilling the same function in the seventh as act 3 does in the opera, dispelling and dissolving the shadows of the night scene that proceeded.
Mahler also makes a passing if the perverse reference to Tristan and Iseult, perhaps the most obvious example of Wagner’s poetic treatment of the day-night duality. As the opening march sequence presses hurriedly to a climax, a flourish of trumpets and horns bursts out reminiscent of the brass fanfares that closed Act One of Tristan but Mahler is neither paying homage to Wagner his masterpiece nor simply quoting it, he makes it the bulk of one of his most outrageous musical jokes. Instead of ending this brass flourish with a brilliant C major chord, both this entire section of the finale and the close of Tristan’s act one are in that key. Mahler abruptly switches from a C major chord to a diminutive A flat major chord played by woodwinds that completely subverts the rousing C major tonality. It is as if he were thumbing his nose at Wagner’s glorious preparation at the end of act one.

Mahler also turned to the operetta a quintessential cultural medium and found a sacred Vienna. Immediately after the diffuse Tristanesque passage just mentioned, Mahler brings in a little ditty in woodwinds, with all the airbox of the popular Merry Widow walls played in double time. throughout the rest of the finale, this little tune is contrasted with a stentorian maestro singer march, sometimes one theme, interrupting the other in mid-course, as rudely as possible. To complete this parody of Viennese music, Mahler calls on heightened and the classical minuet as the subject of delicately drawn caricature.
Through what seems like an endless series of dislocations and discontinuity is, Mahler makes the delicacy and charm of a Haydenesque minuet seem ludicrous, even farcical at times, and is even forced into the guise of a Turkish march. One might also suggest that Mahler takes a swipe at the music of Beethoven, Bruckner, and of course himself by his use of the cyclical procedure. In the finale, he brings back the rugged first theme of the opening movement and superimposes it upon the bloated Wagnerian march theme. Although both themes begin with a falling fourth, they are as different as night and day, a possible reason for their conjunction in the finale. In addition to the first movement theme, Mahler also brings back the twinkle passage from the fourth movement, a few commentators have been perceptive enough to see the wealth of parody in the finale. Davidson, for example, sees it as a biting satire on the banality of the world, and comment on the pompous style of the turn of the century. Virtually the trivial side of life writ large call Shuman echoes his point of view:
“Maybe the movement is a gigantic persiflage of the pompous turn of the century style, a bizarre summary of orchestral effects, not unlike the manner of the American Charles Ives.
In a perfectly apt turn phrase, Jack Diether once called the finale a Mahlerian “gyp”.

The key to understanding this movement goes beyond its paradigmatic elements. However, on another level, this joyous finale may be Mahler’s answer to the mockery level at his Faustin hero by Mephistopheles in the scherzo of the six symphonies. There the heroic aspect of the human spirit was portrayed as absurd egoistic self-delusion, that deserves reprobation, “possibly so” says Mahler in his response here, “but we can still find joy and fulfillment in life. Whether or not we see ourselves as heroic. For through it all, we can laugh at ourselves, and in so doing, we can reconcile our weaknesses with our strengths.” In this respect, the finale of the seventh, like that of the fifth represents Mahler’s conception of Nietzsche “amor fati“, a complete and unwavering love of life that accepts the good with the bad, the weak with a strong, the tragic with the heroic.

The movement begins as the timpani hails the dawn of a bright morning with a rousing flourish, horns counter with their own version of the timpani is flourish, but in a different key sparkling trills accompany the boisterous timpani as woodwinds expand upon its vigorous rhythms with their bells held high. The opening tempo for this volley of thunderous rhythms, “Allegro Ordinario”, may itself be tongue in cheek, another parody on traditional practices, after but three measures strings enter forcefully on a rising fourth upbeat, followed by falling clipped dotted rhythms that both reinforce the march bead and usher in the first theme of the A section, a hearty majestic tune for horns and trumpets.

This first theme in a vibrant C major contains two distinct musical lines later separated into different subjects. Both begin with an upbeat of a rising fourth, the first two complete measures of the theme contain the arch-like motive of redemption. The second measure tags on a three-note diatonic figure in the first trumpet, that rises into a capitalized version of the theme’s first two measures, hinting at a combination of the motives of longing and redemption.
Dotted rhythms predominate, as do arching phrases that overlap each other. The trumpet part contains the important falling fourth, that ties it to the first theme of the opening movement, which will make an appearance much later. The first theme also relates to the second theme of the finale of The Fifth Symphony in its overall shape and march-like character. Notice to the addition of the 16th note tag figure from the previous movement.

The second theme follows immediately a dogged if somewhat pompous caricature of the MeisterSinger march, accompanied by woodwinds 16th note figuration. The MeisterSinger march theme begins with a falling fourth, it also relates to the second song from the Gesellen cycle in its ascending scalar phrase, and thereby to the main theme of the first symphonies opening movement. How confident and joyful this music sounds even more so than the happy music of the fifth symphonies finale. It has a story award character that might have sounded truly heroic, but for its excessive stridency and bombast. Let’s listen first to Wagner is MeisterSinger their march and immediately after molars parody of it in the second theme.

An after theme follows on a hop skip rhythmic figure played just as strongly as the march and incorporating elements from the introductory flourish, and upbeat of 3/8 notes. Rising stepwise ironically points to the motive of longing that seems out of place here, clipped dotted rhythms from the introduction soon reappear, contrasting with the even quarter notes and eighth notes of the march theme.

Two repeating half notes decorated with swirling grace notes form a thematic cell that will become increasingly important during the movement. These double node couplets are sourced in the second nacht musique and anticipate the return of the twinkle motive from that movement, which also begins with pairs of repeated half notes. It combines now with the skipping dotted rhythms and hop skip after theme in anticipation of the contrasting minuet. All these elements combined to form a third theme, played forcefully he had an operetta-like style by violins hidden in the trumpets, a hint of the first theme maintains the march-like character of the first subject, in contrast with that of the third theme. Buried within that theme is a single measure of the timpani flourish. That anticipates its return at the height of the third theme in trombones, accompanied by trumpet tattoos, as the tempo begins to hurry along.

At this point, the A section comes to a strikingly odd conclusion. After but two measures of the opening flourish, the rollicking woodwind figuration that first appeared as a company meant to the device to singer March now returns, it presses forward urgently on overlapping turns, countered by trumpet tattoos, and ends on a powerful C major chord. As mentioned above, it is this passage that bears a striking resemblance to the brass flourish that ends the first act of trust on the soul also, in C major.
Mahler subverts the heroic character of this music by cutting off the last measure and switching immediately to an A flat major chord sounds rather mostly by woodwinds, the rudeness of this foreign chord aborts and deflates the grand Tristanesque flourish. Here is the closing passage of Tristan and Isolde act one.

And here is the way Mahler closes the first subject.

After a brief pause, the contrasting second subject in a flat major follows without any transition, except for the deflating a flat chord. In the same tempo as the march, woodwinds spin out a new tune extended by cellos is this little thing, little tune that sounds like an image variation of the famous waltz theme from Les Harz, the Merry Widow, played here in double time for to the bar. First, the famous Merry Widow Waltz tune.

Then the main theme of the second subject.

What wonderful Mahlerian pomp to force a waltz into March tempo. The inverse of the procedure in the first nacht musique that makes a march play in Waltz theme. As the little waltzing tune takes on the character of a four-square march, it sounds much like the Pan march of the Third Symphony. Notice that the theme begins on a rising fourth, played in clipped dotted rhythms, and followed by an upbeat of three rising eighth’s that relates both to the extension of the MeisterSinger March and the motive of longing. The entire passage gradually takes on the character of a parade ground processional, leaving behind any trace of the elegance of the walls from which it appears to be derived. Soon the entire orchestra joins in the fun, including the glockenspiel that adds sparkle to the vibrant march Cornwall’s music.

After this lighthearted theme gradually diminishes, the arousing brass chorale bursts in with the Meistersinger march, re-establishing the tonic key of C major out of nowhere. If for only a few measures string of join in with a 16th note figuration from the introduction.

As we just heard, a heavily accented and weighty ascending scale seems to bring the march toward a cadence. But in characteristically Mahlerian fashion. Before achieving closure, the music suddenly shifts to an entirely new section, B section, with contrasting musical material in D major, designated as tempo 2 to be played at a measured pace somewhat faster than tempo one but not hurried, and set in alternating triple and duple meters, this section parodies a Haydnesque minuet it strongly contrasts with the striking march of the A section. And even at this early stage, the alternation of triple and duple meters confuses minuet and march. Violins begin with a fitting figure that contains hidden elements from earlier sections, a fragment of the 16th note figuration that ended the introduction, and the three-node rising upbeat from the longing motive that appeared earlier in the extended March theme.

Each segment of this flighty little theme contains a falling fourth, the timpani accompanies the violins with a fragment of the introductory flourish in triple meter, and in a more moderate tempo, sounding at first like a little march, despite its triple meter, the minuet theme gradually takes on its true appearance as a charming rococo dance. It begins with two repeated half notes taken from the twinkle motive, used earlier as part of a variant of the march theme, and is accompanied by the little figurative violin phrase with which the B section began. When the tonality shifts from C major to the unrelated if neighboring key of D major, violins fiddle with a new variation of the minuet theme, which is decorated by group pedal flickers on the repeating half note couplets, mordants over the first note of clip, dotted rhythms, and eighth note figuration taken from the cute phrase that opened the B section. Let’s listen from the beginning of the B section.

Suddenly, the full orchestra plays the minuet theme in a heavy-laden manner, making it sound preposterous. As it moves toward a cadence, we hear a reminiscence of the lyrical opening cadence of the second nacht musique and a hint of the twinkle motive that will reach a strong cadence as the movement proceeds. A falling sequence of clipped dotted rhythms in the base hinted what is to follow. Then the brass jump in with the first march theme, anticipated by these dotted rhythms, after just four measures of the minuet.

Mahler ships elements of the march theme between brass and woodwinds until the strings, join them in a delightful variation, the themes opening half node couplet now rises, and the busy eighth node figuration of the violin phrase that opened the B section is tagged on, all set against an inversion of the march theme in the baseline, which also contains an extension of the rising three-note upbeat figure from the B sections minuet theme. As the strings develop the march theme, it takes on more rhythmic and thematic characteristics of the minuet. The repeating half-note couplets seem to be leading to the twinkle motive when instead, they work their way into another variation of the MeisterSinger march. coupling variants of both principal marches from the A section with a rhythmic figure from the opening flourish, played staccato by low strings.

Clipped dotted rhythms play an increasingly important role in these and other variations of the march themes as the A section proceeds. When trumpet tattoos from just before the close of the first subject return, while ins try to bring back the racy figuration that followed them earlier, but their attempt is half hearted, and the music quickly softens and begins to slow down. Unexpectedly, violas burst in with the Merry Widow tune, but immediately give way to the music of the B section.

Variation of this minuet theme is lightly sprinkled with clipped dotted rhythms that give the theme a tripping quality, especially when contrasted with hints of a march beat in strings, embellished with the tapping of the router, reads, “a figure consisting of falling thirds that leans strongly on the first note of each two-node coupling becomes increasingly prominent during this variation”. As the minuet continues to develop, decorative trills and Morton’s enhance its Rococo style. The Merry Widow figure works its way into the minuet for a moment and takes on its stylistic character. It is remarkable how neatly elements of both march and minuet combine and become virtually indistinguishable. The most blatant confusion of these disparate subjects occurs when a new variation of the minuet theme is played heavily by the strings, thus marking its Rococo delicacy and grace. Such irreverent abuse of the minuet leads directly into the return of the MeisterSinger march as if the two themes were simply patched together.

Last, the A section breaks in abruptly without the slightest transition. In but eight measures, the march theme works its way to a climax, as it had in its first appearance. But instead of leading into the subsidiary theme of the A section, it shifts unexpectedly back to the B section.

Such brusque shifts in style, character, and temple are jolting and keep us guessing as to where Mahler will lead us to next. As before, the flooding figurative theme with which the B section originally began, returns in low strings against the timpani flourish, followed by the minuet theme played strongly by strings alone and decorated with Rococo ornamentation. Woodwinds take up the theme in a more flippant variation, it’s opening bars accompanied by a fragment of a little Merry Widow tune, a tripping variation of the Haydnesque minuet begins on the strings, and then shifts to the woodwinds, accompanied by an expanded version of the whirling figuration with which the violins opened the B section, as the tonality now shifts to A major.

After further development of the minuet the tempo slows down to Andante and the increasing use of portamento slides underscores Mahler’s parody of the minuet theme. We might expect the minuet section to conclude when two measures of the opening flourish are suddenly tapped strongly in strings and then pounded out by timpani. But no, Mahler was just teasing, instead of bringing back the march, which would logically follow, the graceful minuet continues on its merry way.

Once again, the timpani flourish tries to bring back the march after only five measures, but all it succeeds in doing is further confusing march and minuet. Nevertheless, the minuet theme will not be denied. It has clearly had enough of these intrusive annoyances and has now become the aggressor, a characteristic most unbecoming to a minuet. Instead of conceding to the march, the minuet becomes more agitated, over waves of eighth note figuration in the strings, and the falling third figure introduced earlier. As the tempo presses forward, strings work themselves up into a frenzy, heaving on weak beats Sforzando, until they reach a shattering climax, and run right into the return of the first march theme, with a rapidly descending scale.

It appears that the minuet has failed to forestall the march for it now takes control re-entering in mid measure, as if it were desperately trying to find a way in, carried on the shoulders of the timpani flourish, played by low strings and woodwinds. The marches triumph seems assured, he had no sooner do the brass assert the march when strings and woodwinds respond with the minuet theme, still in triple meter, but giving every appearance of functioning like a march.

These antagonists’ march and minuet seem virtually united when both are played in duple meter. Soon the tempo increases suddenly over a huge C major chord. The timpani pound out the marching flourish that opened the finale against double stop strokes in strings, again, making a mighty effort to get the music back on track. But after only two measures, it is the minuet the reappears, refusing to be scared off by the timpani is monster’s volley. But the minuet itself only lasts for three measures. When it reaches a cadence, the main march theme jumps in, as if clad in full baffle array with the timpani flourish, forcing a fragment of the minuet to step to a four-square march beat.
Contrapuntal integration of March and minuet during this frolicsome segment, recalls the light-hearted exuberance and overlapping of dramatic fragments of the third symphonies, Pan march.

When the tonality suddenly changes to G flat, this segment concludes with the beginning of the 16th note figuration that close the first mark subject and brings back the Merry Widow tune, though not as rudely as before.
This time Mahler changes the key before rather than after the figuration appears.

Trills flooded tongue flutes and saltando violin rhythms make the music that follows delightfully buoyant and festive, accentuation shifts from the first to the third beat. As the waltz in march time continues, with the tempo becoming increasingly more energetic. This lovely music reaches a high point when triangle and glockenspiel join in the spirited procession. After a while, its energy spent the march Cornwall’s dies away into the base.

Then the boisterous march of the A sections first subject returns in B flat major and in temple one. It’s full when regalia reinforced by tam-tam blows and ornamented by long glockenspiel trills, all ending with the brass snapping to attention. a moment’s pause and the rousing variation of the minuet theme in march tempo returns in the strings in duple meter seeming to imitate a Turkish march.

Here the meter no longer shifts between triple and duple to give some token of respect to the minuet, but remains in duple meter, forcing the minuet to step to a march beat. To add further confusion, the minuets points of entry are displaced from strong to weak beats, if the third movement of the Fifth Symphony and the second movement of the Ninth could be described as waltz rapes landler the finale of the Seventh could justice appropriately be characterized as march rapes minuet. The temporary flourish adds to the parody of the minuet, by shifting from strong to weak beats with each entrance. Soon the same rapid figuration that worked itself up into a wild theory before urges the tempo forward as winds mimic the half note couplets of the minuet theme by stretching their intervals. As earlier this segment ends on a frantic descending slide. But this time, the march cool minuet theme enters in the brass in mid measure at the bottom of the low descent. By now the minuet is clearly exhausted, having been impressed into service as a march. It quickly loses vitality, he had gingerly worked its way into the return of the B section, thereby regaining its charm and grace, nearly lost on forced to dance to a march beat.
How definitely Mahler telescopes tempo one the march subject into tempo to the minuet subject.

When the tempo eases up into a graceful minuet, it would appear that we have done with the march, but soon the trumpets sneak in with it while the minuet continues on its merry way, woodwinds take up the minuet theme at a slightly slower tempo, becoming even more graceful. Although the first trumpet keeps playing the main march theme in the background, trying to make it sound like a minuet.
A pizzicato march beat in the violas adds to the confusion.

When the tempo eases to Andante violins offer a lightly tripping variation of the minuet. That is the epitome of Rococo grace and elegance.

Stylized elegance of the minuet during this passage, recalls the scherzo movement the sixth simple as the minuet continues very quietly in the strings. Brass accompany it with offbeat eighths that give it a march-like quality despite the slow tempo, stopped horns and oboes. Enter with a strong statement of the twinkle motive, Mahler rounds out the twinkle phrase in a cadence with hefty tones played more slowly for emphasis, making this derivation from the nursery rhyme all the more evident, and yet uncharacteristically strident.

With the cat out of the bag, the A section now returns with the first march theme and stretto yet not in temple one, as it would be expected to be bought in tempo 2 the tempo of the minuet. After an initial outburst, the march quickly fades, no sooner does it do so. Then the violins lash out with the minuet theme against the first theme of the opening movement in the horns. Structural similarities and character differences between march and minuet become even more apparent. As the tempo increases pizzicato lower strings established a steady march beat that accompanies a dialogue between the first movement’s main theme in the horns, and the minuet theme in muted trumpets.

Suddenly the tonality darkens to C minor on a powerful statement of the first movement theme played morosely by the violins, and with such great weight that complete collapse threatens, trombones and trumpets out a dotted rhythm from the minuet theme while woodwinds cry out its first two measures, with bells raised. Both references to the minuet are clearly out of place in this dark and ponderous passage. The following dotted rhythmic figure from the first movement theme climbs higher and higher until it screams out of a fearsome warning. This is the only place in the movement where the music takes on what appears to be a tragic character. Before this ominous passage can do any serious harm, however, the light-hearted minuet theme unexpectedly returns now in B major, played in a rapid temple, and in a pixieish manner, by woodwinds in canonic imitation with low strings.
Soon, trombones quietly restate the first movement theme against the figuration that originally accompanied the MeisterSinger march, here played in violins, and the minuet theme in horns.

Once again, the tempo broadens as violins and then woodwinds play the minuet theme heavily as if imitating the solid manner of the first movement theme. These two themes build urgently to a climax, which to our dismay, is aborted. In place of the climax, the minuet in woodwinds and strings, and the first movement theme on two trumpets are both treated with ponderous solemnity, in the rather stark key of D flat major.

Will the minuet succumb to the reinforced advances of the march, the minuet seems so intent on fighting off the first movement theme that it has inadvertently taken on some of its dark characteristics. Again, the music builds to a climax, only to be stopped just before reaching it, and instead, returns disingenuously to the minuet theme.

After the aborted climax, the minuet theme returns rather sheepishly in strings, woodwinds enter on the same theme, the timpani softly beats out a fragment of its flourish from the introduction. By this time, the constant jockeying back and forth between march and minuet and the many aborted cadences can easily become tiresome.
Could this repetition be a parody of Mahler’s penchant for the seemingly endless contrast of dramatic material? Whether or not it is even Mahler grows weary of it, and cuts off another go-round, with a sudden outburst of a long rapid descending chromatic scale, similar to the one that ended the frenzied passage that closes the B sections first reprise, is sudden deluge can leave naught but a comical impression, a far cry from its appearance, for example, in the Second Symphony, as before, this sliding scale leads right into the march theme in midstream and in its original tempo, to which Mahler adds the curiously contradictory direction, etwas feierlich, somewhat solemn pompous.

With the return of the A sections principal march theme in blaring trumpets. The coda to this complex movement is finally at hand. timpani add their introductory flourish to the vibrant march music, while trombones offer a counter theme based upon the trumpet’s marching tune. Upper strings enter forcefully on a rising 16th note scale that leads into the reprise of the MeisterSinger march. Now inverted in strings in contrary motion against its original form and the bass, horns willfully assert the minuet theme, apparently now contend to be presented as but another marching tune in the company of the MeisterSinger march. Thus, we witnessed the triumph of march over minuet, just as we did the victory of march over walls in the first nacht musique. Suddenly, the temple becomes weighty again, this time on the second part of the MeisterSinger march with its hop skip rhythm, so uncharacteristic of a marching tune. Then the main march theme, and its variation, returning overlapping when groups against a sustained role of cowbells and glockenspiels all causing quite a din, violins bring back the dotted rhythms of the minuet theme to the raucous rhythms of the introductory flourish in brass and timpani.
Not since the conclusion of the Fifth Symphony has Mahler produced music that overflows with such joyful profusion.

Just when the orchestra begins, what appears to be yet another go round of March versus minuet. The tempo becomes more holding. trumpet calls ring out from the marching music, just as they did before the twist on S close of the first A section. Instead of leading right into the 16th note figuration, horns and woodwinds can be heard above the throng, as they herald victory on an arching phrase from the march theme, thus we reach the moment of the day’s ultimate triumph overnight.
The latter is recalled briefly by the final assertion of the main theme from the first movement. But that theme is not permitted any more than four measures. A powerful C major chord in the brass blows it away, making way for the brilliantly conceived final measures, as Mahler offers his last and possibly his most brilliant pun in the entire Symphony. Out of the blast of C major comes the passage that ends the first subject of the A section, the 16th note figuration that accompanied the Meistersinger march presses forward into the Tristanesque flourish that ended with a jolting harmonic switch on an A flat major chord. Mahler repeats the fanfare, but instead of deflating, it’s closing C major core to a flat. He merely hints at the latter key by producing a C major chord with an augmented fifth G sharp, which of course enharmonically is an A flat is strange chord diminishes slowly, only to be cut off with a huge C major stroke for the full orchestra that ends the symphony with a bang.
Mahler takes a swipe at the way so many of his predecessors ended their symphonies, with a crescendo on the closing chord cut off by an orchestral stroke. Mahler cleverly inverts this process by beginning the last chord fortissimo and then having it slowly fade away, only to be cut off by a final powerful orchestral stroke. A perfect conclusion to a symphony overflowing with good humor and wry wit, if not sometimes preposterous parody.

Mahler himself wrote at the end of one of his manuscripts of the seventh “was hat die welt” an idiomatic expression that essentially means, “what in the world is this?” Certainly a fitting comment on this symphonic romp. Considering the symphony in the context of Mahler’s works, a comment by Nietzche seems most apt, he described a great trudging idiom, which we certainly could consider Mahler to have been, “who arrives at the ultimate pinnacle of his greatness, only when he comes to see himself and his art beneath him, when he knows how to laugh at himself.

By Lew Smoley

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