Wanderer: Church

The Wanderer

Music shaped by the sacred tradition reflects Mahler’s ongoing search for spiritual transcendence through art.
“O believe, my heart, O believe”
VIDEO:SFS principal trombone Tim Higgins on a special moment in Mahler’s music
  • Although Mahler himself gave his Second Symphony no title, it is commonly known as the “Resurrection” because of its dramatic arc, which portrays a soul’s journey from death through the day of judgment and resurrection, along the way looking back at the world. As the composer put it: “The whole thing sounds as though it came to us from some other world. And — I think there is no one who can resist it. One is battered to the ground and then raised on angels’ wings to the highest heights.

Resurrection chorale
  • Mahler pondered the resolution of the Second Symphony for a long time before deciding on the choral finale, but his experience at the funeral of Hans von Bülow settled the matter: "Only the fear that it would be taken as a formal imitation of Beethoven made me hesitate again and again [to use a chorus]...the choir, up in the organ-loft, intoned Klopstock's Resurrection chorale. It flashed on me like lightning, and everything became plain and clear in my mind! It was the flash that all creative artists wait for — conceiving by the Holy Ghost!

  • The chorale is preceded by the Grosse Appel, the call to the Last Judgment.

Mahler's Methods

Primal Light
  • As the fourth movement of the Second Symphony, Mahler’s orchestration of the Magic Horn (Wunderhorn) song “Primal Light” (Urlicht) comes as a counterfoil to the comic tale of effort and frustration of the previous movement. Its spiritual certainty points the way to the transfiguration depicted in the finale’s last pages.

Related Examples

Throughout Mahler’s world of invention, instrumental solos modeled after birdsong appear at critical moments.

  • In the Second Symphony, mixed in with the trumpet calls that represent the call to the Last Judgment, a flute solo suggests the smallness of a single bird in the immensity of space and time.

  • Many years later, in “The Farewell” (Der Abschied), from The Song of the Earth (Das Lied von der Erde), Mahler evokes the narrator’s intense loneliness with a desolate flute solo.

Related Examples