Rustic Laughter

The Wanderer

The many folk traditions Mahler encountered gave him a rich source of songs, dances, and legends.
“The Bohemian music of my childhood home has found its way into many of my compositions.”
VIDEO:MTT on unusual sounds in Mahler's music
  • There’s a lot of laughter in my Fourth — at the beginning of the second movement!” The laughter reflects the dark side of humor, as Alma remembered his characterization of the piece: “Friend Hal strikes up the dance; Death gives a bizarre performance on the fiddle and plays as we go up to heaven.”

This movement was inspired by a painting by Arnold Böcklin, a self portrait in which death lurks just behind the artist, leering and playing a fiddle. Alma Mahler wrote that “the composer was under the spell of the self-portrait by Arnold Böcklin, in which Death fiddles into the painter’s ear while the latter sits entranced.

Mahler's Methods

A Sour Note
  • In the Scherzo of the Fourth Symphony, as if to portray the Devil in the form of a village musician playing his rough fiddle, Mahler asks the concertmaster to tune his violin a tone higher than usual. A soloist in a playful chamber instrumentation, he plays a tune in C minor which perversely returns again and again to the alien note F#: the tritone, “the devil in music.” As a result of the special tuning, this note is played on an open string with a swell in the sound, suggesting a ghostly moan or cry.

Related Examples