A Rustic Polka

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:SFS principal clarinet Carey Bell on Mahler’s music
  • The third movement of Mahler’s Third symphony, originally titled “What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me,” creates a fanciful, animated landscape, including this polka-like klezmer music.

The movement represents Mahler's signature ability to move among various scenes and moods. He begins by quoting his song "Change in Summer" (Ablösung im Sommer), expanding the material and the contrast between the two parts of this song into a colossal Scherzo. He cuts back and forth like a movie director between sound-worlds: of cruelty and comedy,

  • or of crazed energy

  • and tranquil reverie.

Mahler's Methods

VIDEO:MTT on Mahler's cinematic technique
Shifting perspectives

Late in the Scherzo of the Third Symphony, Mahler stretches the scale of his music in ways that anticipate cinematic effects of decades later. In a few seconds, for example, Mahler creates a musical scene change, transforming a rustic call of a clarinet in a peasant band to a cosmic call in the horns. Suddenly, it’s as if we’re looking down on a scene from miles above.

Related Examples
Calls and Signals

Each of the regiments stationed in Iglau had its own band, and each band came from a different corner of Europe. Nevertheless, military signals were the same all over the Empire, and literal quotes of these trumpet calls abound in Mahler.

  • In the Third Symphony, the call of “Fall in!”

  • brings the daydreaming posthorn back to earth.

  • The Fifth Symphony opens famously and strikingly with a haunting trumpet solo that seems to warn us of approaching tragedy. The passage is made up of two common signals, changed from major to minor:

  • the General Appel (General Call)

  • and the call Habt Acht! (Take Care!)

Related Examples