City of Music: Folk & Folkways

In the City of Music

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 the Ländler
  • The Scherzo (the third movement) of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is built on the rhythm of the Austrian folk waltz, or Ländler. He described the effect of the music: “Every note is charged with life, and the whole thing whirls around in a giddy dance.

  • Critic Maximilian Muntz scoffed at this movement: “Waltz and Ländler motifs, robbed of their naïve innocence and cheekily made-up in modern orchestral colors, whirl around in a contrapuntal cancan.

Mahler's Methods

Devoted to Counterpoint

Mahler’s command of counterpoint was rooted in his study of the past, but he used it in a uniquely expressive way. Essential to the effect was clarity of line: "In true polyphony the themes run side by side quite independently, each from its own source to its own particular goal and as strongly contrasted to one another as possible, so that they are heard quite separately."

  • In the second movement of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, five separate parts lend colors of pain (trumpets), defiance (horns), and struggle (strings), as the music tumbles towards a climax of despair.

Related Examples
Delighted by Polyphony
  • In this exuberant fugal passage from the Fifth Symphony's Finale, Mahler uses his skill in part-writing to recall the pure joy of the lively polyphonic music of the Baroque masters. The theme itself could be straight out of Bach or Vivaldi.

Related Examples