City of Music: Triumph & Tragedy

In the City of Music

Parade Ground
Military signals, fanfares, and marches in Mahler’s music express a full gamut of emotion, from triumph to tragedy.
“The military band was the passion of my childhood.”
VIDEO:Listen to Mahler himself playing his Fifth Symphony on a piano roll
  • Mahler’s Fifth Symphony opens with a fanfare that instructs us to “pay attention” before it moves into a funeral march. We hear echoes of this fanfare at the end of movement.

  • In Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, the first movement march is now more of a universal expression, divorced from its military origins.

Mahler's Methods

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
Mocking or Knocking?

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony makes obsessive use of the “fate” motive of Beethoven’s Fifth.

  • Initially it’s a motif of gentle urgency (and also an inversion of the piece’s opening fanfare) that accompanies the most intimate music of the first movement.

  • In the second movement, the same music returns in a shriller orchestration, sounding like a mocking laugh or an accusing cry.

Related Examples