Humans in the Landscape

Mahler's Origins: A "Sonic Goulash"

Throughout his life, Mahler returned to the natural environment for inspiration.
“My music is always the voice of nature sounding in tone…”
VIDEO:MTT on the main theme of Mahler’s First Symphony
  • After opening the First Symphony with a vast landscape created by suggestions of natural sounds and a distant hunting call, Mahler calls for a faster tempo. The repeated cuckoo call turns into a sweet melody in the cellos, the movement’s first theme. The tune emerges naturally from its surroundings, as if a wanderer in the green hills were singing to himself.

  • As the tune unfolds, it is surrounded by myriad sounds of the landscape, with woodwinds continuing to evoke bird calls.

Mahler's Methods

VIDEO:Baritone Thomas Hampson sings Mahler’s “This Morning I Walked Across the Field” (Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld)
A Rustic Voice

The principal theme in the first movement of his First Symphony was first used by Mahler years before in one of his Songs of a Wayfarer. “I Walked Across the Fields This Morning” (Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld). One morning, striding across the dew-laden fields, the lovelorn narrator briefly escapes from his grief by opening himself to nature. The finch sings to him: “Isn’t it a beautiful world? Well, then?”

Related Examples
VIDEO:Baritone Thomas Hampson sings Mahler’s “On My Love’s Wedding Day” (Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht)
Trills and Tremolo

Evocations of the sounds of nature, realized through imaginative instrumentation, recur throughout Mahler's works. In "On My Love's Wedding Day" (Wenn mein Schatz Hockzeit macht), the first song of Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) the narrator finds himself in a countryside that has burst into bloom. High bells illustrate the Blümlein (little flowers) of the text, while solo flute and violin trill like a pair of lovebirds.

Related Examples