The Wanderer

Mahler’s Jewish heritage gave him both specific musical sources and an ear for the outsider’s voice.
“Always an intruder, never welcomed…”
VIDEO:MTT on the scherzo of Mahler’s Second Symphony
  • The third movement of Mahler”s Second Symphony, marked In ruhig fliessender bewegung (in quiet flowing movement), is simultaneously captivating and disturbing. Mahler described the movement this way: “If, at a distance, you watch a dance through a window, without being able to hear the music, then the turning and twisting movement of the couples seems senseless, because you are not catching the rhythm that is the key to it all. You must imagine that to one who has lost his identity and his happiness, the world looks like this — distorted and crazy, as if reflected in a concave mirror.”

Mahler also noted the folk influence in this movement: “The Bohemian music of my childhood home has found its way into many of my compositions. I’ve noticed it especially in the ‘Fischpredigt.’ The underlying national element there can be heard, in its most crude and basic form, in the tottling of the Bohemian pipers.”

Mahler's Methods

Preaching to Fish

One of the many humorous songs in the Magic Horn (Wunderhorn) series is “St. Anthony’s Sermon to the Fish” (St. Antonius Fischpredigt).

  • It tells of Saint Anthony futilely preaching a sermon to the fishes: "St. Anthony arrives for his sermon and finds the church empty. He goes to the rivers to preach to the fish. They flick their tails, which glisten in the sunshine."

  • In the third movement of the Second Symphony Mahler expands this whimsical trifle into a whirling scherzo. It’s interesting to compare the resourcefulness of the instrumental effects, as well as the humorous way that the main theme seems to chase its own tail in a never-ending flow of sixteenth notes, with Mahler’s real-life efforts to build a career. He too often felt that he was “preaching” to unappreciative critics and audiences.

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