Apr 28, 2022
Remember where we ended in the first movement of Mahler's 9th symphony? After a 27 minute farewell which touched on the two poles of rage and acceptance, while filling in every conceivable emotion in between, we ended in total peace, calm, and acceptance .
There is a lot about this symphony that is traditional - it has four movements, it's tonal(for the most part), it uses(mostly) traditional forms, but there is one thing about the symphony which is extremely unusual: the fact that it is bookended by two slow movements. A traditional symphony takes the form of a moderately fast first movement, either a slow movement or a fast dance movement for the second movement, the same for the third(almost always the opposite of whatever the second movement was), and a fast last movement to send the crowd home happy. Mahler, using a form that he never used before, and would never be used again by any composer, writes a slow first movement, then 2 fast dance movements, followed by a slow final movement. It's a fascinating formal design, but one that presents a lot of problems to solve; how do you contrast the two middle dance movements? How do you create a sense of excitement when you’ve just finished a 27 minute slow movement which could easily be its own piece? And perhaps most importantly, how do you conceive of the arc of a 16 minute dance movement, one that seems almost shockingly simplistic in its basic harmony and melody. Well, Mahler finds a way through a combination of genuine joy, sarcasm, bitterness, and irony, emotions we will certainly be talking about as we take apart this second movement.