The First Movement of Mahler's Fifth Symphony
for Professor Pat McCrelless, The University of Texas at Austin
by Jody Nagel
December 22, 1988
Mahler's fifth symphony moves from feelings of tragedy and despair to consolation and finally to triumph. The opening funeral march (Trauermarsch) is in C-sharp minor while the Rondo-finale is in D major. At first, this may seem to suggest a leading-tone which resolves to its tonic - a large scale musical structure designed to correspond with the idea that tragedy will lead to (will resolve to) triumph. However, the second movement (Sturmisch bewegt) is in A minor and the fourth movement (Adagio) is in F major. The third movement, a scherzo, is in the same key as the final movement. The overall progression of keys, then, is mostly that of a descent by 3rds. Therefore, if the leading-tone (C-sharp) resolves to its tonic (D) over the course of the entire symphony, it does so by descending, rather than by ascending. The opening funeral march is quite obviously concerned with the subject of death, and the extra-musical implication seems to be that an ultimate victory in life is achieved only by descending into the grave. The philosophical statement of the symphony is not simply that tragedy will eventually yield to victory, but rather that tragedy must occur and must be accepted before any true victory is possible.
The descent by 3rds, seen in the symphony as a whole, forms one of the basic harmonic building blocks of the funeral march. The major sections of this first movement begin in keys related by 3rds, and the chord-by-chord harmonic progressions consist much of root motion by 3rd. The first melodic interval heard in the opening trumpet statement is a minor 3rd, and the manipulation of the motive containing this minor 3rd is the basis for modulation from one key area to another. Mahler's particular use of the melodic 3rd, and chordal root-motion by 3rd is, to be sure, one of the more important factors contributing to the dark, gloomy effect of this funeral march. A second extremely important harmonic relationship in this piece, used in an equally somber way, is that of the half-step root motion between flat-VI and minor-v (also, flat II and minor i). The present paper will attempt to focus on the harmonic/melodic tonal relationships found within the movement, and to show in several representative passages how the tonal material reflects the basic philosophy of the music and its composer. Let us begin by becoming acquainted with the form and the motivic/thematic elements of Mahler's Trauermarsch.
The overall form of the movement is A - B - A' . The B-section, which is marked "Plotzlich schneller. Leidenschaftlich. Wild." (suddenly faster. passionately. wild.), starts at m.155 and begins in the key of B-flat minor, while both A-sections begin in C-sharp minor. This minor-3rd key relationship is the inversion of the C# / E minor-3rd first played by the trumpet in the first five measures.
The A-section subdivides into a-b-a-b, the "a" material having an introductory character (m.1 and m.53) and the "b" material having a thematic character (m.35 and m.89). The "a" material has three components that are identifiable. "a1" is the opening trumpet motive consisting of three triplet eighths followed by a longer value; it is sometimes called the "fate" motive. "a2" is the horn motive beginning at m.24. "a3" is the rhythmic motive at m.27, which might be called the "funeral march" motive. In the second A-section, the three components are re-ordered. The "funeral march" motive ("a3") is stated first at m.53. The "fate" motive ("a1") is next presented at m.61, and the horn motive ("a2") is presented last at m.84.
The first occurrence of the thematic "b" material is only 18 measures long and gives only a "first impression". The second occurrence of "b" has been greatly expanded to 66 measures. It has added to it (at m.119) a second theme in the dominant, A-flat (=G-sharp) major, played in parallel 6ths, though this theme is still very much like the melodic material at m.35 and at m.89. The melody at m.119 will be called "b2", the melody at m.89 and again at m.133 will be called "b1". The "b1" material (in the second b section) is accompanied by the "funeral march" rhythmic motive ("a3") played in alternation between the horns and the trombones.
The "B-section" (starting m.155) consists of a new trumpet melody with a wildly soaring violin line that seems to shriek with a sense of helpless despair. A salient feature of this section is the dissonant appoggiatura a half-step above the fifth of the tonic triad. It is seen at m.155, m.165, m.211, and m221. The trumpet melody will be labeled "c" and is found repeated at m.194. The entire "B-section" functions, in a structural sense, as the "development" section for the first movement. At m.181 the "fate" motive ("a1") returns. Its rhythm is unaltered, but the minor 3rd has been compressed to a minor 2nd (scale degrees 2 and 3 in B-flat minor). The repeated note, C, of this motive, is a half-step lower than the original repeated note C-sharp of m.1 (and m.153). This is quite audible since the trumpet timbre is used in all statements of the motive. At the same time the repeated scale degree has been raised a whole-tone from scale degree 1 to 2. (C is scale degree 2 in B-flat minor, and is supported by the half-diminished ii chord.) If one considered C-sharp minor to be a substitute for the relative major of B-flat minor, it would then become apparent that the pitch C is scale degree 2 in B-flat and scale degree 7 in C-sharp. The effect is curiously unsettling, as if the repeated note C were "too high" and "too low" at the same time.
The A'-section (starting m.233) includes the "fate" motive ("a1", m.233), the horn motive ("a2", m.258), and the "funeral march" motive ("a3", m261). The "b1" and "b2" themes are each presented again, though the "b1" section (m.263) has been considerably altered. The "b2" section (m.294) is now found in the parallel tonic key of D-flat (=C-sharp) major. The recapitulation of the A-section, however, has been quite edited; each of the "a" and the "b" sections are now only presented once. Following "b" is a statement in the timpani of the "fate" motive ("a1", m.317), which in turn is followed by a rather lengthy coda which begins in A minor (starting m.323). The violins begin a new melody marked "molto espressivo", which will be called "d". (Beginning with the anacrusis to m.325, the pitches E, C, B, A, which represent scale degrees 5, 3, 2, 1, seem to be a diminution of the bass starting with the second half note in m. 196, F, D-flat, C, B-flat). Another new melodic idea, which will be called "e", is played by the trombones starting in m.357. After the most harmonically chromatic passage in the entire movement, the trumpet states the "fate" motive (m.377) in F-sharp minor, then again using tones from the half-diminished ii chord in C-sharp minor (C-sharp and D-sharp, m.401). The trumpet lastly arpeggiates two triads, each still referring to the "fate" motive: first an ascending F-sharp minor triad, functioning as the iv chord of the key (m.407), and second an A-major triad functioning as the VI chord (m.409). The flute utters one last "farewell" statement of the "fate" motive's ascending arpeggio, finally on the C-sharp minor tonic triad (m.411). This final arpeggio, followed by the low strings single pizzicato note, hardly provides enough structural "weight" to convince the listener, after hearing the keys of A-minor, extended sections of chromatic harmony, and F-sharp minor, that the piece has actually finished. The entire second movement (which Mahler states, along with the first movement, forms Part I of the symphony) is actually something of a fantasia-type elaboration on the march. The coda of the march, beginning in A-minor, actually anticipates the key of the second movement. The final 15 measures of the march do cause the movement to conclude in C-sharp minor, but the dimensions and weightiness of the material preceding these 15 measures serve to substantiate the entire concept of a symphonic work that employs progressive tonality (i.e. a movement of this kind of symphonic work should not necessarily have to end completely finalized, with the exception of the last movement). In summary, the form of the funeral march might be diagrammed as follows:
The "Fate" Motive
A comparison between the opening motive of Mahler's funeral march and that of Beethoven's 5th Symphony has been often made. Another more subtle comparison of motivic use can be drawn between the two composers. In Beethoven's 3rd symphony the opening motive contains the tonic pitch (E-flat) on four successive downbeats. After the development section, however, the motive is transformed in character. The fourth downbeat has been changed to scale degree 5; the effect is that of a motive, which had been "chained down" down to the tonic pitch, finding itself free to "soar" above the tonic pitch. The "heroic" quality of the piece mirrors that of a person with only mundane concerns, who undergoes some conflict and emerges victoriously, with a lofty, heavenward outlook. Beethoven uses the motive, and its transformations, to establish the "meaning" of the music. Let us see how Mahler uses his "fate" motive to govern the structure and "meaning" of the funeral march.
The overall programmatic effect of the funeral march corresponds to the piece's A-B-A structure. A funeral procession is taking place. The "funeral march" motive ("a3") represents this procession. The form of the rite is structured exactly and specifically by social norms. Mahler creates in the A-section a musical language governed by its own "norms". A shift in point-of-view takes place in the B-section. We are no longer witnessing the congregation of people attending the funeral, but, rather, we are "let in" to the tormented inner mind of one individual, someone who is severely affected by the loss of a dear loved one. The person cannot accept the loss, and cannot accept the structured, formal quality of the occasion. At this point in the work the material is completely new and unpredicated by what has come before. The key of B-flat minor seems almost arbitrary, almost purposely lashing out against the "requirements" suggested by the A-section. Throughout this section the sudden outbreak of m.155 is slowly leashed, a self-control is slowly regained. The recapitulation of the A-section, however, can no longer be perceived the same as it first was. The formal quality of the procession seems to be a parody of the true feelings of the individual. The final section, starting with m.369, is marked "Klagend" (lamenting, or complaining). The chromatic harmony, the full orchestration, the tremolo strings, the descending lines in the highest voice, and then in the bass (until m.390) all seem to depict the actual lowering of a coffin, accompanied by the terrible confusion of feelings that flood the mind of the one individual. The concluding, successively higher, rising arpeggios, first in the trumpet, and finally in the flute (m.407, m.409, m.411) seem to suggest the departure of the soul of the deceased as it ascends from this earth.
The symbol of "lowering", both physical and psychological, is primary to the "meaning" of this work. The "fate" motive is used to govern the sense of key change, and almost always in a way that the key is felt to be lower than the preceding key. Throughout the A-section, whenever the "fate" motive is heard, it usually uses the tonic C-sharp for the repeated notes of the triplet figure, and is rooted firmly in the key of C-sharp minor. The only exceptions are at m.21 and m.81 where the fate motive is stated on G-sharp, which is, of course, simply the dominant pitch of C-sharp minor. The first two important scale degrees of the motive are 1 and 3 (C-sharp and E). After examining the key of the B-section (B-flat minor), one realizes that the C-sharp of the "fate" motive of m.153, has been reinterpreted as scale degree 3 (the second of the scale degrees of the original motive). The B-flat minor key area of the B-section is "really" A-sharp minor, enharmonically respelled, with the C-sharp of m.153 suddenly functioning as scale degree 3. B-flat minor is, in a sense, the "relative minor" of a C-sharp tonality which had been minor rather than major.
Later, when the recapitulation first begins (m.233), the original C-sharp (written here as D-flat) first functions as scale degree 3 in B-flat minor. The harmony at m.233 is actually vii°7/ V over the dominant pedal of B-flat. By m.239 the D-flat is respelled as C-sharp and is soon heard to be once more the tonic of C-sharp minor. The interpretive process has essentially been reversed; the scale degree function of the pitch C-sharp progressed from 1 in C-sharp to 3 in B-flat and back again to 1 in C-sharp, and the minor 3rd interval is itself the interval of the "fate" motive.
Immediately preceding the B-section (m.153) the fate motive never progressed past its initial note C-sharp. C-sharp was the common tone between the keys of C-sharp minor and B-flat minor. In the analogous passage immediately preceding the coda (m.317), the timpani states the "fate" motive. Here, however, the first two notes of the motive are given (C-sharp and E). It is now the E which functions as a common tone; E had been scale degree 3 of C-sharp minor, but by m.327 the E has been reinterpreted as scale degree 5 of A-minor. The key of the coda (A-minor) is felt to be a semitone lower than the key of the B-section (B-flat minor). It has already been seen that the "fate" motive at m.181 (repeated note C) sounded a semitone lower than the original "fate" motive (repeated note C-sharp). The same "long-term effect" of the lower semitone takes place here also.
One last occurrence of a scale degree reinterpretation of the "fate" motive takes place at m.377. The trombones, at m.357, play the new "e" theme strongly in the key of A-minor and a section of highly chromatic harmony follows. When the trumpet first states the "fate" motive on the repeated pitch A it is difficult to hear exactly what scale degree the A represents. Because the key of A-minor had just been recently given, there is no reason not to assume that the repeated A of the "fate" motive will ultimately be the tonic pitch. But just as the key of B-flat minor in the B-section had been a minor 3rd lower than C-sharp, the repeated note A at m.377 turns a minor 3rd down, rather than up, to the pitch F-sharp. The common tone between A-minor and F-sharp minor is the note A, and through this kind of scale degree reinterpretation, the final complete statement of the "fate" motive takes place in F-sharp minor.
Each additional "new" key throughout the movement seemed lower than the previous "new" key. In the B-section B-flat minor seemed lower than C-sharp minor. In the coda A-minor was felt to be a semitone lower than B-flat minor. Briefly at m.377 F-sharp minor seemed lower than A-minor. Each key change involved the scale degree reinterpretation of some common tone which was associated with the "fate" motive. The "lowering" effect, which we now realize occurs throughout the funeral march, and throughout the symphony as a whole, seems to symbolize the physical act of lowering a coffin into a grave, and also the resulting psychological effect of being lowered into a state of great despair. The fact that the tones of the "fate" motive were used to usher in the progressively lower keys symbolizes the idea that death and despair are directly caused by fate. (Of course, it is this type of usage that causes us to label motive "a1" the "fate" motive in the first place.) The final three progressively higher ascending arpeggios at m.407, m.409, and m.411, on F-sharp minor, A-major , and C-sharp minor triads, seem to counteract the progression of keys from C-sharp minor to the two keys of the coda, A-minor, and F-sharp minor. The order of the arpeggiated triads is exactly the reverse of the key areas, and these final triads offer a kind of "recuperation" to the musical structure. The second triad is A-major, rather than A-minor, and this is the diatonic form of the VI chord in the tonic key of C-sharp minor. This one detail strengthens the sense of diatonic recuperation. If one thinks that these arpeggios represent the soul rising, (the exact opposite effect of the entire rest of the movement), then one must believe that this musical recuperation symbolizes a foreshadowing of the final victory that the entire symphony, and its philosophy, have to offer: the anguish of death will result in the possibility of resurrection and a truly victorious life.
One of the notable aspects of the funeral march is the almost complete lack of dominant harmony throughout. Whenever a triad on the dominant is found it is almost always a minor v chord. In the A-section the two key areas most used are C-sharp minor and G-sharp minor (i and v), though the "b2" theme at m.119 is in A-flat (=G-sharp) major. Within one of these two key areas, however, the chords found most often are the VI, iv, flat-II, and half-diminished ii° chords. When the half-diminished ii° chord is used, followed directly by a i chord, the tonicization of C-sharp or of G-sharp is greater than when a flat-II is used. When flat-II is used, followed by a i chord, there is a small chance that the progression will be mistakenly heard as VI-v. Mahler uses this principle purposely sometimes just to create ambiguity. As was said already, the "b2" theme, at m.119, is actually in the major dominant key. This is the strongest reference to the dominant in the entire movement, and yet, at m.115, Mahler presents to his listener an A-major, first inversion harmony which is flat-II of the dominant. The A-flat major chord at m.119 is, therefore, at first heard in C-sharp minor as the dominant (finally!) and the A-major chord at m.115 as a VI chord. Only after a few measures go by do we begin to hear A-flat functioning as a tonic pitch, instead of as the dominant.
Shortly after this section, a brief return to the tonic takes place at m.145. However, from m.144 until m.151, the C-sharp tonic triad is alternated with its flat-II chord. The C-sharp chord at m.149 is actually major. An observant listener might suspect that the music will soon modulate to the subdominant (C-sharp = V of F-sharp). The iv chord (F-sharp minor), arpeggiated at m.9 (with added seventh), is, after all, the first chord sounded in the movement following the tonic C-sharp minor arpeggio of m.8. When the "fate" motive is repeated at m.61, this time no longer unaccompanied, it is harmonized with alternating i and iv chords. The primary consideration is that to wherever we might have expected a modulation to lead us, it certainly was not the B-flat minor key which actually is used to begin the B-section. The A-section presents to us the possibility of:
These are virtually all of the major and minor triads used in the first 154 measures of the movement. In this context, the B-flat minor key of the B-section is almost ludicrous, and borders on incoherence: the perfect technique for the type of effect needed to convey a change of point of view from the rational, formal proceedings of the funeral procession, to the grief-stricken, angry, confused inner mind of the one individual.
Mahler sometimes, in the A-section, uses seventh chord versions of the chords listed above. When the "fate" motive is stated at mm.61-67, the measures from m65 to m67 contain the descending root-motion-by-3rd progression: VI7 - iv7 - half-diminished iiø7. In the rather dramatic passage from m.72 to m.78 the VI-chord with added-6th is used exclusively.
The A-major chord (VI in C-sharp minor) is the most-frequently used chord in the A-section next to i and v. The first chord played tutti (m.13) is actually a VI-chord. It serves as flat-II of the dominant, and it progresses to the minor v chord at m. 19. The entire introductory "a" section (mm.1-34) is thus a greatly prolonged i - VI - v progression. The first "b" theme begins in C-sharp minor again, but passes through the relative major key (E-major; mm.49-52) on its way to the minor dominant; E-major is, therefore, also VI of G-sharp minor. The first "b" theme is thus a prolongation of i - III (=VI/v). The reordering of the second "a" section causes it to begin in the dominant minor, but it then contains the same essential harmonic progression as the first "a" section: (v) - i - VI - v. The second "b" section more completely fulfills the first "b" section. It actually succeeds at reaching the dominant key and staying in it for 14 measures, though it does return to the tonic key by m.145. The underlying progression of the section is i - III (=VI/v) - V - i.
The fact that the VI chord is used so often from the beginning of the movement clearly establishes the rationale for having the coda begin in an A-tonality. Just as the dominant chord of the A-section is usually found in a minor form, so the key of the coda is actually A-minor (flat-vi). One additional point needs to be made about the harmony of the opening introductory "a" section. The progression from m.16 to m.19 might be described as a I - IV6 - V - i progression, where the I - IV6 is in A-major (VI key area), and the V - i abruptly shifts down a semitone to G-sharp minor (v key area). The chords used are A-major, D-major, D-sharp major, and G-sharp minor. It may be thought of as an expressive modulation, which on a local level foreshadows some of the other semitonal relationships already mentioned, and some others that will be looked at shortly. The voice-leading between m.17 and m.18, using contrary motion, is quite interesting in the way in which parallel perfect fifths are avoided. The progression just discussed is the basis for the harmonization of the new "d" theme in the violins in the coda section. M.323 begins in A minor. From m.334 to m. 335, the E-dominant seventh chord of A-minor is altered into an E-half diminished ii°7 of D-minor. D-minor is the iv key area in A minor. At m.345 the bass rises one semitone to E-flat and supports an E-flat major triad, which is soon seen to be the dominant of A-flat major (=G-sharp major). The A-flat major tonic triad, in second inversion, is found in m.349. This progression, A - D - E-flat - A-flat, is simply a prolonged and enharmonically respelled version of the local progression at mm.16-19. The coda does not stay in G-sharp, which would be the dominant of the primary key of C-sharp. Rather, it returns to A-minor by m.357 for the final new melody of the movement, played in the trombones. The chord preceding this return to A-minor, for two measures (mm.355-56), is B-flat major, which is flat-II of A-minor. This local progression reflects something of the relationship between the entire B-section and the entire coda. B-flat major descending to A minor is the same flat-II - i progression that we saw in the A-section with D-major descending to C-sharp minor (mm.148-49) and, of course, A-major descending to G-sharp minor (mm.16-19). By giving A-minor its own flat-II chord, Mahler has practically given as much weight to this chord, as to the i and v chords. This unusual weighting of A-minor is just what Mahler truly needed in order to prepare the second movement (in A-minor) of this symphonic work which employs progressive tonality. The opening progression of the introductory "a" section, i - VI - v, thus reveals all the important key areas that are used in both of the A-sections. Except in the sense in which B-flat is the flat-II of A (which itself, is flat-II/v) there is really no totally rational nor completely structural reason for the presence of B-flat minor as the primary key of the B-section. The only satisfying explanation lies in its extra-musical "meaning", which itself requires something irrational. A few other passages are noteworthy from the harmonic point-of-view. We have already noted at mm.334-35 the alteration of a dominant-seventh chord into a half-diminished-seventh chord as a means to get to the sub-dominant key area. This progression can be seen at mm.167-171 of the B-section. The opening of the B-section uses the following harmony:
Especially striking in this progression is the movement from flat-II at m.177 to half-diminished iiø7 at m 181. The "fate" motive, stated by the trumpet starting with the anacrusis to m.181, simply asserts C-natural (half-dim iiø7) over what had been a sustaining C-flat (flat-II). This semitonal alteration appears to be another instance of what may be called "an expressive modulation", in this case a modulation back from iv (since the flat-II chord at m.177 is locally functioning as the flat-VI chord of the iv key area (E-flat minor) to i. In both modulations, both to iv, and back to i, it was the half diminished iiø7 that indicated the new key. Whereas Wagner frequently suggests a key by giving only its dominant seventh, Mahler has given up solely using dominant harmony. The quasi-plagal cadence of half-dim iiø7 to minor-i also adequately establishes a key.
A second passage of the B-section is also truly interesting. The harmony from m.202 to m.229 is as follows:
The progression at m.211 from minor-VII, to its own German augmented sixth chord with the aug 6th of the chord in the bass, and finally to the vii°7 chord is very unusual sounding. The bass tones from m.202 to m.203 are essentially scale degrees 1, 6, and 7 from the B-flat natural minor scale. The bass tones from m.213 to m.216 are the same scale degrees from the ascending form of the melodic minor scale. The semitonal shift is very noticeable and once again is an example of an "expressive" modulation. The basic chords of this progression are B-flat minor (i), and its VI chord (G-flat major). The A-flat minor chord (minor-VII) passes from VI to I. This passing tone key area is the only such example in the entire movement. It happens to be the dominant of the original key of the movement (C-sharp), but in this current passage it is minor and has no dominant quality.
The harmonic progression employed in returning to the key of the A'-section (C-sharp minor) involves many chromatic chords (mm.235-41), most of which are not really functioning tonally. The important feature of the passage is the bass line's chromatic ascent from F (scale degree 5 in B-flat; mm.229-234) to A-sharp (=B-flat; scale degree 1; mm.239-40). After the bass note F, the tones of the B-flat natural minor scale, G - A - B-flat, are given on the down-beats of m.235, m.237, and m.239. Each of the tones is embellished with a chromatic lower neighbor and a chromatic upper neighbor. At m.241, the bass ascends a whole-tone to C-sharp and at this point the key of C-sharp minor seems to be re-established. It is interesting that in all of this chromatic semitonal movement the one semitone that Mahler excluded from the line was the actual leading tone to C-sharp. The missing leading tone adds a slight vagueness to the arrival back to the tonic key. The bass line, then might be drawn as follows for greater clarity:
Even after the C-sharp tonality is reached the ascending bass continues a step-wise ascent which culminates rather climactically on the VII-chord with added-6th at mm.249-51. This added-6th chord bears a striking resemblance to the VI-chord with added-6th found at mm.73-78. Just as the VI with added-6th progressed to the minor v-chord at m.79, the VII with added-6th at mm.249-51 first progresses to VI (m.252) and then to the minor-v chord at m.253. It seems like the bass ascent leading back to the A'-section was again supposed to reach only VI . However, it had so much momentum that it went one step too far, and therefore had to regress two steps , rather than only one, in order to get to the minor v chord at m253. This long ascending bass line counterbalances the lengthy descending bass line at mm.369-90 just before the movement's finish. In fact, this ascent is, really, the only significant event in the movement that has any ascending character at all. The psychological effect is not, however, that of starting at some zero point and rising to a spectacular climax. It feels more like one is starting at some murky sub-zero point and just barely manages to rise above the threshold of that zero point. The entire B-section, it will be remembered, at first seems (extra-musically) to descend into the inner-most depths of the heart and mind of some anguished soul. The rising bass line at the end of the B-section seems to be a Herculean attempt at willing one's self out of the depths of depression and back into the realm of the sane and rational. The fact that the bright, "sunny-sounding" VII-chord with added-6th was reached at the culmination of this bass ascent seems, in some way, to be proof that the effort was somewhat successful, at least temporarily. But it hardly seems like a victorious, climactic, high point of the movement - at least not in the same way that the climax of Beethoven' Eroica Symphony, first movement, is truly victorious sounding. As a victory of the individual's will, however, it is not an inconsequential achievement. In the midst of the funeral procession, an individual engulfed in intolerable feelings succeeds at self-control, at remaining a part of humanity, and ultimately becomes stronger for having made this accomplishment.
The A' section of the movement is now perceived differently from the original A section. Small changes indicate the individual's stronger ability to cope with the situation. Notice in mm.80-82 that the inner voices of the eighth-note triplets are descending by step. In the analogous spot at mm.254-56 the eighth-note triplets are rising by step. The "b" theme starts rather "tentatively" at m.263, this time having rests between some of the phrases. But it seems to gain in confidence and eventually achieves a substantially higher tessitura than in the "b" sections at m.34 or m.89. The "b2" theme at m.294 is in the major tonic key, rather than the major dominant key as at m.119. Without this extra weight given to the tonic key area at this point, it is doubtful that the ending of the movement, which moves into the VI and iv key areas, would really be able to convince the listener that the movement actually ended even a little securely in the tonic key.
In conclusion, Mahler has created a musical structure, which represents the contrast between the individual participating in a formalized group, and the solitary inner psychological being of the same individual. Mahler essentially asserts that these two aspects of an individual are at best only distantly related. By choosing such distantly related keys as C-sharp minor and B-flat minor to represent these two aspects, Mahler created a unique musical structure. Traditional dominant-tonic harmony plays but a small role in this movement, and then only in some places, while not at all in others. Chords that do not contain the leading tone, such as VI, iv, half-diminished iiø7, and flat II, play a large role in the harmonic language of the movement, especially in the A-sections. The diminished role of the leading tone makes all the more striking those passages that use semitonal expressive modulations of one sort or another. The harmony used in the A-section is limited to i, v, VI, iv, flat-II, and half-diminished iiø7 chords, both of the primary tonic key C-sharp minor and of the dominant minor key G-sharp minor. The use of this harmony seems to symbolize the limited expressiveness of the formal funeral procession, and it is established as the contextual norm for the movement. By breaking away from the self-created norm in the B-section, the use of highly chromatic harmonic relationships along with the totally foreign key serve to underline the sense of the individual trying to escape the shackles of his situation. The return to the A-section is accomplished with a great effort as the bass slowly ascends one step at a time but the individual is stronger for having succeeded at his emergence from his own private hell and into the world of human contact. Each time a relatively strong key area is introduced it is preceded by a statement in the trumpet of the fate motive. Some common tone procedure causes one of the notes of the motive to be reinterpreted as a different scale degree and the new key simply carries on from that point. Many of the common-tone progressions involve the root relationship of a descending 3rd (C-sharp minor - B-flat minor; C-sharp minor - A minor; A-minor - F-sharp minor) and this reflects the overall tendency of the symphony to employ a progressive tonality which uses root motion by descending 3rds. Some of the modulations seem arbitrary, and one might suspect that Mahler used his "fate" motive so as to behave purposely arbitrarily, as fate actually does behave. Finally, it must be remembered that the overall structure of the symphony moves towards an ultimate victory. By descending from the "leading-tone" key of C-sharp minor in the funeral march, all the way to the final tonic key of D-major, Mahler resolves tragedy into victory, the tragedy of death into the victory of fulfilled life. The descent by 3rds, rather than a mere ascent of a semitone, from C-sharp to D symbolizes Mahler's belief that tragedy does not simply eventually lead to victory but, rather, that tragedy is necessary for any meaningful victory, that descending into the deepest sorrow and pain are prerequisites for being able to truly experience the deepest joy, and finally perhaps, that even death is necessary for life to have any real fulfillment or any real meaning.
Dr. Jody Nagel
December 22, 1988
Copyright © 2008 by Jody Jay Nagel