GUSTAV MAHLER (1860–1911)
Symphony No. 5 (1901–04; rev. 1911)
For sheer drama, lyricism, and exquisite melody, nothing surpasses Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, a tour de force for orchestra. Its genesis was a difficult one, however, inspired and moved forward by a brush with death and finding the love of his life, Alma Schindler, a celebrated beauty… flirtatious, intelligent, self-confident, and a budding composer herself. The Fifth demonstrated a new direction in his creative expression — the first of his symphonies to be abstract music without obvious connections to songs. In the epic Trauermarsch (Funeral March), listen for trumpet fanfares reminiscent of the military bands Mahler heard in his childhood. The second movement, marked “Tempestuously. With great vehemence,” includes raw, intense, demonic music, calmed down by a hymn-like chorale. The massive Scherzo with its 819 bars is the center point of the work — complex, polyphonic — the longest single movement Mahler ever composed. The achingly beautiful fourth movement, Adagietto, radiantly scored for strings and harps, is the most well-known and is often played on its own. It feels like a resting place between the Scherzo and the manic Rondo-Finale.