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Mahler's Symphonic Sonatas$

Seth Monahan

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199303465

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199303465.001.0001

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“A Play within a Play”

“A Play within a Play”

Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

(p.139) Chapter Five “A Play within a Play”
Mahler's Symphonic Sonatas

Seth Monahan

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on Mahler’s explicitly “classicist” sonata, the opening of the Fourth Symphony. After demonstrating the many parallels of design between this movement and the opening of the Sixth, its focus shifts to the tension and interaction of two distinct “levels” of plot: the sonata narrative that is coextensive with the movement and the transsymphonic story that begins here but which culminates several movements later, with the song-finale “Das himmlische Leben.” Ultimately, we find that all of the sonata’s most salient anomalies, detours, and ruptures derive from what Paul Bekker called the “preparation and gradual clarification” of the finale’s Uridee. This in turn suggests that within the Fourth Symphony’s program as a whole, the opening movement’s sonata form might be understood as a kind of dispensable generative matrix, one whose deeper purpose is to open a proleptic window onto the symphony’s transcendent telos.

Keywords:   Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, program, Sonata Theory, Das himmlische Leben, Paul Bekker

Everything is composed within quotation marks. . . . [T]‌he music says: Once upon the time there was a sonata.

—Theodor W. Adorno, Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy (1960)1

I. Introduction: Journeys into the Past, Visions of the Future

It is one of the great ironies of early modernism that Mahler would commemorate the onset of a new century with a decisive retreat into the past. In July 1899, while hiking in the mountains near Aussee, he announced to Natalie Bauer-Lechner a fundamental change in his creative ethos: “In earlier years, I used to like to do unusual things in my compositions. . . . [Now] I’m quite happy if I can somehow only pour my content into the usual formal mould, and I avoid all innovations unless they’re absolutely necessary” (1980, 131). The ostentatiously progressive forms and strategies of his early works, he suggested, were but the “flashy” dress of an artistic adolescent. This about-face—in keeping with what Alma later called his curious “fondness for the old” [Antikisieren] (Floros 1993, 115)—was by no means permanent. Only two summers later Mahler would again indulge his experimentalist streak with the aggressively forward-thinking Fifth Symphony. But the comments clearly had resonance for him at the moment. That same week, he had begun work on his Fourth, which indeed marks a striking departure from its older siblings in its attitudes toward tradition and innovation.2 Casting off the epic construction and “Faustian tone” of the early symphonies, the Fourth deploys a compact four-movement structure and balmy, Haydnesque vernacular that decidedly call to mind the symphony of yesteryear—a burst of “Apollonian” clarity on the heels of the murky, Dionysian Third (Hefling 1997, 397).

(p.140) Of course, this return to an ostensibly simpler idiom hardly simplifies life for the listener or analyst. As many critics have pointed out, the work’s modest construction and mannered ingenuousness conceal a dazzlingly refined artistry. The Fourth finds Mahler not so much “avoiding” innovation as trading one kind of innovation for another. Its signifiers of archaic practice are but elements in a creative strategy more broadly sophisticated, but also more elusive, than anything he had attempted to date. The work’s coy humor confounded and incensed early listeners, whose expectations of another “Resurrection” Symphony were roundly deflated.3 And though the nostalgic Fourth eventually found favor with dissonance-beleaguered postwar audiences, critics today are still working to untangle its ambiguities and to make sense of the ways in which its artifice, anachronism, and staged naiveté crystallize into a distinctly modernist conception. No other symphony of Mahler’s remains quite so puzzling, and none is haunted by such contradictory interpretations, ranging from transcendent bliss to “deeply impregnated sorrow” (Adorno 1998b, 90).

To set the stage, Section II addresses several key framing questions about the Fourth Symphony as a whole: In what ways has the work been heard to manifest “classicism,” and how are we to understand it—parodic or earnest, past tense or present, naïve or critical? And how does that classicism, and the movements that embody it, serve Mahler’s program? Section III looks more closely at the complex interrelationship linking the transsymphonic narrative and the sonata story unfolded in the opening movement. There, I advance the chapter’s central interpretive theme: the image of a “contingent” sonata, one whose notionally self-contained plot is routinely subordinated to musical processes that are ultimately directed beyond the sonata to the symphony’s finale, the Wunderhorn song “Das himmlische Leben.” Section IV then pauses to look at the work’s interpretive traditions, with specific interest in the ways it has been heard to undermine its own ostensibly affirmative message. Finally, Sections V through VII look closely at the exposition, development, and recapitulation, fleshing out the story of the “contingent sonata” while also exploring the many narrative and organizational parallels between this, Mahler’s first overtly classicist sonata, and its direct successor, 6/I.

II. Classical Signifiers, Programmatic Intentions

In contrast to the Sixth Symphony, which would pursue its Beethovenian agenda subcutaneously, in deep-structural processes opaque to casual listening, the Fourth wears its classicism on its sleeve. Like the Sixth, the work deploys a “traditional” formal layout (Allegro—Scherzo—Andante—Finale) whose first movement shows a relatively clear sonata design. Only the diminutive song-finale overrides the generic requirements of the eighteenth-century archetype. But the (p.141) work is also strongly “classical” in its surface rhetoric, often inclining to a pastiche of archaic idioms, mannerisms, and textures.4 Though the relation of these two modes of classical signification might seem self-evident, this was not always the case. Early listeners tended to focus on one or the other of these attributes, which ended up separated by lines of contemporary debate and were prevented from cohering into a single, holistic invocation of (or “dialogue with”) the past.

After the work’s first performances in Munich and Berlin (1901), Mahler’s critics harped on what they heard as a sentimental, “reminiscence”-laden dialect. One charitable writer was simply perplexed by its “sweet and simple style, [its] conscious leaning toward the old and the very old” (de La Grange 1995, 411). Others, feeling mocked, derided its materials as “totally unoriginal” (401) and heard in its caprice only “musical jokes of doubtful taste” (399).5 But these same critics, outraged by the defiantly anticlimactic song-finale, failed to hear the deliberately conventional aspects of its design. We find repeated charges of “formlessness,” like that from the critic from Die Musik, who perceived only “a shapeless stylistic monstrosity that collapses under a surfeit of witty details” (402).

It was in this critical vein that “ironist” became a mark of scorn, a badge of decadence that indicated a hypermodernist temperament at best and at worst a sign of racial inferiority. In turn, Mahler’s advocates were compelled to stress the non-ironic nature of his music—its austerity and connection to the grand tradition—and thus to downplay the work’s stylistic peculiarities. In his 1901 review of the Fourth, Arthur Seidl revered Mahler as a “God seeker” with a “sacred approach” to his art and made a point to castigate those critics “who consider him with an ironic eye and find only affectation in his music” (de La Grange 1995, 402). Amid the many calls for Mahler to disclose the program that would have to underlie so strange a work, Bruno Walter stressed instead its traditional structure: “Is it really necessary . . . to have a program in order to understand a movement with a first and second theme, a development and a restatement? Or a Scherzo with a Trio? Or an Andante with variations?”6

Significantly, Walter claims to speak here with the composer’s own authority. Like his advocates, Mahler makes free reference to the work’s formal conservativism; he spoke, for instance, of the first movement’s “almost pedantic adherence to the rules” (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 153). But beyond a stray comment to Alma that the work was like “an old painting on a golden background” [ein altes Bild auf Goldgrund] (Mahler 1963, 27), we find little direct acknowledgment that the work’s dialect was inflected with old-Viennese simplicity—let alone that it might be heard as “inauthentic” [uneigentlich] (Sponheuer 1978, 184ff.) or (p.142) speaking in a musical “past tense” (Samuels 1994, 154). This brings us to a crucial point: as Mahler conceived it, the voice of the Fourth was simply not “historical” in any direct or immediate sense. For its author, at least, the work was by no means a self-justifying or disinterested homage to the antique style, or “neoclassical” in the sense Mitchell proposes, where “the history of the form itself becomes the subject of the composer’s discourse” (1999b, 201; emphasis original). Rather, its tokens of eighteenth-century practice were conceived programmatically, to connote innocence and simplicity.7 They are musical emblems of the childlike purity and enlightened clarity that are the work’s leading themes and the conditions to which it aspires.

All the same, the complexity of a work like the Fourth arises from its multiple registers of signification, and the fact that Mahler conceived the work’s classical mannerisms functionally—as a means rather than an end in themselves—hardly makes it less striking that this late-Romantic work reaches boldly into a pre-Beethovenian past for many of its materials and processes. He may have intended us to focus only on a stratum of emergent, associative meaning (the “innocent” classical style as the infancy of the medium, one preceding music’s maturation into a soundboard for “grown-up” psychic turbulence), but that layer is itself grounded in the material stratum, a musical trace indelibly marked by a fully- or partly-conscious dialogue with the past. The richest analysis will be the one that takes both strata of meaning into account, downplaying neither Mahler’s programmatic intentions nor the work’s spirited invocation of its musical ancestry. Luckily, these turn out to be reciprocal goals.

We begin with the question of these “programmatic intentions.” In keeping with Mahler’s much-discussed change of heart about such matters around 1900, the Fourth Symphony has no authorized or “official” program.8 At the same time, Floros is right to point out that the work hardly passes for “absolute” music (1993, 113). It may lack the paratextual richness of the early symphonies, but its embedded verbiage is singularly provocative, both in terms of its placement and its content: the song “Das himmlische Leben,” a stylized and often macabre view of heaven through the eyes of a child, which Mahler composed almost a decade earlier (1892) and used as the symphony’s finale.9 And to his friends, Mahler let on that the Fourth pursued a very specific poetic agenda, one that emerged directly from the song text: the entirety of the work, not just the finale, was preoccupied with images and notions of life after death. Mahler’s own comments are (p.143) helpful here: he told Bauer-Lechner that the symphony embodied the “serenity of a higher world, one unfamiliar to us, which has something awe-inspiring and frightening about it”; the effect was to be as opulent and disarming as the “undifferentiated blue of the sky, which is harder to capture than any changing and contrasting shades” (1980, 178, 152). Though the Scherzo is “mystical, confused, and uncanny” (152), the Andante, inspired by images of peaceful sleepers etched on sarcophagi (Walter 1957, 134), restores the transcendent calm. And critically, it is in the last movement that “the child—who, though in a chrysalis-state, nevertheless already belongs to this higher world—explains what it all means” (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 178; emphasis added).10

In these comments, Mahler pinpoints the most daring aspect of his conception: the delayed revelation of the work’s poetic armature. It is no wonder that audiences were confounded. Nowhere is the composer’s own ambivalence about the status or function of programs imprinted so thoroughly into the symphonic substrate and passed on, unprocessed, to his public. As Adorno writes, the work has paradoxically “swallowed” its own program (1992, 58), forcing the listener to grapple with daunting levels of mannerism and “characterization” that appear merely to be self-referential—at least until the climax, where with an act of “retrospective enlightenment” (Mitchell 1999b, 194) access is ostensibly granted to “what it all means.”

Of course, early audiences, disoriented by the first three movements’ barely tenable claims of being “absolute,” were too spent by the end to realize that the Fourth, as the critic Max Graf snidely put it, had to be read “from back to front like a Hebrew Bible” (Mitchell 1999b, 200). But later commentators, armed with a knowledge of Mahler’s intentions and the luxury of multiple hearings, have proved more adept at playing his game, exploring a variety of ways that the finale can be understood to clarify, culminate, or “explain” what precedes. By charting what Mahler himself called the “extremely significant” [überaus wichtig] thematic links that prepare the finale, and by making the song’s poetic themes relevant to the interpretation of the work’s instrumental movements, they have been able to bind the Fourth into a greater conceptual, teleological whole.11 In so doing, they have helped to draw out the symphony’s defining temporal paradox, its tense opposition of reminiscence and expectancy: even as its archaisms draw us nostalgically into the past, its musical genesis directs our attention ever forward, to the blissful revelations that await.

They have also found angles from which the work’s classicism and its idiosyncratic program can be heard to interact productively, with Mahler’s self-consciously traditional gestures reinforcing or even facilitating the finale’s clarifying/culminating functions. Mark Evan Bonds offers one such reading in a fascinating essay that hears the Fourth as Mahler’s decisive “confrontation” with Beethoven’s Ninth. Bonds argues that by way of its four-movement structure and vocal finale (as well as numerous key details within individual movements), the work invokes Beethoven’s magnum (p.144) opus while subjecting it to a Bloomian “misreading” that “radically subverts the nineteenth century’s idea of the symphony as a monumental, heroic gesture” (1996, 175–77).12 This subversive maneuver pivots on the generic unsuitability of “Das himmlische Leben” for a culminating role in the post-Beethovenian symphony. But not only this—equally important is the fact that the rest of the work hews so closely to the to the eighteenth-century model, generating the very Beethovenian resonances that throw the finale into such sharp relief.13 In this sense, Mahler’s own comments about tradition, quoted earlier, prove especially apt: the more faithfully the work traces the eighteenth-century schema, the more conspicuous its deformations become—and the more urgently we must account for their “necessity.” And in this case the single most outlandish gesture, from the point of view of traditional practice, is indeed the semantic key that Mahler intended intended to unlock the whole.

The reading I propose here takes up the same conceit as Bonds—Mahler using traditional or generic schema to foreground key programmatic elements—but pursues it within a single movement, the sonata form that opens the work. Despite its pronounced aspirations to a distinctly “classical” clarity (and notwithstanding Mahler’s comments on its “pedantic” form), this opening sonata features a number of striking and perplexing deformations. I argue that these singular features are best explained in terms of extrinsic, rather than intrinsic processes: where the sonata leads us to the brink of inexplicability, the “necessity” of explanation requires a switch to a wider lens, one encompassing the symphony totality.

III. Transsymphonic Narrative and the Sonata as Generative Matrix

Like the Allegro of the Sixth, this “classical” sonata bears an especially strong intertextual bond with its finale. But the relationship here is nothing so abstract as one finds between the mirror-image variants that bookend the later work. Instead, Mahler interleaves materials from the song-finale directly into the sonata (p.145) movement, spurring a number of detours and anomalies in the unfolding sonata plot. As we shall see, the connotations are strongly teleological: I argue that beyond its existence as an independent sonata, 4/I also serves as a generative matrix, one whose higher purpose is to produce the finale’s opening theme, what Bekker calls the work’s Uridee (1969, 148).

For Bekker, the “formal and logical meaning” of the symphony’s first three movements is, above all else, the “preparation and gradual clarification” of this “himmlische Leben” theme: “through all of the different spheres it passes, [this Uridee] drives, consciously or unconsciously, to the final terminus” (1969, 147–48).14 And he is quick to stress that the theme’s progressive emergence is important not just for the interpretation of the whole, but also for the comprehension of the individual movements themselves. He urges a sharp ontological distinction between the materials of the sonata, scherzo, and variations, on the one hand, and this omnipresent “thematic Ursymbol” on the other (149). The former, he insists, are “not, in fact, as consequential as they might seem”; they merely provide the staging ground from which the latter can ultimately emerge. In this reading, the sonata’s themes are but masked characters acting out a “play within a play,” a self-contained form ancillary to the main transsymphonic story but also necessary to its ultimate revelation (149).15 In effect, this hearing invites us to distinguish between two concurrent levels of plot: the superficial one presented by the sonata (the “play within a play”) and the “real” one centered on the emergence of the “himmlische Leben” theme, which is left unclosed at the movement’s conclusion.

Rudolph Stephan revives Bekker’s dualism but envisions a more fluid interaction between levels. In his hearing, the “himmlische Leben” theme is not merely generated within the opening sonata form; it also impinges on it, eventually establishing itself as a kind of surrogate Hauptgedanke (1966, 16–17).16 This perceptive reading provides a springboard for my own, which asks how the drive to, or preparation of, the song-finale causes warps or anomalies within a sonata that (p.146) otherwise aspires (so it seems) to normalcy. Central to this reading is the fact that the “himmlische Leben” theme does not—as many analyses suggest—descend unprepared into the midst of a development already under way. Mahler may frame it as “new” material, but he derives it methodically from a constellation of exposition themes—particularly S, of which it is a distant variant, and (critically) for which it surrogates in the development. Thus the internal and external plot strands are even more tightly interwoven than the authors cited suggest, since the Uridee not only insinuates itself into the sonata process, but also paradoxically emerges from it as well. In other words, the autonomy that Bekker and Stephan grant that theme from the outset must, in fact, be attained as the movement unfolds.

My reading also explores subtler (and previously unexamined) ways that the sonata movement participates in the transsymphonic drive to the finale. Of special interest are the curious games of closure that unfold at the end of the sonata’s outer sections. In the home stretch of a conspicuously traditional two-part exposition—at the very moment of the anticipated EEC, no less—Mahler deflects the music through a series of digressions, leading ultimately to emphatic closure in the tonic key (m. 91). The recapitulation repeats this gambit in its entirety. Though it now arrives at the correct key (tonic, as before!), serious issues remain: not only does the moment of structural closure (m. 323) fall outside any zone recognized by the traditional sonata plot; the very function of that closure is called into question, since the exposition’s tonic ending neutralizes the very “tonal tension” that is supposed to motivate the drama to its close. In other words, the basic reciprocality of the exposition and recapitulation—structures of “promise” and “accomplishment,” respectively (Hepokoski and Darcy 2006, 18–19)—is fundamentally upset.

In terms of the sonata and its business, these closure-related deformations are even more consequential than those caused by the emergent “himmlische Leben” theme. They are also less straightforwardly explained in terms of the transsymphonic plot. Nevertheless, my reading sets out from one critical fact: the bucolic tonic-confirmation fields that close both exposition (m. 91) and recapitulation (m. 323) distinctly foreshadow the textures and motives of song-finale—as well (in both cases) as its opening tonality. I take these sites of extreme ambiguity—each one effecting problematic long-range closure while conjuring an untroubled image of the heavenly transsymphonic telos—as evidence of the tension between Bekker’s two plot-levels: the self-contained, “closed” sonata versus the open-ended drive of the Uridee to its final destination. In the analysis ahead, they will help to flesh out Bekker’s image of the movement as ephemeral and contingent (a mere “play within a play”), since they show Mahler routinely subordinating the sonata’s closure-mechanisms to rapt visions of the work’s “true” destination, a yet-unknown Utopian country beyond the borders of the sonata itself.

Ultimately, our aim will be to hear the many anticipations of the finale not as isolated “premonitions,” but as deeply entangled with the sonata process itself—related to its themes and bound up with its goals. In so doing, we will find Mahler’s own ambivalence about symphonic programs filtering recursively through the musical hierarchy, to the innermost mechanics of the sonata. Just as none of his symphonies would so tensely embody the perceived duality of programmatic and “absolute” conceptions, no single opening movement shows such deep ambivalence about (p.147) its own autonomy—seeming on the one hand to revive a traditional, self-contained sonata plot, while on the other hand precariously staking its very comprehensibility on an external semantic key.

IV. Interlude: Interpreting the Transcendent Telos

Before moving on, I should like to weigh in on an issue that has been much debated in recent years, and one that is surely relevant to any interpretation: the question of how the Fourth as a whole ought to be understood, in terms of tone and meaning. The buoyancy of its outward mood is beyond debate. Opening with brisk humor and closing with a gentle lullaby, its enchanted arc is only intermittently perturbed by “dark . . . shadows” and “bogeymen” (Cooke 1988, 68). And for a number of generations, critics sympathetic to Mahler took this prevailing optimism at face value. Writers like Bekker (1969), Specht (1913), and Walter (1957) understood the Fourth much as the composer himself seemed to: as essentially affirmational, a rapt (if idiosyncratic) admixture of naïve mysticism and nostalgia.17

Increasingly, though, critics have been inclined to rethink the work’s cherubic image, tilting the reception tradition to darker themes. This trend seems to have begun with Adorno, whose readings in the 1960s are still startling in their dissent from the broad consensus. None of Mahler’s symphonies, he declared, is “more deeply impregnated with sorrow” (1998b, 90). “Entirely broken,” it offers “no transcendence . . . but that of yearning,” and its “joy” ultimately remains “unattainable” (1992, 52 and 57). This reading goes against the grain of Mahler’s humor in quite a different fashion from those of early detractors, who merely heard it as supercilious. Without ever calling the composer’s earnestness into question, Adorno positively obsesses over the work’s inner divergence from its outward appearances. Much about his reading is stimulated by the work’s archaic form and “banal” language: it is “inauthentic,” composed “within quotation marks” (58, 56, 96); its sleighbells are really “fool’s bells,” declaring that “none of what [we] hear is now true” (56–57).

But his critique is moved on a deeper level by a basic resistance to the idea of a happy ending, a need to redeem the whole from fairy-tale triviality (and tacitly from Mahler’s own naïve metaphysics). The “inauthenticity” of the style is instrumental to this end. Where Adorno would rail famously at the affirmative endings of the Seventh and Eighth (1992, 137–42), the Fourth earns no such abuses, because its archaic dialect fends off any perceived collusion with the post-Wagnerian establishment and its consecration rituals.18 The Fourth is able to speak so eloquently of loss because its very dialect is itself already “lost,” archaic and overworn. And while (p.148) this “disintegrating language” “phantasmagoric[ally]” conjures the work’s “transcendent landscape,” it also “negate[s]‌” it from within (56–57). For Adorno, the work is not dramatically tragic like the Sixth. It traces no temporal curve from elation into despair. It is ontologically tragic. It breaks, invisibly and inaudibly, under the very impossibility of its own existence. From the first bars to the last, Adorno’s Fourth is the presence of absence made audible.

Adorno’s indifference to composer intentions is rarely so blunt; Mahler would scarcely have recognized this “broken” Fourth as his own. But we should recognize that Adorno’s most decisive break with tradition hinges not on what happens within the Fourth, but rather on what lies beyond it. The central themes of his analysis actually have a long pedigree and are not so dissonant with the status quo as we might imagine. The trope of “unreality” that pervades his discussion—that nothing we hear is “true” or “authentic”—adds a historical-material spin to much older views of the Fourth as a “fairy tale,” filled with “dream” images.19 And Adorno’s death-fixation—which in no way downplays the work’s outward bliss—merely gives fuller voice to what is already a latent, and unavoidably morbid, part of the work’s eschatology.

The difference, rather, is broadly metaphysical. Adorno’s dissent is that the Fourth is only a dream, a wish for what might be, but cannot. Mahler may have wanted to “assure himself and us through a lofty and cheerful dream of the joys of eternal life, that we are safe” (Walter 1957, 135). But in a world where such assurances ring hollow, the Fourth takes on a pall that makes it “as sad as the late works.” Rather than dying away into eternal bliss, its quizzically passive final bars simply die, leaving the song’s promise that “all shall awake to joy” forever unfulfilled (Adorno 1992, 57). None of Adorno’s readings hinge more completely on a surreptitious exchange of Mahler’s metaphysics for his own or more emphatically realize his (utterly un-Mahlerian!) dictum that in this music “the absolute is conceived, felt and longed for, and yet it does not exist. . . . All could be well, but in fact all is lost” (1998b, 109). And yet Adorno’s trap is a clever one. Rather than allowing us to choose between two Fourths—a positive or a negative one—he rigs the game so that the more affirmatively one hears the sounding work, the deeper its ostensible message of loss.

One choice we can make, however, is to opt out of Adorno’s game altogether, sidelining all such metaphysical questions as peripheral to the work’s immanent narrative. Limiting our attention to the story told by the sounding musical trace hardly confines us to a naïve hearing. As a number of recent studies have shown, a closer inspection of the work’s many musical and musical/textual tensions point to a Fourth that is at best internally conflicted, and one that works subtly to undermine the very affirmation that is its ostensible goal. In an immensely valuable recent reading, Raymond Knapp (p.149) explores the “bleak underside” to Mahler’s depiction of “childhood innocence and vulnerability” (1999, 234). Drawing on Mahler’s original 1892 pairing of the song-finale with “Das irdische Leben”—the agonized lament of a starving child—Knapp lends more credibility to the “ironic” hearing, first glimpsed in Adorno’s work, in which “the child dies of starvation while dreaming of plenty” (239).20

With a similar eye for telling detail, Bonds examines the tensions between adult and childlike perspectives in the work, both textual—as with the poem’s juxtaposition of naïve and violent images (1996, 181)—and musical, with specific focus on the jarring disruptions and outbursts that are never ultimately reconciled with the main pastoral sphere (182). Though both writers owe a debt to Adorno, neither puts forth so flatly negative an assessment of the work as a whole. Instead of hearing an absolute ontological self-negation, each struggles, as Knapp writes, to “leave open, as much as possible, the ambiguities that Mahler himself left open” (1999, 235). For Bonds the “very essence of the work lies in its ambiguity.” He stresses that while past analysts like Bekker have clearly suppressed the work’s disturbing features,

it would be equally mistaken to exaggerate the score’s darker elements. To regard the Fourth as a negation of paradise, a mere dystopia, would be to miss the richness of the work’s ambiguity. The seeming contradictions of the text and the deeper contradictions between text and music leave a strange but moving sense of doubt. Mahler created an ending in which believers . . . can continue to hear the sleighbells as a memory of childhood’s innocence. It is this ambivalence of faith—and closure—that is by far the most radical element within the Fourth Symphony. (1996, 199)

I agree. The work is more compelling if we allow it a multitude of conflicting voices, rather than reducing it—as Adorno does, without quite intending to—to a potpourri of “children’s songs” made morbid by their own paradoxical non-existence (1992, 55). For this reason, ambiguity—both of expression and formal process—will be a leading theme in my own reading as well. And as I have already hinted in Section II, “ambivalence of . . . closure” is at the heart of the matter—if not exactly in the manner Bonds has in mind.

V. Exposition: The Contingent Sonata and Problematics of Closure

For those grown accustomed to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and its peculiar sound-world, it can be instructive to imagine how the work might sound to a first-time listener who encountered it while surfing the airwaves, tuning in late by only by a few seconds—let’s say around bar four. If our hypothetical listener were knowledgeable of the Viennese classical style, the work would probably (p.150) come across as mildly perplexing—clearly not of the eighteenth century, owing to any number of quirks in the harmony and scoring,21 and yet knowingly reminiscent in many regards: a warmly nostalgic string theme, unfolding tidy symmetrical phrases and laced with echoes of Schubert; a brisk transitional idea whose rustic fanfares build to an emphatic half-cadential stop; a broad, singing, lyrical theme in the dominant, followed by a contrasting closing group. Mutatis mutandis, a faithful and seemingly earnest reenactment of the two-part sonata exposition central to the late eighteenth-century vernacular. At least so far.

But those who know the Fourth also recognize that for our latecoming listener, the work thus far has been misrepresented, and fundamentally so. For concentrated in those three missing bars is Mahler’s most striking symphonic introduction: an unlikely vapor of jingling bells and murmuring winds that crystallizes from nothing and then dissipates. We will hear the bells again at several key points, but this first appearance is decisive, since it is critical in establishing the tone of what follows. Mahler himself likened it to a “jester’s cap” worn by the work as a whole (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 182), a fantastic metaphor echoed in images like Cooke’s “celestial sleigh ride” (1988, 67). In a similarly symbolic vein, Bonds (1996, 175) and Mitchell (1999b, 207) hear the bells announcing the “childlike innocence” that is thematized throughout the Fourth.

More suggestive, though, are readings that focus on the effect of the passage in its specific context—especially its artifice and discontinuity with the subsequent sonata exposition, which strolls in glibly as though nothing had come before. Sponheuer hears the bell-music’s phantasmagoric non sequitur establishing the work’s “objective brokenness” [objektive Gebrochenheit] right from the outset. They are the acoustic image of the “quotation marks” Adorno places around the Fourth in its entirety, declaring its “inauthenticity” (1978, 183–84; Adorno 1992, 96).22 With typically Adornian long-distance hearing, his analysis looks ahead to the finale, where the bell-music reveals its true function: that of rupture, of agitated incursion into the pastoral sphere. That rupture-character is subdued here, but latent nonetheless. Knapp’s hearing is similar: the Fourth paradoxically “begins with an intrusion.” But just as important—and here Knapp makes a critical point—the quick succession of scene changes results in a dizzying reversal where the “intrusion” itself becomes a “background,” a second space or “wintry outside,” beyond the balmy sonata soon to envelop us (1999, 235).23

Knapp’s metaphor of nested spaces—of a starkly juxtaposed “out there” and “in here”—is appealing in that it proposes from the very outset the presence of a palpable, superordinate Other, something that transcends and relativizes the (p.151) sonata while also looking ahead to the finale. (In this sense it merges easily with the “contingent” sonata-image derived from Bekker in Section III.) More than this, though: because the spaces are nested and not merely contiguous, the metaphor implies that this Other, this larger sphere, is present throughout all of what follows, even during the long stretches where it recedes from our attention. (For better or worse, the outside is still “out there,” even when we come indoors.) And this, ultimately, is why the latecoming listener misses the bigger picture: Mahler presents the bell-music as the marked half of an asymmetrical binary, one whose opposing element is the entirety of the exposition that follows. The meaning of that sonata is ontologically bound up in this binary. It is not presented in a straightforward sense; it is literally not given as “absolute.” At every moment, the fading memory of the bells reminds us that the sonata is what it is by virtue of not being that cryptic, briefly glimpsed Other.

While keeping all this in mind, let us now step into the sonata itself, beginning with a closer look at the exposition. The topmost brackets in Figure 5.1 show that the exposition proper divides into two parts. The first of these, “Exposition 1,” imitates an eighteenth-century two-part exposition: a P/TR zone proceeds through a clear medial caesura (MC) to a dominant-key S-space and closing group (C1). (The diagram indicates the EEC-complications mentioned earlier; I return to these shortly.) “Exposition 2,” which follows, begins as a written-out exposition repeat, restating the opening bell-music and much of the P-complex with only superficial adjustments.24 But in m. 91 the reprise short-circuits, and the music deflects to completely new material: the bucolic “C2,” discussed in Section III, which closes the exposition in the tonic and offers a first, veiled glimpse of “Das himmlische Leben.”

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.1 Symphony no. 4/1, simplified overview

Figure 5.2 offers a closer look at the exposition’s internal structure. The second tier of brackets show that the P-space of Exposition 1 comprises two basic ideas, P1 and P2, arranged in two brief subrotations. I show these themes in Figure 5.3, along with the introductory bell-music, which I have labeled as “P0.”25 Careful readers might sense a tension here, since this nomenclature would seem to undermine the distinctions I have just outlined between bell-world and sonata, since both are notionally grouped as “P.” But the purpose of this label will become clearer in the development, where Mahler reconfigures the P-materials, merging P2 and P0 into a single complex and revealing a more fluid relationship than is suggested by the starkly juxtapositional opening bars.

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.2 Symphony no. 4/I, exposition

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.3 Bell music and primary theme (P) motives

For now, though, the fantastic P0 remains safely cordoned off, allowing the exposition to unfold a musical world that Mahler hoped would sound “childishly simple and quite unselfconscious” (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 162). As mentioned, the harmony and phrase rhetoric here incline to nostalgic simplicity. (p.152) (p.153) (p.154) Adorno points out that the “Mozartean” P1 theme (Mahler’s “most inauthentic,” he exults!) is actually derived from Schubert’s Piano Sonata in E♭, D. 568 (1992, 56–57). And its tidily symmetrical disposition sets a precedent for P2, which unfolds a chain of balanced two-bar units. Cadences come often and effortlessly (mm. 8, 18, 21, 32), depleting tension and lending the music an ambling composure very much the opposite of the manic Fortspinnung that opened the Sixth.26

A sudden spike in energy marks the onset of the transitional theme (TR), which, after a brief romp, leads to a grand half-cadential MC in m. 37.27 Curiously, a number of Adorno’s readers have aimed to tease out dislocated or intrusive aspects of this passage (Samuels 1995, 141; Knapp 1999, 243–44). But Mahler offers little incentive to listen against the grain here. Indeed, the very point of this sonata-form transition—the first of Mahler’s career, we might note—is that it reenacts an utterly conventional, century-old formal gesture with brisk, unforced exuberance. (If anything is remarkable here, it is Mahler’s confidence that material so formulaic would be adequate to his creative vision.)28

The ensuing secondary theme (S) has also been subject to against-the-grain hearings. In this case it is Adorno himself, who saddles S with the task of undermining the unfolding sonata. But his assessment—such a songlike binary contrasts too sharply with P and is indeed “too self-sufficient for a sonata as such” (1992, 96–97)—hardly convinces. The insularity of S may betray certain late-Romantic sonata sensibilities, but its contrast with P falls short even of the Mahlerian norm and does little to offset the impression that Mahler is deferring cheerfully to convention.29 This glibness clearly puts Adorno on edge, and he reacts with customary contrariness, assuring us that any outward semblance of arbitrary formalism is undermined from within, by Mahler’s insurgent strikes against the ever logical, ever remainderless dominating force of the classical sonata.

In truth, the sonata’s first real rupture only occurs at the end of S, at the moment of the ardently prepared PAC that would consummate the new key and close the exposition (m. 58). There, Mahler grants us the expected tonic, but all (p.155) else goes awry: the texture implodes, the dynamics fall off, and the yearning string timbres give way to a choir of concertante winds pecking out staccato counterpoints. As Knapp points out, for a closing group C1 is “curiously ambivalent about closure” (1999, 244). Its three variants rarely exceed a piano dynamic, and at the end of the last, it simply wanders off (mm. 7072), in the manner of the Third Symphony’s retransitional snare drum. It also proves ominously unstable. Twice, forte outbursts of P-theme material burst in (mm. 62, 66; see the dotted arcs in Figure 5.2), knocking the legs from under the tottering C1 and announcing with some impatience that the primary theme is on its way—perhaps to set matters right after this graphic (if tongue-in-cheek) expositional “failure.”

Exposition 2 alters P only slightly. The most significant change occurs in P2 (m. 80). For this third sounding, Mahler superimposes the original version with its later variant (cf. mm. 817, 2131)—a procedure systematic enough to belie Erwin Stein’s famous image of Mahler “shuffl[ing]” motives here “like a pack of cards” (1953, 7). That the G-major tonic dominates the proceedings is not it itself remarkable, since a composed-out exposition repeat would presumably entail a tonic reset followed by a second pass at the secondary key. But at culmination of P2—the very moment where (p.156) Exposition 1 began its modulation to the dominant, no less—Exposition 2 offers a massive, terminal, tonic-key PAC (m. 91). And it is there that the music stays, dwelling in a sumptuous pastoral space and dreaming of the finale to come.30

As the exposition fades away, it is clear that the music’s rhetorical and processive signals have fallen glaringly out of sync. From the viewpoint of plot norms, this wrong-key “EEC”—which effectively composes over TR and S—suggests a sonata gone utterly off the rails. And yet it offers itself to the listener, as Adorno writes, “like a village before which he is seized by the feeling that this might be what he seeks” (1992, 44; emphasis added). This is no casual metaphor, since as Bekker argues, “what we seek” (what we really seek) is of course the transcendent finale, which is “foretold” in this music (Knapp 1999, 247) by the many striking anticipations of “Das himmlische Leben’s” opening: the G-major tonic pedal and portamento-textures, the idyllic morendo, the arpeggiated anacruses, and especially the pentatonic “arpeggio-plus-upper-neighbor” cell 3ˆ—1ˆ—5ˆ—6ˆ—5ˆ that is both the song’s opening melody and the germinal motive of C2 itself (m. 91).31

What should we make of this conflicted music? A cynical listener might take this lush G major as a Janus-faced attempt to mask sonata failure—something like what we encountered in the recapitulation of 6/I (see Chapter 4). A more sympathetic hearing, and one more attuned to Mahler’s proleptic agenda, might draw from Bekker the idea that the routine business of the sonata is subordinated here to another, broader rhetorical objective. That is to say, we could hear the failure as strategic, reminding us of the sonata’s contingency and announcing that the higher goal—and thus “true” closure—is not endemic to this terrestrial genre at all. Thus the sonata proper hangs in an uncannily suspended state while Mahler offers an early glimpse of the transcendent telos.

Other idiosyncrasies make this “failure” especially compelling. In most cases, expositional failure would involve the absence of a decisive cadence in a well-defined secondary key, as in 5/II, 6/IV, and 7/I. But it is rarely the case that Mahler fails to escape the tonic at all. Here, both defects are present: the inability to close in the newly attained secondary key (in Exposition 1) and a compulsion to close in the only key truly “unavailable” for the articulation of the EEC: the tonic (in Exposition 2). The result is an involuted narrative in which Exposition 1 (the “exposition within the exposition,” to trope Bekker) establishes what is meant to be a long-range tonal tension, only to have it undermined in stages—first with the skittish and ineffective C1, and then with the vigorous negation of C2.

Moreover, the reinstalled tonic of C2 upsets the sonata’s fundamental dramatic trajectory—the drive of the secondary theme to achieve tonic closure—by threatening with its unwanting, Elysian G major to close the entire process down (p.157) prematurely. (That several authors have called this music a “coda” accords with the perplexing cues that we have somehow left the sonata’s affairs behind us.)32 But the movement does go on, and in so doing it reproduces within the sonata the same games of closure and contingency that relate the sonata to the whole. That is to say, the exposition—like the entire movement—feigns a closure, a self-containment it does not in truth possess. Both are shown ultimately to be contingent, merely stages within longer processes. And strikingly, both levels of G-major closure are overturned by vertiginous, fiddle-haunted nightmares—the movement as a whole by the Scherzo that follows, and the exposition by its macabre development.

VI. Development: Phantasmagoric Collage, Thematic Genesis

Critics rarely fail to mention the striking discontinuity between Mahler’s exposition and what Mitchell calls the “virtually self-contained” development that follows (1999b, 213). One often reads of a shift in the music’s “state of consciousness.” Knapp, for instance, offers the elegant image of C2 as “a lullaby leading to an uneasy sleep besieged by nightmare” (1999, 248).33 And as Adorno observes, the juxtaposition is not only one of character but also of process. As if in response to the exposition’s formalist strictness, Mahler embarks here on the first development of his career that treats its materials “in an explicating way.” It is only in leaving the bucolic C2 behind, he writes, that “the movement truly begins as a story” (1992, 96).

Here we find one of the defining parallels between the present movement and the “classicist” Allegro of the Sixth: a development that casts off the exposition’s formalist attitude in favor of a discursive, episodic, and intensely “novelistic” unfolding. (This, again, contrasts with developments begin as clearly drawn exposition-variants, as in 3/I, 5/II, or 7/I.) Mahler emphasizes these procedural shifts with similarly stark textural and affective juxtapositions. In each, a strongly rooted major-mode cadential field (in 6/I, the F-major post-EEC aftermath; here, the G-major C2) is uprooted by a nightmarish vortex of dissociated P-theme materials. Furthermore, both developments begin with minor-mode representations of the major tonic that the symphony ultimately strives to attain, as if to mark the onset of some long-range primordial or existential conflict. The Sixth Symphony’s Allegro begins its development in the tonic A minor (which will be challenged unsuccessfully by its parallel, A major), while the present development sets out in E minor, the modal inverse of the luminous E major that closes (p.158) “Das himmlische Leben” and the Fourth as a whole.34 The purpose of the present development will be to overcome this E minor and its associated bell-world, in order to forge the leading motive of the song-finale from fragments of the exposition themes.

Despite its relative brevity (138 bars), this development poses unusual challenges to the would-be interpreter, as it brims over with an effusive, novelistic surfeit of seemingly new materials and themes. Figure 5.4 draws out the basic aspects of its underlying organization. The chart divides into two horizontal strata, each of which constitutes a single subrotation within a larger double- subrotational structure. The vertically divided box along the bottom charts the four plot points that define each rotation: (1) “Nightmare” topos; (2) P1 struggles to enter; (3) “Paradise” theme; and (4) Corruption/Disintegration. Notice that the basic modular design of the exposition is manifested here only at the deepest, most abstract level. The first rotational event corresponds loosely to P0, the second to P1, and the third to both TR and S. Neither C1 or C2 is represented, and the fourth rotational event (“Corruption/Disintegration”) is an elisional space where elements of P filter in, preparing the next (sub)rotation.

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.4 Symphony no. 4/I, development

The second point to note is that these four recycled “events” differ considerably in length from the first subrotation to the second and even cut across the rhetorical divisions of the musical stream into discrete “episodes.” Brackets along the top of each subrotation divide the development into six such episodes, plus an aftermath/retransition.35 While some of the mappings are straightforwardly one-to-one—Episode 2 onto Episode 6, for instance—others are not. Notice that where Episode 1 includes both of the first two rotation-defining events (“Nightmare Topos” and “P1 Struggles to Enter”), Mahler divides these between two episodes (nos. 4 and 5) in subrotation 2.

Figure 5.4 also features new thematic nomenclatures. In addition to P and TR, we see “N” and “H,” each of them appearing in multiple versions (N1, N2, and so on). Here, “N” stands for “nightmare topos,” a fusion of P0 and P2 that we will examine shortly, while “H” denotes the so-called paradise theme—the opening melody of the finale, which Mahler generates here in stages.36 (The “H” stands for “himmlische Leben,” P [for “paradise”] being unavailable.) The focal point of each subrotation is a major-mode presentation of this H-theme. These occur in (p.159) (p.160) Episodes 2 and 6, and stand out as the only securely optimistic, tonally stable moments in a development that otherwise tends toward the macabre and dissociative. Thus each subrotation traces the same affective gestalt, from darkness into light and back again.

We begin with the starkly negative Episode 1. Here, the B-minor bell-music returns and, as before, gives way to a presentation of more properly thematic material. But this time, the bells do not yield to P. Instead, the bell-world absorbs elements of P in order to unfold its own diabolical ersatz primary theme. (Whatever partition had kept the bells “outside” and the sonata “inside” has clearly been annulled.) As the annotated short score shows, the opening bell-field is woven through with fragments of P2 (mm. 103, 106–8), which are suffused with a new, spectral character. This is our first glimpse of the “nightmare topos” (N) that will dominate the development. Materially, N derives equally from P0 and P2. But P2, at least as we once knew it, is not a genuine thematic presence here: it is merely dismantled and used for parts, enabling the once static bell-music to unfold dynamically.

That dynamic unfolding begins with the bell-music’s first functional-harmonic accomplishment. Twice before (mm. 4, 77), the frozen B-minor vamp thawed innocuously into G major. Here, it resolves emphatically to E minor (m. 110), realizing a “dominant” potential only latent in its first two appearances.37 This E minor provides the springboard for a new thematic impulse, fused from fragments of P2: N1, whose initiatory function mirrors that of P1 in the exposition. But Mahler makes it plain to hear that N1 does not merely substitute for P1, but actively suppresses it—that in Hepokoski and Darcy’s terms, N1 truly “composes over” its rotational correlate. First, there are the parodic echoes of P1 itself: the glibly symmetrical phrase-groupings, the “naïve” pizzicato accompaniment outlining tonic and dominant. More important is the conflict Mahler stages only moments later, in m. 116. There, P1 moves effortfully to reenter but is quickly repelled: its lithe string melody is beset by wind-choir iterations of N1 (m. 117), and after a few flailing moments the entire texture collapses (m. 121), concluding the episode. This momentary conflict is decisive, as it recasts the previously unperturbed P1 as an agent whose very existence is at stake. Unable to effect the background/foreground reversal Knapp hears in mm. 3–4 (1999, 235)— powerless to normalize itself and the sunlit world of the exposition—P1 remains an “intruder.” (The road back from this marginalization will span the rest of the movement, since it is only in the coda that P1 fully reestablishes itself as an unchallenged presence.)

In this surreal world, discontinuity quickly becomes the norm. And as Episode 1 collapses, both N and P1 are swept aside to make way for a new, luminous idea (m. 125): the celebrated A-major “Paradise theme” (H1), a merry tune sounded by four unison flutes (Adorno’s famous “dream ocarina” [1992, 53]) over a murmuring bed of C2-based string figures. Here Mahler offers a more concrete vision of the musical hereafter. Figures 5.5e and 5.5f (p.161) (p.162) compare H1 and the actual “himmlische Leben” theme, showing strong material correspondences: the analytic beams show an identical scale-degree framework, and the black wedges highlight the repeated-note motive common to both.

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.5 Genesis of H1 (“paradise theme”)

Adorno cites H1 as a decisive early instance of Mahler’s novelistic approach, on the grounds that the introduction of seemingly new material mid-development offends the principle of symphonic economy (1992, 71). But this apparent newness only makes the theme’s hidden material derivation more compelling. And as Figure 5.5 shows, that derivation is long and complex, involving successive permutations of a basic pentatonic “master cell” derived from “Das himmlische Leben” (compare Figures 5.5a and 5.5f). First, we see from Figures 5.5c and 5.5e that the scale-degree skeleton of H1—which outlines the master cell in its entirety—is strongly foreshadowed in the headmotive of TR. In turn, Figure 5.5b traces this skeleton to the germinal cell of C2, first improvised as an accompaniment to P1 in bar 20.38 The black wedges in Figures 5.5d and 5.5e show another important derivational branch: the characteristic repeated notes of H1 originate in the opening module of S1 (which itself outlines an incomplete master cell). Thus while the Paradise theme undoubtedly points forward in the overall narrative, it distinctly echoes much that has come before—S1 most clearly, but also TR. Accordingly, Figure 5.4 proposes that H1, like the later H3, serves as a rotational proxy for S and (to a lesser extent) TR.

Before moving on, we might pause to ask why the H-themes should be heard as “proxies” for S. First, such a hearing helps to correct what would otherwise be a striking deviation from Mahler’s standard practice: the apparent omission of the S from the development.39 (TR, by contrast, is not omitted; it will appear in Episode 6.) Second, it allows for a more satisfying integration of the local and transsymphonic plots. Investing too literally in the conceit of a “self-contained” development—one with no prehistory and whose sole purpose is to generate the finale theme—prevents us from hearing the ways in which the development carries the sonata’s rotational processes forward at a deeper level. By understanding the Paradise themes to be materially derived from S (and as occurring in rotational zones ostensibly allocated to S-material), we can hear the Paradise narrative emerging from the sonata (rather than arising ex nihilo in its midst), giving the latter a more purposive role in the execution of the symphonic whole.

Finally, by imagining the Paradise theme as a Utopian transformation of S that also freely intermingles elements of TR, we tease out another plot device common to this movement and its classical successor, the Allegro of the Sixth. Previously, I noted that each of these movements pits a tightly (p.163) constructed exposition against an intensely “novelistic” or “improvisational” development. In so doing, each development reduces its multisectional exposition to a single rhetorical dualism. In 6/I, the exposition delineates three distinct thematic zones (P/TR/S) but organizes its development around the more basic opposition of the march world of P (mm. 123–95) and the Alpine fantasyscape that includes both TR and S (mm. 196–250).40 Mahler then ends the developmental rotation with a zone that intermingles elements of P, TR, and S2, and which elides directly into the next (in this case recapitulatory) rotation (mm. 251–85).

The bottom layer of Figure 5.6 offers a simplified view of that development as three rhetorical/thematic zones: a P-zone; a TR/S-zone; and a “combinatorial space” that elides into the P that begins the next rotation, but which is not predominated by any single thematic character. (The main “rhetorical/dramatic” opposition falls between the first two juxtaposed zones.) The diagram’s top two layers analyze the present development, showing that each subrotation conforms broadly to this schema: the essential duality is that of bell-world versus paradise, with the “combinatorial spaces” corresponding to the “corruption/disintegration” phases of Figure 5.4.

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.6 Symphonies nos. 4/I and 6/I, simplified rhetorical/thematic layout of development sections

The first of these combinatorial zones arrives when Episode 3 (m. 142) hurls us back into the bell-world, where the paradise theme will now be disfigured and dismembered. Here we encounter H2 (m. 148), a twisted bass-register variant of H1, accompanied by Episode 1’s “nightmare” figures. Figure 5.4 shows the episode dividing into three parts. The outer sections (mm. 14554, 15766) present (p.164) H2 at various pitch levels and with increasing fragmentation. (The theme’s three-note “severed head” is held grotesquely aloft at mm. 150, 153, 154, et passim.) The middle section (mm. 155–56) is only retrospectively “interior”: it begins as an apparent restart of the N0 topic from Episode 1, only to dissolve back into the “corrupted paradise” music.

The bell topos returns securely only at the onset of the second subrotation (m. 167), where a new theme, N2, launches Episode 4. Once again, we see Mahler’s thematic techniques to be richer and more diverse than Adorno predicts. For while the various “Paradise” themes arise as gestalt-based “variant” transformations, the bell-based themes (N1, N2, N3) are made from concatenations of previously nonadjacent motives. (At last, Stein’s “shufflings”!) Here, Mahler assembles N2 from assorted components of N1, as shown in Figure 5.7. He also incorporates debris from the liquidated H2, with the end of the antecedent phrase (mm. 17475) recycling several fragments heard in mm. 16566.

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.7 Derivation of new bell theme (N2) from N1

Figure 5.4 shows that the large self-contained period of Episode 4 corresponds rotationally to the first half of Episode 1. That episode’s second half, the ill-fated reappearance of P1, is now recast as a longer and more protracted struggle, forming the whole of Episode 5. Once more, the incorruptible P1 tries to stabilize a major tonality (m. 188) but is harried by fragments of the nightmare topos (mm. 190, 192ff.) and eventually shouted down by an oversized tutti restatement of N1 (p.165) (m. 196).41 By m. 200, the music reaches a stalemate. Fragments of H2 reappear—the “severed head” now awkwardly reattached to the body (mm. 2012)—while P1 repeats its reentry strategy, meeting sustained resistance from N0/N1.42 This time, however, the floor drops away: Mahler withdraws P1’s characteristic eighth-note accompaniment—the earlier music’s metric/harmonic glue—giving this second pass a more pointillistic and vertiginous character.

But from this miasma of ghostly fragments there congeals a sudden elevating impulse, and the music delivers us without warning into the uplands of C major (m. 209) and the threshold of Episode 6—a “noisily cheerful” field (Adorno 1992, 54) that Mitchell hears as the “apotheosis” of the movement’s “calculated naivety” (1999b, 211). Motives from the nightmare world, illumined and transfigured, meld into a glittering tutti texture that underscores the final terrestrial incarnation of the Paradise theme, H3, sung resplendently here by the F trumpet (m. 212) and set in counterpoint against TR.43

At this climactic moment, the origins of the Paradise theme in S1 are at last resoundingly audible. Figure 5.8 shows the derivation of H3 from H2, H1, and ultimately S1—all four themes being related by their three-note headmotive. Look first at H2 (5.8d). Though in context it tends to sound like a corruption of the immediately preceding H1, H2 is more directly formed from the rhythmic gestalt of S1 (5.8a) and the melodic contour of P2.6 in its dissonant “nightmare” configuration (5.8b). As Figure 5.8e shows, H3 brings all of these strands together. For the apotheosis, Mahler projects the scale-degree skeleton of H1 onto the S1-derived rhythmic gestalt of H2, producing a form that is the closest yet to the “himmlische Leben” theme (5.8f). The result also offers a compelling twist on Hepokoski’s dictum that “even in the development, thematic references [to S] should be heard as recalling what their past function was and what their future role is ‘destined’ to be” (2002, 134). At this lofty elevation, where the sightlines are clearest both ahead and behind, we can distantly perceive the theme’s “past function” as an exponent of the sonata drama, but also its “future role” as the crowning theme of the multimovement structure.44

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.8 Progressive derivations of H2 and H3

And yet this single figure embodies these past and future functions only tensely, since the “future role” to which the S-materials would normally point would be within the sonata—specifically the projected ESC—and not beyond it entirely. Mahler’s transmutation of S is so thoroughgoing that it raises the question—at least in a musical world where such teleological transformations seem to be “irreversible” (de La Grange 1995, 763)—of how S might plausibly rejoin any rhetorically functional recapitulation. Utopian transformations of S-materials are of course a (p.166) commonplace of Mahler’s developments. But only here does S deplete itself completely, becoming something fundamentally other than what it was. Having emerged from the sonata, the development’s proleptic tangent seems to offer no way of getting back into it. Absorbed in its paradisiacal vision, the musical consciousness threatens to forget the sonata entirely.

But the sonata will not be so easily left behind; it soon retaliates by plunging the music into what Knapp calls a “nightmare experience too extreme to be tolerated,” leaving us no choice but to “wake up” into a recapitulation already under way (1999, 249). At m. 221, a dissonant Mahlerian “crisis chord” (here built as a D♭ dominant over a G♮ bass) hurls a mocking, invective declamation of the corrupt H2, dispelling the Utopian vision. With a lurch, the triumphal C major implodes, and the dream erupts into a chaos. The nightmare topos returns, with (p.167) the bell-motive’s open fifths now soured into tritones (m. 225). But as Knapp observes, a new presence enters as well: a funereal trumpet call, conjuring the specter of death.45 Gradually and with effort, the fanfare unfolds a black presentiment of the Fifth Symphony’s funeral march: from a single note (m. 225), it expands to a third (m. 228), finally realizing complete triads in mm. 23132. It is the last of these—a shard of muted F♯ minor—that proves to be the “intolerable” image, the one that prompts the musical consciousness to jolt itself awake.

And yet the shift of consciousness is not itself instantaneous. Mahler leads us graphically through the twilight space of partial wakefulness, with a transition that he himself found especially “artful” (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 183): the much-celebrated “hidden” recapitulation onset. As countless writers have pointed out, P1 begins, protracted and only partly audible, while the bell topos is still unraveling (mm. 234–38). When, after a general pause, the recapitulation proper begins (m. 239), all that remains of P1 is its final two bars, which reinstall the tonic with a non-sequitur PAC comically out of proportion to the preceding turmoil. With this gesture, the musical subject, after so many nocturnal adventures, dusts itself off hastily, straightens its garb, and rejoins the plebeian world of G major.

Before rejoining that G major ourselves, we might look back to say a few words about the development’s tonal narrative. In 6/I (Chapter 4), we saw a tonal plot tightly woven into the broader interpretation. Its development presented only a few keys, each of them bearing a specific semantic or narrative function. Here Mahler repels any such hermeneutic tidiness. Turning back to Figure 5.4, we see that the present development passes through no fewer than twelve tonalities: three major (C, D♭, A) and nine minor (c, d, e♭, e, f, f♯, g, b♭, b),46 most of them appearing only once, thus omitting the kind of strategic repetitions and recursions that make Mahler’s tonal plots “readable” in the first place. Of these twelve, only four are strongly weighted: E and F minor (in Episodes 1 and 4), and A and C major (in Episodes 2 and 6). We already know that E minor is marked as the modal inverse of the symphony’s concluding tonic. But the others offer little in the way of interpretive traction.

For an analytic approach whose ideal is the integration of tonal, formal, and thematic processes, the inability to make narrative sense of Mahler’s key choices might feel like something of a failure. But the point here may not be the specific semantic function of individual keys, as it will be later in the Sixth. That this relatively brief development articulates more distinct tonal centers than all of 3/I—a musical span six times longer, and one celebrated for its “fearful” and “chaotic” heterogeneity (Adorno 1992, 78)47—suggests that Mahler’s aim here (p.168) may be less one of plenitude than of calculated excess. As part of the development’s pervasive “surreality” or “otherworldliness,” he puts to use the sheer effect created by a dizzying profusion of tonal states. Tonalities appear as a series of unrepeatable phantasmagoric digressions, to contrast the exposition’s back- and-forth travel within a well-worn tonic/dominant thoroughfare. Adorno would hear such unruly abundance as additional proof that a radically novelistic impulse has superseded the movement’s opening formalism. And as we saw in 6/I, the recapitulation moves to reinstate that formalist bearing, though not without aftershocks from the development—proving again that “what happens must always take specific account of what happened before” (Adorno 1992, 52).

VII. Recapitulation/Coda: Terrestrial Ambivalence, Cosmic Affirmation

As Knapp would have it, the recapitulation proper begins with a bout of formal/thematic “disorientation” suggesting a consciousness just roused from sleep (1999, 249). At the moment that P sets its fairly strict reprise into motion, the paradise theme H3 enters as a spirited stretto addition to P2 (m. 240), suggesting that elements of dream and reality are not yet “firmly separated” (249). But while Knapp is right not to overlook (as many have) the incongruity of H3 here, I hear something more purposeful than a mere slippage or flashback.

As we reached the development’s transcendent climax, I asked how so wayward a narrative—one that transformed the exposition’s materials beyond recognition—could be reconciled with the sonata from which it emerged. Mahler’s solution is to strike a precarious balance between recapitulatory strictness (of the sort seemingly forecast by the formalist Exposition 1) and a spinning-forward of two of the development’s central narrative issues: the ascendance of H3 and the suppression of P1. Previously separate, these threads converge here when, as Stephan writes, the paradise theme steps into the role of a surrogate Hauptgedanke (1966, 16–17).48 (As later in 4/III, the narrative focal point elevates the paradise theme above all others.) With this leap from dream-world to “reality,” H3 embeds itself into the sonata, carrying its teleological genesis one ontological rank closer to transcendence—but not without a exacting a price. It can do so only because P1, suppressed now for a third time, remains unable to regain the initiatory function that it lost in the development. Once more, transsymphonic concerns preempt the normal business of the sonata. Where in the exposition we saw a contingency of process (with closure-mechanisms subordinated by tonic-major finale premonitions), here we see a contingency of identity. Subtly, the conventional symphonic “protagonist” is erased from the record, and in its place the newly minted paradise theme is installed.

(p.169) Mahler grants the ascendant paradise theme the first word in TR-space as well. Anachronistically and in offense of “all formal rules” (Adorno 1992, 54), the latter opens with a full-scale tonic-major reprise of Episode 6, the developmental “apotheosis” that introduced H3 just forty bars earlier (m. 251; Figure 5.1 shows this with a dotted arrow). Though the modular correspondence is exact, Mahler’s reorchestration brings the previously liminal TR-descant to the fore (m. 257; compare m. 216), so that before our ears an apparent flashback to the development changes into a clangorously oversized restatement of TR, unfolding now to its full length and bearing down on a triple-forte medial caesura (m. 262), the threshold of what Williamson suggestively calls the S-theme’s “triumphant homecoming” (1975, 77).49

This is a hopeful moment for a sonata process that seems deprioritized, even unrecoverable. Having sacrificed S for the generation of the paradise theme—having yielded up its materiality for the sake of the transsymphonic whole—Mahler now rewards it with a complete and literal restatement in the tonic and the chance to fulfill its preordained function of ESC attainment.50 The ubiquitous H3 makes no incursion, because in a sense it is “already here” in its incipient form.51 Impervious to recomposition and bent on discharging its generic task, S shows a new and palpable confidence. Previously subdued, it now sings its congenial tune in a sonorous, unfettered fortissimo, one whose sheer vitality entices us with the prospect of sonata successfully executed—the attainment of a terrestrial telos to parallel the heavenly one glimpsed earlier.

But Mahler’s macabre sense of humor ultimately prevails. Having now set a seemingly exact recapitulation on track, he takes that “exactitude” at face value, leading S off the same cliff as in the exposition and setting the listener up to fall for the same trick a second time. Once again, at the moment of expected ESC, the texture collapses, leaving the diminutive C1 to hold the floor (m. 283). Despite adding a poignant new countermelody (one that suggestively echoes P1 in mm. 290–91), Mahler aims for parity with the exposition, restaging the same “wandering off” morendo and bringing the bells in for a second subrotation, equivalent to Exposition 2 (mm. 295–98).

This recapitulatory fidelity leads to further troubles when the prevailing transposition by fifth extends to this interstitial bell-music. Now the bell-transition leads ominously into E minor (m. 298; compare B minor, m. 73), a key of no small symbolic and narrative import: it is both the dystopian antithesis of the symphony’s concluding E major and the tonality from which the nightmare topos (p.170) originally crystallized (m. 109). It is also, unlike the ever-transient B minor, a key with staying power. In a striking replay of the development’s opening, E minor quickly entrenches itself to unfold a full thematic presentation of N-materials—now the variant N3, shown in Figure 5.9. Momentarily, we might imagine that the recapitulation has broken off and given way to a developmentally congruent coda rotation of the sort Mahler used later in 6/I (see Figure 4.13). But the music’s swift return to G major and the reprise of P2 (m. 311) show that the recapitulation is still in fact under way.52 The E-minor “nightmare” is merely a detour, one that exists solely to compose over P1, which would be slated to make its final appearance here (compare m. 77).53

“A Play within a Play”Games of Closure and Contingency in the First Movement of the Fourth

Figure 5.9 Recapitulation: “nightmare” interpolation (N3)

With the music of the development comes a creeping return of its generally surreal atmosphere. The suppression of P1 may be ominous, but the glibness with which the nightmare-music slips back into the cheerful P2 is bizarre, even unsettling. The sonata motors along, apparently indifferent to a growing list of structural/expressive problems—the unclosed S, the exiled P1—and it is at this point that the work’s delicately sustained ambiguity threatens to collapse into total impenetrability. But it is not long before Mahler brings both of these threads to their respective resolutions.

Ultimately, S will go unconsummated; closure will come, but not in any way preordained by the sonata plot. Figure 5.1 shows that the final P2, like its expositional counterpart, passes through a tonic PAC onto the idyllic fields of C2 (m. 323; compare m. 91). As in the exposition, this terminal cadence provides long-range rhetorical closure that is problematic from the standpoint of the sonata itself. On the one hand, this PAC notionally compensates for the one withheld in S-space. (Because P1 was suppressed, it is actually the first and only cadence after the collapse of S.) On the other hand, though, it does so without correlating clearly to any of the sonata’s generic thematic zones. It mimics an ESC, and yet its paradisiacal vision suggests, as I wrote earlier, that “true closure . . . is not endemic to this terrestrial genre at all.”

I also asked if this would not be a deeply ambiguous moment from the perspective of the sonata plot, since by ending in the tonic, the exposition seems to neutralize the tonal tension that would make this otherwise emphatic closure truly conclusive or “essential” in the structural-dramatic sense. Perhaps, to paraphrase Adorno, the ambiguity at this point is still “deeply impregnated.” But this hardly feels like an aporetic moment. The musical consciousness, already directed with rapt attention to the finale, hints that from a wider vantage such worldly concerns (like a sonata tidily executed and lacking loose ends) are but passing distractions. (p.171)

(p.172) In culminating the narrative of P1, Mahler reinforces this central trope—the sonata that is contingent, ephemeral within the Fourth Symphony’s musical cosmology—in an especially illustrative way. As before, C2 (m. 323) unfolds a single, poignantly protracted harmonic motion from tonic to dominant and back. But now Mahler effects a broad temporal and tessitural expansion, lingering on the dominant for four full bars to accommodate the violins’ rapt ascent from D5 to D7 (mm. 326–29). As the luminous dissonance of m. 330 resolves—at the very crowning moment of the movement’s bliss—the second violins gently usher in none other than the headmotive of the long-beleaguered P1, with echoes resounding in the oboe and horn (mm. 331, 333).

If C2 is indeed a window for glimpsing the hereafter, Mahler allows us to see that P1, though beset and defeated in the sonata’s earthly sphere, has found its eternal repose. Thus, by guiding P1 into safe harbor, he encodes the movement with a message that is deeply relevant to the work’s eschatological program and which inscribes its metaphysical assurances into the musical narrative. The sonata has been plagued by procedural defects—it has “failed” according to the (by now ill-fitted) generic criteria—and its principal character has been unseated and suppressed. And yet as the curtain falls, all seems to be well. The sonata ends by pronouncing the very assurances to which Adorno’s ears had grown incurably deaf.

And yet the curtain does not stay down for long. Mahler forbears, allowing P1 to take center stage one last time. The contrast of closing strategies with the final movement is striking. The latter ends in unsettling self-contradiction: a promise of joyful “awakening” wafts over music that relaxes into lullaby and falls asleep. The present movement permits no such ambiguity. In place of a narcoleptic morendo there is a hearty evocation of cyclical rebirth and renewal. As the last strains of C2 die away—as the vision of the heavenly life dissipates—Mahler grants P1 a final terrestrial romp (m. 340), at last unheckled by the bells. Timid at first (pulling aside the curtain, its three-note anacrusis asks “is it safe?”), the theme quickly gains momentum, launching a coda whose manic stringendo telescopes a full thematic rotation into nine whirlwind bars.54 Once P1 locks onto the subdominant in m. 341, the music rapidly cycles through elements of P2 (m. 342), TR (m. 346), and S1/H3 (m. 346, beat 3), driving to a giddy fortissimo conclusion. Years after completing the Fourth, Mahler would come to believe in reincarnation, a process of purification taking many lives to complete.55 With the aural image of a transfigured P1 still lingering, it is easy to hear the theme being “reborn” here in the coda—suffused with youthful vigor and unburdened of the trials endured in its past existence.

(p.173) How different this optimistic hearing is from Adorno’s, in which the music bleakly “cancel[s]‌ itself out,” its happy ending both a historically archaic “caricaturing convention” and a defense mechanism against the self-recognition of falsehood—that, looking back, nothing thus said was “true” (1992, 57). For Adorno, so frivolous an ending must be a blithe denial of all that came before; at best, the music’s giddiness merely serves to distract a guilty conscience. And yet it is worth noting that Adorno could have granted the music its affirmative amplitude here without relinquishing his pessimistic hearing of the finale. In that case the Fourth Symphony would become a triumph-to-tragedy narrative in the manner of the Sixth—a story of “fool’s bells” that are initially overcome, but which return in the end to undo the symphony’s reassuring mythology.

I, however, am content to allow the coda to end on a flippant, lighthearted, or (as it were) childish note. Several times in this chapter, I pointed to parallels between the present movement and the symphonic totality: the exposition mirroring the sonata movement as a whole, the development prefiguring the scherzo, and the recapitulation anticipating aspects of the slow movement. These were only casual comparisons, but in the spirit of completion (and not without a mischievous note of my own) I am compelled to hear the coda, in its frivolity and even regression, encapsulating the defining aspect of the Fourth Symphony’s finale. In a word, this glib final paragraph allows us to hear the opening movement aspiring to—and ultimately achieving—a state of innocence, just like the symphonic whole. Thus, we find again that in the strange world of the Fourth Symphony (a work that was even composed “in reverse”!) moving forward amounts to moving backward. If there is a conceptual core to the work, one that binds program and process, compositional means and eschatological ends, it is this—that conceptual journeys forward can only be made by way of paradoxical retrogrades. For just as the Fourth crystallizes its strikingly modernist vision from archaic fragments, so Mahler’s vision of life after death makes ascension to the next, higher state tantamount to regression into a past one. (p.174)


(1.) Adorno 1992, 96.

(2.) Bauer-Lechner dates this conversation to 22 July; work on the Fourth began in mid-July (de La Grange 1995, 754).

(3.) Mahler predicted that critics would use his Second “as a stick to beat the Fourth to death with” (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 184).

(4.) It was this gathering of guileless diatonic ditties—“nonexistent children’s songs”—that inspired Adorno’s image of Mahler abducting his music “from the realm of the dead” (1992, 56–57).

(5.) The first quote is a paraphrase from Karl Potgeisser’s review in the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung after the Munich premier on 25 November 1901; the second is the anonymous critic of the Allgemeine-Zeitung after the same concert.

(6.) 1901 letter from to Schiedermair; cited in de La Grange 1995, 524. Still, Walter was disingenuous to beg the critical question, when he added that “the clamor for a program would seem to be justified solely by a desire to ascertain the relationship of the vocal fourth movement to the preceding ones” (524).

(7.) Mahler speaks, for instance, of 4/I opening “as if it couldn’t count to three” (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 154).

(8.) The Mahlerian party line was that the composer “most vehemently abhors all programs” (1901 letter from Walter to Schiedermair; cited in de La Grange 1995, 524). In truth, Mahler was reluctant to share the poetic images and themes that inspired him, for fear of being taken too literally. Of the Fourth, he told Bauer-Lechner “I could give [its movements] the most beautiful names—but I’m not going to betray them to the idiot listeners [Trotteln] and pundits [Richtenden] who would promptly misunderstand and misinterpret me as foolishly as ever!” (1980, 153). See also de La Grange 1995, 521–27.

(9.) Mahler had originally slated this Wunderhorn song as the finale of the Third Symphony instead. See Franklin 1991, chapter 3.

(10.) See Floros 1993, 112–15 for a more detailed account of Mahler’s poetic inspiration.

(11.) Letter to Georg Göhler, 8 February 1911; cited in Martner, ed. 1979, 372. The notion that the song-finale is the key to understanding the whole factors into most detailed readings, including Bekker 1969, Stephan 1966, Sponheuer 1978, de La Grange 1995, Bonds 1996, Knapp 1999, and Mitchell 1999b.

(12.) The reference was not lost on Mahler’s contemporaries, and their hearings were less than charitable (Bonds 1996, 177). Mahler was lampooning not only the sacred Mother of All Finales but also a moment of world-historical significance in Wagner’s widely embraced Beethoven mythology: the introduction of the voice, the word, to the symphony, redeeming the latter from its insularity and raising it to a higher state, as the germ of the artwork of the future. The Fourth Symphony mimics this ontological leap, but depicts its higher spirituality with a cheeky naiveté that struck Mahler’s audiences as a kind of “sacrilegious buffoonery” (William Ritter on the Munich premier; cited in de La Grange 1995, 398).

(13.) It is helpful to imagine the diminished effect that the song might have had as the finale of the Third instead. While still a striking conclusion, it would be comparatively unmarked in context: one of three vocal movements, within a form so irregular that just about anything would seem possible by the end.

(14.) “Die formlogische Bedeutung dieser . . . Vordersätze ist Vorbereitung und allmählische Klarlegung der musikalischen Uridee des Finale. . . . Aus dem Suchen nach diesem befreienden Grundsymbol erformt sich der organische Aufbau des Werkes. Von jeder der verschiedenen Sphären aus, die es durchlauft, steuert es immer bewußt oder unbewußt auf den einen Schlußpunkt hin.”

(15.) “Es handelt sich hier um eine Sinfonie mit einem Thema, das als solches erst im Finale klar erkennbar, in den vorangehenden Sätzen nur angedeutet, nicht ausgesprochen wird. Diese Erkenntnis ist wichtig nicht nur für die Erfassung des Gesamtverlaufes der Sinfonie, sondern auch für das Verständnis der Einzelsätze. Das Urmotiv ist allen gemeinsam, es ist auch das ideelle Ziel, dem sie alle zusteuern. Da es aber in den Vordersätzen nur episodisch zum Durchbruch kommt, während andere Themen darin erheblich breiteren Spielraum einnehmen, so sind diese Sätze gleichsam über Themen geschrieben, die in Wahrheit gar nicht so wichtig sind, wie sie der äußeren Verwendung nach scheinen. Die thematische Struktur ist nur Mittel, den Boden aufzulockern, das erstrebte thematische Ursymbol herauf zu beschwören. Die übrigen Themen werden dadurch in ihrer Eigenbedeutung wesentlich herabgesetzt. Sie sind nur Masken, die eine Komödie aufführen, ein Schauspiel im Schauspiel, um die eine, gesuchte Wahrheit ans Licht zu ziehen” (emphasis added).

(16.) Sponheuer also adopts Bekker’s view, arguing (with his usual Adornian spin) that the thematic substrate and ritually enacted archaic forms of movements I–III are not just secondary but “inauthentic” (1978, 206). However, he ultimately extends that inauthenticity to the finale as well, in a thoroughly negative reading that strongly echoes Adorno’s own.

(17.) More recently, Floros 1993, Hefling 1997b, 1997 and Mitchell 1999b offer similarly sympathetic (if more nuanced) readings.

(18.) For Adorno, the Eighth, like the finale of the Seventh, capitulated to a broader confusion of art and religion evident from Wagner through Pfitzner and Schoenberg, one that “mistakes the consecrated wafer for the Spirit itself.” He shuttles between images of a Mahler tempted by the establishment’s false promises of “the absolute” and one who was coerced into turning away from his own “radical secularization” of metaphysics, a victim of musical fascism who “takes refuge in the power and glory” of that which he “dreads.” In the latter analysis, Adorno ominously declares the “official posture” of the Eighth one of “fear deformed into affirmation” (1992, 139).

(19.) Walter expresses this most clearly: in the Fourth, “inward piety dreams a dream of Heaven. The whole atmosphere, indeed, is dreamlike and unreal; . . . [it is] a fairy tale; the power and pathos of its predecessors are translated into airy improbability” (1957, 133).

(20.) Adorno notes that as the text “wakes into joy,” the music drifts off to sleep, raising the specter of death: “no one knows whether it does not fall asleep forever” (1992, 57). See also Bonds 1996, 181.

(21.) See Johnson (2009, 107–10) on the “gentle incongruities” that distinguish this music from its classical models.

(22.) We might as easily hear them pronouncing his famous Es war einmal: “Once upon a time there was a sonata” (1992, 96).

(23.) Whether this “outside” is specifically “wintry” is debatable. While the sleighbells suggest such imagery, the wind instruments surreally juxtapose Mahlerian birdcalls. (Compare the flute figures in mm. 2–3 to the “cuckoo” calls from “Ablösung im Sommer” [mm. 1–9] and to the similar figures in 3/III.)

(24.) Stephan (1966, 12), Knapp (1999, 240), Williamson (1983, 28), and others have rationalized this repeat as evidence of a “sonata rondo” structure. On the problems of such a reading, see Monahan 2011b, 50n88.

(25.) Hepokoski and Darcy suggest this nomenclature for “opening flourishes” or “initializing gestures” that delay the onset of the “real” P-theme by several bars (2006, 86).

(26.) Figure 5.2 distinguishes between terminal and elided PACs with solid and dashed boxes, respectively.

(27.) This melody reworks mm. 1–2 and 10–11 of the Wunderhorn song “Starke Einbildungskraft.” It is hard to see how the song’s cheeky exchange between young lovers might inform the program of the Fourth—though the song title itself may be a wry commentary on the derivative nature of the surrounding music.

(28.) The scalar figure leading into the MC (mm. 36–37) quotes the parallel moment of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C, op. 2/3/i (mm. 26–27), which itself tropes imitative half-cadential MC arrivals in works like Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 in A, K. 488 (mm. 97–98) and Piano Sonata in B♭, K. 281 (mm. 16–17). And a nearly identical figure ends the retransition of Haydn’s Piano Trio no. 28 in D, XV:16 (mvt. I, half cadence at mm. 125–26). On these grounds, it is especially hard to credit Samuels’s insistence that Mahler’s MC expressly defies classical convention (1995, 141; cf. Johnson 2009, 110).

(29.) This theme, too, has a classical parentage, in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E♭, op. 27/1/i (Floros 1993, 119).

(30.) Schematically, the complete exposition broadly resembles that of 2/I. Compare Figs. 1.3 and 5.2; both have the broad design P→S | P→C.

(31.) This motive first appears as an accretive counterpoint to the cadences that close the second and third statements of P1 (mm. 20, 79). Prophetically, then, the motive is bound up from its very first soundings with G-major closure.

(32.) See de La Grange 1973, 815 and Zychowicz 2000, 13.

(33.) Bekker asks of the development “was it all only a dream, a fantastic hallucination?” [“War vielleicht das ganze Spukwesen, der Aufschwung, die Paradiesesvision—war dies alles nur Traum, fantastische Halluzination?”] (1969, 154).

(34.) Most foreshadowings of the finale here will gravitate to G major, the key that begins the song. Mahler will strategically delay the appearance of its terminal E major until the end of the third movement. Some critics (e.g., Mitchell 1999b, 212) have heard the Fourth possessing a so-called double tonic of G and E. But I fail to see how the metaphor of an ontologically unitary “double” tonic is preferable to the simpler, traditional view that the starting and ending keys are simply different and thus differently freighted in their programmatic significance. On the general theoretical problems of Robert Bailey’s “double tonic complex,” see BaileyShea 2007, 193ff.

(35.) These episodes correspond Floros’s (1993), except that the latter subdivides my Episode Three at m. 155 (the moment I call a “false restart”).

(36.) “Paradise theme” is Floros’s term (1993, 118). The present development draws much from that of 1/IV, in that P-based developmental episodes alternate with generative anticipations of the symphony’s transcendent climax (see Figure 1.4).

(37.) Cf. Sponheuer 1978, 209 and Mitchell 1999b, 212.

(38.) It can be traced even earlier than that. Mitchell shows that this same skeleton underlies the “Herald” theme of Mahler’s Third Symphony—the palimpsest of a time when “Das himmlische Leben” was still intended as that work’s finale (1995, 313).

(39.) All of Mahler’s two-part expositions lead to developments that present S at least once. The only borderline case is 1/IV; see Chapter 1, Figure 1.4.

(40.) See Chapter 4, Figures 4.2 and 4.11.

(41.) De la Grange points out similarities between this music and the main theme of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4, mvt. I (1997, 150); Mahler himself seemed to have noticed this resemblance after the fact (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 153). One wonders whether the present movement’s abrupt juxtaposition of B and G as prospective opening tonics (mm. 1–4) was borrowed from the same concerto.

(42.) Mm. 200–206 roughly track mm. 188–93.

(43.) The TR-headmotive appears in mm. 212–13 and 216–17 but is orchestrated almost inaudibly.

(44.) That the whole passage occurs over a dominant pedal reinforces the sense that the music speaks in the “future tense,” anticipating some secure arrival to come.

(45.) Mahler’s own comments are, admittedly, hard to square with Knapp’s interpretation or my own. The trumpet call, which he playfully called “Der kleine Appell” (after the “grosse Appell” of the Second Symphony), was like a captain calling his confused and disordered troops back into formation and “orderly ranks” (Bauer-Lechner 1980, 154).

(46.) Only G♯/A♭ is absent as a tonic pitch class.

(47.) Only two of Mahler’s other sonatas present so seemingly chaotic an assemblage of key regions: 5/II and 8/I.

(48.) “Die Reprise (T.239–339) gibt zu erkennen, was die Durchführung bewirkt hat: die Erhebung des Themas [X]‌ bzw. [XI] zum Hauptgedanken des ganzen Satzes.” Stephan’s “X” and “XI” are my H2 and H3.

(49.) Uneasy about what he hears as a cut-and-paste repetition, Adorno grants Mahler a twofold exoneration: first, on the grounds that “a fanfare cannot be further developed, only repeated”; and second, under the premise that the sheer “irregularity” of the repetition evinces a nominalist bearing (1992, 54; emphasis added). Why he overlooks the striking differences of orchestration is unclear.

(50.) This is Mahler’s only literal, tonally normative S-theme recapitulation—a fact uniformly passed over in an analytical literature inclined to extol variation and ignore repetition.

(51.) Curiously, the opening of S (m. 263) now “rhymes” with those of the recomposed P2 (mm. 240–41) and TR (m. 253), since all three begin with the repeated quarter-note motive characteristic to that variant family.

(52.) Hefling (1997b, 401) and Knapp (1999, 250) read everything after m. 298 as coda. My reading, like those of Stephan (1966, 18), Floros (1993, 118) and Adorno (1992, 96), places the coda at m. 339.

(53.) Here we glimpse a teleological precision typical of Mahler’s narrative designs: the same agent that divested P1 of its initiatory function at the development’s opening is also the one that returns here to ensure that it is never regained.

(54.) Adorno explains this appearance of P1 as a compensation for its omission in the development (1992, 96), but fails to mention that P1 had also just appeared in C2-space.

(55.) “We all return,” he declared to Richard Specht. “Life only has meaning through this certainty” (1925, 73; cited in Franklin 1991, 107n48; see also de La Grange 1999, 930–31). Chapter 6 argues that these themes of death and rebirth are latent already in Mahler’s eclectic pantheism of the 1890s and manifested in 3/I.