March of a Titan

The third movement of Mahler’s Titan Symphony has a split personality.  One minute, I feel as though I’m witnessing a funeral procession from a Tim Burton film.  The next, I feel like the characters from Fiddler on the Roof are going to leap onto the stage.  

Music writer and critic Tom Huizenga, wrote that “when Mahler inserted folk melodies into his enormous symphonies, some listeners thought he was nuts.”

For this listener, the surprises and twists are half the fun.  I would think that hearing a chuckle go up from the audience when they ‘get’ a musical innuendo is quite gratifying for orchestra and composer alike.

That is why a recent entry in NPR’s Marches Madness series caught my ear.  The third movement of Mahler’s Titan Symphony takes the simple children’s tune Frere Jacques and sets it in a minor key.  

For me, the achingly slow tempo creates visions of a worn out stuffed toy being borne to it’s burial place by a half dozen marionettes.  History says it is based on a woodcut depicting animals carrying a hunter to his grave. Suddenly, listener’s are transported to a Jewish celebration, then treated to a little of Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz (The Two Blue Eyes of My Beloved), from Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer.

It is a little like riding a roller coaster. One minute you’re slowly climbing a hill, then you begin to pick up speed and – boom! – a sharp left turn.  For me, half the fun is getting there.

Read more: Marches Madness: Mahler’s Twisted Nursery Rhyme (Deceptive Cadence)

Watch The LA Phil with Gustavo Dudamel in a riveting performance.

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