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«THE EIGHTH SYMPHONY [268 blank] [269] On September 12, 1910 in Munich, under Mahler’s direction, the premiere performance of the Eighth Symphony ...»

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They illuminate spiritual relationships and the flow of thoughts from within, [278] allowing the stream of feelings in the poem to shine through. The first portion of the text is the poetic foundation for the exposition of the sonata, with the presentation and brief expansion of the two main themes. The second portion is fashioned as a development section. The presentation of the individual pleas provides a natural cause for the extensive treatment of the previous themes.

With the call for enlightenment, “Accende,” a new theme comes into the development section.

From the ardently determined “Geh uns voran” (“Go before us”) up to the closing plea for knowledge of the Holy Trinity, a fugue is unfurled. It links back into the reprise. This reaches at first, following musical rules and at the same time emotionally reinforcing the sense of the poem, back to the opening words, and joins directly onto them the penultimate verse of text with the plea for grace and heavenly blessings. As a coda group then follows the last verse, “Gloria in saeculorum saecula.” The large, simple divisions become even clearer through orchestral interludes that divide the exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda. Without displaying any independent significance, they allow, as closing and preparatory intermezzi, the basic architectonic line of the movement to come forward. Thus, the poem and the musical interpretation merge into one and mutually penetrate one another. The organic laws that govern the design of the one also justify and vindicate those of the other.28 The most artistic and also the most intellectually revealing thing about this movement however, as in the whole work, is not the musical and formal mastery of the text. It lies in the thematic references and the motivic ramifications. There are no filling or secondary harmonic voices. The song lines show an individual contour throughout, and the orchestra carries significant and pronounced thematic features even in places where it is subordinated to the vocal corpus and has an accompanying function. This musical and intellectual veining of the work, extending into the smallest details, cannot be consistently led back to a conscious linkage and interpretation. Such methodology was foreign to Mahler. It would have required another, more serious and intentional compositional technique. Mahler’s composition was based on intuitive understanding and visionary perception. As far as consciousness was at work here, it was consciousness of a higher, more clairvoyant kind that comprehended relationships and correspondences beyond intellectual boundaries. They make their musical representation into the preacher of spiritual consonances that belong to the areas of ideas and feelings, but remain inaccessible to logical explanation. This is true of the interweaving of thematic material from the first movement into the second part, where it experiences the actual internalized and enlivened interpretation. This is true of large parts of the musical development and of the transformation of individual themes within the first movement. Above all, it is true of the main theme. The earliest sketch of the entire work, it dominates the whole from the beginning to the conclusion.

It is the seed that holds all vitality, all sweep, and all greatness within itself, and from which the growth of the mighty work rises up with the necessity of a natural law.

Over the surging fortissimo low E-flat of the organ and bass instruments, after which the

E-flat major of the full organ [279] rings out, the double choir enters, Allegro impetuoso:

[Example 8-1: organ, cellos, basses, m. 1, choir, mm. 2-5]29 Based on the rhythm, it is a march motive, as so often in Mahler. In such reference to elemental rhythmic feelings lies an explanation for the memorability of Mahlerian themes, particularly this main theme of the Eighth. The shortening of the meter from measure to measure, determined by the declamation, heightens the impression of stormily, irresistibly bursting out. It is confirmed by the rhythm that seems as if it were carved in granite: the massively hewn half notes of the two opening measures, the succinct quarter-note beats, and the energetic dotted “Spiritus” conclusion.

The harmonic substructure is simple. Tonic, subdominant, and dominant alternate in quick succession and the tonic impression is predominant. The decisive aspect of the expression lies in the rhythm and the melodic direction, in the upward swing of a seventh in the second measure and the purposeful downward leap of a fifth at the close. Particularly the leap of a seventh gives the theme, from its first hearing onward, the unforgettable characteristic feature of a powerful, fiery storming of heaven. It continues in trombones and trumpets, canonically crowded together,

redirected to B-flat major:

[Example 8-2: trumpets and trombones, mm. 5-7] The “Veni” call, now beginning in B-flat major, is repeated by the first choir. In the violins sounds an emphatic, sweeping supplementary motive, pressing upward legato, in contrast to the

sharply hammered opening:

[Example 8-3: violins, mm. 8-10; flutes, oboes, clarinets, m. 10] Intoned in alternation by both choirs, freeing itself from the imperative ecstasy of the opening declamation through smooth eighth-note slurs, the “Veni” calls continue to sound up to a brief Eflat-major cadence. Here, the energetic “Spiritus” from the close of the theme enters as the

beginning of an idea that rises in forceful eighth-note waves in all male voices, fortissimo:

[Example 8-4: male choral voices, mm. 21-27, partly doubled by altos, mm. 24-26] The orchestral voices, until now in groups and led primarily in unison, divide. The concentrated force branches into individual streams. The sound becomes more colorful, and also the dynamics, to this point held in a uniform fortissimo, become more terraced, obtaining swells from forte to fortissimo without altering the basic tone of surging fullness. The declamation gains liveliness and contrast with the entrance of the second line of the stanza, “Mentes tuorum visita.” The voices intertwine, and chromatic turns heighten the harmonic expression. The initially purely elemental picture obtains an exchange and play of contrasts until a majestically resounding D-flat major commands a halt. All voices quickly subside in a ritenuto, and the

melodic line sinks downward. The forte of the first vision fades into a gentle pianissimo:

[Example 8-5: choral voices, mm. 43-45, some doubling from flutes, clarinets, horns] The choral sound dies away, and solo voices are heard. The key changes [280] from the bright E-flat major to the mystical D-flat major. Soft woodwinds in a deep register and muted strings sound out pianissimo, and the tempo becomes “somewhat (but imperceptibly) more measured, always very fluently” (“etwas [aber unmerklich] gemäßigter, immer sehr fließend”). Dolce espressivo, the solo soprano intones the second theme while the closing line of the “Veni” quietly

continues in the instrumental accompanying voices:

[Example 8-6: soprano 1 solo, mm. 46-52 (partially doubled by oboe); soprano 2 solo (doubled by first violins), m. 52; first violins (and English horn), m. 46; cellos (and bassoon), m. 47] “And fulfill with your heavenly grace the hearts that you have created.” These words and the following of the second stanza, with the contented worship of the comforter and bringer of grace, provide the basic mood for the second theme and the side group that develops from it. A solo quintet without bass—two sopranos, two altos, and a tenor—leads. Only later do the baritone and bass come in. The gently rising, humbly bowing song melody, which builds hopefully at the

second “Gratia,” obtains from flutes and oboes an intimately eloquent addition:

[Example 8-7: soprano 1 solo, mm. 56-58; second violins, m. 56; first violins, mm. 57-58; flutes and oboes, mm. 58-60; flute 1 and clarinet 1, mm. 60-61] The main theme is also drawn into the mystical realm of moods. The repetition of “Quae tu creasti pectora” (“that you have created”) sounds to the “Veni” motive, which now, stripped of its eruptive character, nestles against the reverently pleading expression of the second theme in

gently accented D-flat major:

[Example 8-8: soprano 1 solo, mm. 62-64; soprano 2 solo, mm. 63-64; oboe, mm. 62-63] Whispering, the choir takes up the song theme, the plea for heavenly grace. With a simple rise from D-flat major leading to A-flat major, portions of the first theme start to sound: the “Spiritus” motive, assigned to the female voices of the first and the basses of the second choir:

[Example 8-9: choral voices, mm. 76-80] On top of that, there is the sweeping supplementary motive of the violins, which now serves the

invocation of the “comforter”:

[Example 8-10: solo sopranos 1 and 2, with violin doubling, mm. 80-81] The expression is revived, obtaining more strength and shading without abandoning the tenderness of the basic mood. At “Spiritalis unctio,”30 the solo soprano rises to a widely

sweeping melodic completion of the song theme:

[Example 8-11: soprano 1 and 2 (from m. 105) solo, mm. 98-108; flutes and oboe, mm. 100-101 E-flat major has been achieved, and the dynamic awakens again to its original strength. The “Veni creator” thunders out anew from voices of the double choir, stormily calling to each other.

[281] The soloists are added, outshining the choir, leading boldly into the heights. In a powerfully reaching, dynamically forward pressing “Superna gratia,” pointing back toward the grand B-major cadence in the first movement of the Seventh Symphony, the first song group


[Example 8-12: solo and choral sopranos and altos, mm. 118-123 (solo and choir 1 altos deviate from m. 121)] Tempo primo, Allegro impetuoso, has been reached again. The singing voices have achieved it, and it continues to sound powerfully in the orchestra. Full organ, horns, trumpets, and

woodwinds allow a chromatically overarching motive to resonate:

[Example 8-13: oboes 1 and 2, clarinet 1, horns 1 and 3, trumpets, organ (top line), second violins, mm. 122-123]

Like ringing bells, in canon, the “Veni” resounds from trombones and trumpets:

[Example 8-14: trumpets, trombones (and tuba), mm. 124-126]31 Hammering rhythms in strings and woodwinds accompany. A sudden chromatic aberration in trombones and trumpets leads into a somewhat restlessly undulating mood. The “Veni” theme sounds out in a rhythmically diminished and chromatically distorted transformation in the middle

voices, pressing stepwise downward:

[Example 8-15: trombone, trumpet, mm. 130-132; flutes 1 and 2, piccolo, oboes, clarinets, horns, first violins (top voice), second violins, violas, mm. 131-134] It is as if a shadow suddenly falls. The tempo becomes twice as slow, and a held pedal point A in the basses allows the key to change from E-flat major to D minor. Deep bells ring, horns and trombones call the “Veni” theme in D- and A-minor, and a muffled timpani roll provides an eerie

background. In bassoons and cellos, the darkened opening of the “Veni” now sounds:

[Example 8-16: bassoons and cellos, mm. 139-141] The upper voices are silent. Accompanied by the violin motive from the beginning, now turned

to minor, the choir intones the main theme in a plaintive transformation:

[Example 8-17: choir 2 altos, mm. 141-145; first violins (doubled by English horn), mm. 142Our weakness strengthen by your miraculous power.” The consciousness of weakness is given by the sudden despondency of expression in the whispering tone of the choir and in the minorkey turn of the theme. The orchestra falls silent. Only the bass tone D, firmly resting in the depths, continues to sound. A solo violin wanders, “always somewhat fleetingly” (“stets etwas flüchtig”) and “without regard for the tempo” (“ohne Rücksicht auf das Tempo”), with lightly drifting sounds, as if lost, through the darkness. From the piccolo, brief, fearful calls sound.

Something dreadful and hollow lies over this brief episode, from which the solo voices, with the

sounds of the song theme set to “Firmans,” lead back to E-flat major:

[Example 8-18: alto 1 solo (doubled an octave above by first violins), mm. 156-162] It is the same motive that previously, at “Imple superna,” had been assigned to only the instrumental voices [282] and now, in the moment of heavy oppression, experiences its interpretation through the singing voices. The mood is consolidated. Powerfully slowing with the inversion of the main theme, the choirs, as if in anticipation of that which is now coming,

break off the swelling cadence immediately before the closing chord:

[Example 8-19: choral sopranos, altos, and tenors, with doubling from violins and horn, mm.

166-168] “Firmans,” the plea for strength, is the confident closing call. The exposition has been given. It brought, in the musical relationship, the presentation of the two main themes. To them was added, as many times in earlier works of Mahler, a brief episodic development—as such is the D-minor passage “Infirma” to be seen according to its technical construction. Beyond this thematic presentation, the exposition brought an identification of the intellectual and emotional foundations. First the ecstatic call to the creator spirit in heroic E-flat major. Then the “Imple superna,” sinking into worshipful abandon in mystical D-flat major. On top of that is the Dminor “Infirma,” the confession of weakness, of one’s own powerlessness. Finally, the upturn to the hopeful “Firmans,” with half-close on the dominant seventh chord B-flat, awaiting divine assistance. The poetic and musical plan is given with a strict insistence. The working-out begins, musically and technically speaking the development section.

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