Oregon Symphony


Concert Information

Mahler’s Symphony No. 3

Saturday, May 21, 2016, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, May 23, 2016, 8 p.m.

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Susan Platts, mezzo-soprano
Women of the Portland State Chamber Choir and Vox Femina
   Ethan Sperry, music director
Pacific Youth Choir
   Mia Hall Miller, music director


Symphony No. 3 in D minor
  • Part I
    Introduction—Forcefully and decisively
  • Part II
    Tempo di menuetto—Moderately— Commodo—Scherzando—Unhurriedly—Very slow—Mysteriously—Joyous in tempo and jaunty in expression—Slow—Calm—Deeply felt

THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Robert McBride, host for the stations of All Classical Portland. You can also enjoy the Concert Conversation in the comfort of your own home. Visit the web site allclassical.org to watch the video on demand.

Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1906 revision)

Vital Stats

Composer: Born July 7, 1860, Kalischt, [now Kaliště, Jihlava, in the Czech Republic], Bohemia; died May 18, 1911, Vienna.

Work composed: 1895–96, rev. 1899, 1906.

World premiere: Mahler conducted the first complete performance, with contralto Luise Geller-Wolter, at the Festival of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein at Krefeld on June 9, 1902.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: June 3, 2003; James DePreist, conductor.

Instrumentation: SATB chorus, youth choir, mezzo-soprano, 4 flutes (all doubling piccolo), 4 oboes (one doubling English horn), 5 clarinets (2 doubling E-flat clarinet and one doubling bass clarinet), 4 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 8 horns, posthorn (offstage), 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, bass drum, chimes, cymbals, glockenspiel, rute, snare drum, tamtam, tambourine, triangle, 2 harps, and strings.

Estimated duration: 92 minutes

“My symphony will be something the like of which the world has never yet heard! In it all of nature finds a voice.”
—Gustav Mahler

Perhaps no other composer wrestled more with the concept of program music than did Gustav Mahler. When Mahler began composing his third symphony, he was initially inspired, according to scholar Constantin Floros, by “a tiered arrangement of creation (plant world, animal world, human world, and angel world).” Accordingly, Mahler mapped out an outline featuring multiple movements, each with its own title reflecting this cosmic hierarchy. As the music took shape, Mahler’s concept of the symphony grew and changed; he made and discarded seven different scenarios for the symphony’s movements and eventually settled on this format:

First Part:

Pan Awakes. Summer Comes Marching In
(Bacchic procession)

Second Part:

What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me
t the Animals in the Forest Tell Me
t Humanity Tells Me
What the Angels Tell Me
What Love Tells Me

However, by the time the Third premiered, in 1902, Mahler removed all explanations of the music from the score, including the movement titles. “Beginning with Beethoven, there is no modern music without its underlying program,” Mahler wrote to critic Max Kalbeck. “But no music is worth anything if you first have to tell the listener what experience lies behind it, respectively, what he is supposed to experience in it.—And so yet again: pereat [perish] every program!—You just have to bring along ears and a heart and—not least— willingly surrender to the rhapsodist. Some residue of mystery always remains, even for the creator.” At the same time, Mahler recognized that listeners would instinctively fashion their own “program” or interpretation of what they heard. As he wrote to conductor Josef Krug-Waldsee, “These titles … will surely say something to you after you know the score. You will draw intimations from them about how I imagined the steady intensification of feeling, from the indistinct, unbending, elemental existence (of the forces of nature) to the tender formation of the human heart, which in turn points toward and reaches a region beyond itself (God). Please express that in your own words, without quoting those extremely inadequate titles, and that way you will have acted in my spirit.”

Although he dispensed with the movement titles, Mahler retained the overall two-part structure of the Third Symphony. Part I consists solely of the first movement, one of the largest single movements in the orchestral repertoire (it lasts approximately 30 minutes). Mahler’s penchant for heroic horn themes declares itself in the opening melody (the score calls for eight horns), which combines a simple design with a vigorous, militaristic quality. A series of marches, interspersed with delicate interludes, follows; the music seems to do battle with itself, darkness combatting light.

The movements of Part II are correspondingly shorter and less abstract, like a series of character pieces. The graceful minuet presents delicate melodies for strings punctuated by energetic, almost breathless bursts of agitation that hint at ominous portents below the surface of this seemingly delightful dance. An orchestral version of the song “Ablösung im Sommer” (Relief in summer), from Des Knaben Wunderhorn follows, in the form of a scherzo. Although Mahler had abandoned this movement’s original title, “What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me,” we can clearly hear birds and animals cavorting through the hot, languid days of summer. A solo posthorn, heard from offstage, heralds Pan’s arrival.

In the fourth movement, which Mahler originally titled, “What Humanity Tells Me,” a contralto sings the Midnight Song from Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel, Also Sprach Zarathustra. The text describes the great pain and even greater joy of the world, a joy seeking eternal expression. Mahler’s accompaniment has a near-motionless quality, as of deep water flowing almost imperceptibly. Mahler segues immediately into the next movement, for contralto and both women’s and children’s choruses. This song, unlike many of the Wunderhorn texts, has a religious theme. Three angels rejoice in the redemption of Peter through Jesus, and that through Jesus’ intercession on Peter’s behalf, heavenly joy is likewise bestowed upon all humanity. The angelic chorus rings with merriment, a burbling childlike happiness, as the soloist intones Peter’s confession of sin.

The tempo markings for the closing Adagio serve as the most complete description of the music: slow, calm, deeply felt. Mahler’s original title for this movement, “What Love Tells Me,” refers to agape, a Christian concept of the highest form of love, the reciprocal love of God and humanity, and Mahler’s use of the strings to slowly swell and build upon all that has come before conveys this eternal, changeless love in a profound manner.
Critics responded to the Third Symphony with a wide spectrum of opinions. Scholar Peter Franklin sums up the reviews: “On the positive side, we read of the exciting new work of an original genius, a prodigious, absolute master of the orchestra, who writes in a ‘clear and intelligible’ language, with ‘modesty … and naivety.’ The ‘utterly serious’ work is described as … achieving a ‘glorious victory for the composer. On the negative side, we read of the stupefying and disconcerting first movement, banality, a lack of melodic invention and originality, linked to eclecticism and an absence of any sense of ‘inner necessity’ about the music. It included ‘bizarre and trivial elements,’ atrocious cacophony, ‘incomprehensible platitudes’ and rudely garish sounds which added up to chaos, even the order of the movements seeming arbitrary.”

When Arnold Schoenberg first heard Mahler’s Third Symphony in Vienna, he wrote to Mahler, “I felt the struggle for illusions; I felt the pain of one disillusioned; I saw the forces of evil and good contending; I saw a man in a torment of emotion exerting himself to gain inner harmony. I sensed a human being, a drama, truth, the most ruthless truth!”

Text to fourth and fifth movements

© 2016 Elizabeth Schwartz

Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz

Elizabeth Schwartz is a Portland-based free-lance writer, researcher and musician. In addition annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony and other ensembles, she has also contributed to NPR’s Performance Today (now heard on American Public Media). Schwartz also co-hosts The Portland Yiddish Hour, heard at 10 a.m. Sundays on KBOO 90.7 FM. Email: schwartzelizabeth@yahoo.com.

Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons

Mahlers Symphony No. 3
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Bernard Haitink–Chicago Symphony Orchestra
2-CSO Resound 901701
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Leonard Bernstein–New York Philharmonic
2-Deutsche Grammophon 427328

These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.