Mahler Analysis

Fourth Movement Analysis

Fourth Movement: Dall' Inferno al Paradiso
("From the Inferno to Paradise")

Although Mahler does not use the traditional sonata-allegro form for the final movement of the symphony, it is possible to analyse the movement as such, being dividing it into three sections: exposition, development and recapitulation. Material from previous movements are revisited, with additional motifs inspired by Liszt and Wagner included. The programmatic title for the movement ‘From the Inferno to Paradise’ is clearly depicted in the music. Mahler uses the key of F minor to symbolise the inferno, contrasted against the distant key of D major representing Paradise:
circle of fifths - Inferno and Paradise Mahler Keys
Constantin Floros wrote: "The dynamics of the movement represent the repeated efforts to overcome the level of the inferno and to arrive in the sphere of the paradiso."

In a conversation with Bauer-Lechner in November 1900, Mahler explained: "The last movement, which follows the preceding one without a break, begins with a horrible outcry. Our hero is completely abandoned, engaged in a most dreadful battle with all the sorrow of this world. Time and again he and the victorious motif with him is dealt a blow by fate whenever he rises above it and seems to get hold of it, and only in death, when he has become victorious over himself, does he gain victory. Then the wonderful allusion to his youth rings out once again with the theme of the first movement. (Glorious Victory Chorale!)"

Introduction Breakdown (bars 1-54):
1-5 Dissonance, interpreted by Mahler as Aufschrei eines im Tiefsten verwundeten Herzens (Outcry of a deeply wounded heart)
6-8 The Cross symbol in the minor version
8-18 Inferno triplets
19-21 Anticipation of a motif from the main theme
21-24 Inferno triplets
25-32 Wail (cf. Das klagende Lied, No. 81)
32-39 Inferno triplets
39-54 Fourfold Cross motif in the minor version

The final movement continues directly on from the previous movement without interruption. An abrupt cymbal crash opens the movement, which is immediately followed by a strikingly dissonant chord produced by the woodwinds, string and brass sections, reinforced by a bass drum hit. This ferocious opening alludes to the inferno, creating a tremendous contrast to the faint, distant ending of the previous movement. Mahler described this opening as "The sudden outburst... of despair of a deeply wounded and broken heart." (From a letter Mahler wrote to Bernhard Schuster in 1901)

Some of the key motifs representing the inferno were borrowed from Liszt’s Dante Symphony (1856), a work Mahler would have assumed familiar with his audience.
For example the Cross motif which appears in bars 6-8 was taken from Liszt’s symphony:
Liszt Cross Motif

(MP3 Format)
This aural symbol of the Cross, originating from old Gregorian music, is found in two forms in the movement. The Cross symbol is used by Mahler as a device to break-through from the world of the inferno to the realm of the paradiso. The symbol of the Cross only ever appears in the minor version when the music is in the world of inferno:
    1) minor version - intervals of a minor second and major third
    2) major version - intervals of a major second and major third

The chromatically descending triplet motif first heard in bars 8-18 (Inferno Triplets) was another motif also taken from Liszt’s symphony:
inferno triplets motif

(MP3 Format)

Exposition (bars 55-253):
1-54 Introduction in F minor (Stürmisch bewegt) [Stormily moving]: Inferno
55-142 First complex of themes in F minor (Energisch) [Energetic]: Inferno
143-166 Sequences of swelling brass sounds (Mit großer Wildheit) [With great ferocity]: Inferno
167-174 Transition
175-237 Secondary section in D-flat major (Sehr gesangvoll) [Very songlike]
238-253 Epilogue in D-flat major (Langsam) [Slowly]: Recall of the slow introduction of the main section and inferno motif

After the introduction section, the following theme in F minor is presented boldly in the brass and woodwinds (bar 55). Pic
f minor theme brass woodwinds

(MP3 Format)
This theme is expanded and developed gaining momentum, until it transforms into the swelling brass section (bar 143), followed by a brief mellow transition section which leads into the beautifully lyrical secondary section in D flat major:
secondary section Db major

(MP3 Format)
The expositions concluding section (bars 238-253) recalls the slow introduction from the main section beginning in bar 55, along with the inferno triplet motif.

Development (Bars 254-457):
254-289 First part in G minor (As at the beginning)
290-316 First statement of the "victorious" motif in C major, pianissimo
317-369 Second part in C minor
370-427 Second entrance of the "victorious" motif (Pesante) (Modulation from C major to D major) and Chorale theme in D major (Paradiso)
428-457 Recall of motif of the main section (very slow); Mahler, "wundervoller Anklang an die Jugend des Helden" ["wonderful allusion to the hero's youth"]

The development section begins with another inferno motif taken from Liszt’s Dante Symphony (bar 254) played by the horns, clarinets and oboe in G minor:
development section Liszt

(MP3 Format)
The The ‘victorious’ motif in C major begins in bar 290 with the Cross motif making its first appearance in its major form played pianissimo by the first trumpet in bar 296.
This section includes a secondary motif forming the following theme:
Wagner Parsifal

(MP3 Format)
The above theme is a rhythmic variation of the Grail theme from Richard Wagner’s Parsifal opera crafted in a manner which enables Liszt’s Cross symbol to be combined with the Dresden amen sequence used in Wagner’s Parsifal.

The second section of the development in C minor begins in bar 317. The ‘victorious’ theme makes its second appearance in bars 370-375, however, this time the dynamic markings are pesante and fortissimo (previously pianissimo), victory is seemingly in reach of the hero. The section begins in C major, modulating to D major - the realm of the paradiso.

Mahler elaborated on this victorious section to Bauer-LechnerIn during 1893:
"Maybe this was even more obvious in my First Symphony, at a transition that gave me so much trouble. There the concern was to gain a triumphant, lasting victory, after the music, having expressed short rays of hope, would always fall back into deepest despair. After a long search, it became obvious to me that I had to modulate from one key to the next higher one from C major to D major, the tonic of the piece. One could have accomplished this easily by using the half-step in between, moving up from C to C-sharp and then to D, but everyone would have known it to be the next step. Instead, my D chord, had to sound as if it had fallen from heaven, as if it had come from another world. Thus I found the transition by way of a very free and bold modulation that for the longest time I did not want to use. And if there is anything great about the whole symphony, then it is this passage which, I am convinced, has no equal."

The Chorale theme in D major contains a modified version of the nature theme from the first movement.
Nature theme, First movement, bars 18-21:
nature theme 1st movement

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Chorale theme, Final movement, bars 388-391:
Choral Theme victory

(MP3 Format)

A slow section concludes the development section in bars 428-457. Many motifs and themes from the first movement return as the hero remembers his carefree youth: the nature theme, the fanfare awakenings, bird calls (quail call, cuckoo call and Tirili motif), the chromatic bass-step motif. These previous musical ideas are intertwined with newly introduced material such as the inferno triplets (bar 433-434).

Recapitulation (Bars 458-695)
458-532 Secondary section with transition in F major
533-573 Main theme in F minor (Tempo I): the Inferno image now has been moved to the distance (ppp)
574-622 Intensification of material from the main section
623-695 Höchste Kraft (Utmost strength): breakthrough, third occurrence of the "victorious" motif and Chorale theme in D major (Paradiso)


In the recapitulation section, the hero has clearly left the world of the inferno, with its motifs being performed in triple piano far behind him. The symphony reaches its climax in the breakthrough section (bar 623) where the ‘victorious’ motif returns for the third and final time, along with the triumphant Chorale theme in D major and earlier triplet fanfare material.