We will now begin to explore Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, (known to music nerds as Mahler 2) which is nicknamed “Resurrection”. The first movement introduces the themes that set up for the final movement of the symphony, which is epic, but let’s take one movement at a time.

Mahler wrote a program to accompany this symphony, but could not settle on a suitable story that could express all that is in the work. But for this first movement, in one of his programs he describes a scene of someone facing death and asking the questions to discern the meaning of life (deep questions):

“What is life and what is death? Will we live on eternally? Is it all an empty dream or do our life and death have a meaning?”

From the opening notes you can hear this conflict and impending doom as the character ponders these questions. Parts of this movement resemble a funeral march (aka ominous music in marching tempo). Hear this march at 2:51, 10:00, 14:00, 17:00, and 21:00. Because of these parts this movement would make epic battle music IMO.

One particular theme of note occurs at 15:04, which is really important in this piece, occurring later in the final movement. This is the Dies Irae theme (or Judgement Day theme), which comes from the Middle Ages. The words describe a judgment day scene in which all souls are judged at the end of the world. The character of the story may be contemplating a final judgment as he reflects on his own life and what happens next.

Mahler called for a pause at the end of this movement (23:38), as the middle movements are of a different character. These middle movements are a reflection of the life that this character has lived, and the last movement tells what happens to him in the end. But you’ll have to wait a few posts to find out what happens. 🙂

So pause at 23:38 (unless you’re ready to handle the rest) and next time we’ll look at what happens in the second movement as the character reflects on his life.


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