Malmö Symphony Ochestra- Mahler's Symphony No. 5

Malmö Symphony Ochestra- Mahler's Symphony No. 5



Mahler’s monumental Fifth

Although written to serve a certain purpose, through use in other contexts music may be imbued with a new charge. Gustav Mahler composed the fourth movement (the Adagietto) of his Symphony No. 5 in 1901 as a love letter to his new bride Alma, also a musician. Seventy years later the Adagietto was used by Luchino Visconti in his film Death in Venice and was thereby suffused with emotions of unrequited and forbidden love. What was once written as an intimate declaration of a love permeated by mutual feelings, today carries the scent of languor and melancholy. There is nothing wrong with that; the music is robust enough to function in both contexts.


Mahler composed the symphony during his tenure as artistic director of the Vienna Court Opera. Completed in 1902, it premiered in Cologne on 18 October 1904. Mahler managed to complete four more symphonies before his death at the age of 50 in 1911, as well as a draft of his Symphony No. 10.


Symphony No. 5 begins with its iconic trumpet solo, which transitions into a slowly progressing and fatalistic funeral march. The second movement begins in dramatic fashion and according to Mahler’s instructions should be played “stormily, with the greatest vehemence”. This storminess is interweaved with eerie sections in which various parts of the woodwind section apprehensively converse with one another. The third movement is a whirling scherzo, which is followed by the previously discussed adagietto. The finale commences with the interplay of horn and woodwind that transports us to a rural setting in the crisp dawn hour. Themes from previous movements are interweaved and the symphony crosses the finish line in jubilant triumph.

Last updated 2020-07-10