1902: Mahler: Symphony No. 5

FRIDAY, November 27, 2020 – 1:58 AM

(This is another massive symphony, and it’s much longer than an hour long, more like 70-75 minutes. But if you take it one movement at a time, it’s not terribly long at all.

Try the slow movement first

This is really famous, and it’s very simple, just strings and harp. It’s about 10 minutes long and is most likely the most well known and popular of everything Mahler wrote.

46:24 IV: Adagietto. Sehr langsam, F major

The last movement is upbeat

It’s 15 minutes long, which is almost short for Mahler, and it’s easy to listen to because it is so optimistic, plus it has a really triumphant ending. If you enjoy these two movements, I would suggest next the 3rd movement. But try this one first.

56:53 V: Rondo-Finale.  Allegro – Allegro giocoso. Frisch,  D major

Mahler: Symphony No. 5, age 42


  • 4 flutes (all doubling piccolos), 3 oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais), 3 B♭ and A clarinets (3rd doubling D clarinet and bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon)
  • 6 horns (solo horn in movement 3), 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba
  • 4 timpani. bass drum, snare drum (used only in movement 1), cymbals
  • triangle, whip (used only in movement 3), tam-tam, glockenspiel
  • harp
  • Strings

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

I. Trauermarsch

The trumpet solo at the opening of the first movement quotes the Generalmarsch of the Austro-Hungarian Army. It’s a funeral march, and the directions make that very clear. It’s supposed to be at a strict tempo. It starts almost the same way as Mendelssohn’s “Bridal March” (“Here comes the bride”), which starts on C. This starts on C# and that sets the key as C# minor.  In the first key there is a movement from C# minor to both E major and C# major (or Db major). The theme by the trumpet unifies this section.

After about five minutes there is a sudden change of tempo and a move to Bb minor. This mood holds  for a couple minutes, then the trumpet theme from the start returns, along with the beginning tempo. At around the 10 minute mark solo timpani plays the beginning trumpet theme. This signals a move to A minor, the key of his 6th symphony, and for Mahler that’s a very tragic key. What follows is perhaps the most Wagnerian moment in all is symphonies. The trumpet moves to F# minor, then back to C# minor to end the movement.

II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz

The first and second movements are related, as if they are two sections of the same thing but separated by a pause.

III. Scherzo

This 3rd movement has some of the best brass writing you’ll ever hear, most of all the horns. There is a total change in mood, so suddenly there is an almost joyous feel.

IV. Adagietto

The Adagietto is scored for only the string section and a solo harp. It is probably Mahler’s most famous composition and is the most frequently performed of his works.

It is said to represent Mahler’s love song to his wife Alma.

There is a huge controversy about the tempo. Mahler’s instruction is Sehr langsam (very slowly). Supposedly Mahler and Mengelberg played in under 8 minutes, but some conductors have slowed it down to more than 15 minutes long.

V. Rondo finale

The final rondo is upbeat and by the end triumphant. Several of the themes develop from fragments heard in the opening measures. The last movement also utilizes themes from the Adagietto as well as the chorale from the second movement, and in this way unifies the whole symphony.

No key given

This is very unusual, but because the 1st movement start in C# minor, it’s very hard to assign a key when it moves to A minor, D major, F major and back to D major.

Three parts, five movements

The work is in five movements, but though Mahler grouped the movements into three larger parts by grouping the first two movements together and then doing the same thing with the last two.


The score appeared first in print in 1904 at Peters, Leipzig. A second “New Edition”, incorporating revisions that Mahler made in 1904, appeared in 1905. Final revisions made by Mahler in 1911 (by which time he had completed his 9th Symphony) did not appear until 1964.

2 thoughts on “1902: Mahler: Symphony No. 5

  1. I listened to the whole thing, maybe the first Mahler I heard consciously as Mahler. The slow movement is very moving, very sensitive and fine – coming after some boisterous music one feels it all the more. I seem to be a sucker for brass: or Mahler knows how to bring things out of brass instrument – I got happy every time a brass instrument stood out and did its thing.

    I delighted at one point in a jaunty number (in 3/4 time?) with different things happening, and then suddenly it sounded medieval.

    Still getting used to Mahler and what he’s about.

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