Symphony No. 5 (Mahler)

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Symphony No. 5
by Gustav Mahler
Photo of Gustav Mahler by Moritz Nähr 01.jpg
Gustav Mahler in 1907
Key (C-sharp minor -) D major
Composed 1901 (1901) – 1902 (1902): Maiernigg
Movements 5
Date 18 October 1904 (1904-10-18)
Location Cologne
Conductor Gustav Mahler
Performers Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne

Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler was composed in 1901 and 1902, mostly during the summer months at Mahler's holiday cottage at Maiernigg. Among its most distinctive features are the trumpet solo that opens the work with a rhythmic motive similar to the opening of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, the horn solos in the third movement and the frequently performed Adagietto.

The musical canvas and emotional scope of the work, which lasts over an hour, are huge. The symphony is sometimes described as being in the key of C minor since the first movement is in this key (the finale, however, is in D major).[1] Mahler objected to the label: "From the order of the movements (where the usual first movement now comes second) it is difficult to speak of a key for the 'whole Symphony', and to avoid misunderstandings the key should best be omitted."[2]


The symphony is scored for large orchestra, consisting of the following:

4 flutes (3rd and 4th 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
4 timpani
bass drum
snare drum (used only in movement 1)
whip (used only in movement 3)
1st violins
2nd violins
double basses

Revisions of the score

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 (ed. Ratz), when the score was republished in the Complete Edition of Mahler's works. In 2001, Edition Peters published a further revised edition (ed. Kubik) as part of the New Complete Critical Edition. This edition is the most accurate edition available so far.[according to whom?] Previous editions have now gone out of print.


The work is in five movements, though Mahler grouped the movements into bigger parts:

Part I
1. Trauermarsch (Funeral march). In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt (At a measured pace. Strict. Like a funeral procession.) C minor
2. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz (Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence) A minor
Part II
3. Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Strong and not too fast) D major
Part III
4. Adagietto. Sehr langsam (Very slow) F major
5. Rondo-Finale. Allegro – Allegro giocoso. Frisch (Fresh) D major

Part I

1. Trauermarsch

The trumpet solo at the opening of the first movement

 \relative c' { \clef treble \key cis \minor \numericTimeSignature \time 2/2 \partial 4*1 \times 2/3 { cis8\p-.\< cis-. cis-. } | cis2\!\sf-> r4 \times 2/3 { cis8\< cis cis } | cis2\!\sf-> r4 \times 2/3 { cis8\< cis cis } | e1\!\sf->~ | e4 }

is followed by a somber, funeral march (the primary theme).

 \relative c' { \clef treble \key cis \minor \numericTimeSignature \time 2/2 \partial 2*1 cis4.\pp dis8 | e2( gis~) | gis fis4. e8 | dis2( bis~) | bis dis4. e8 | fis2-> fis-> | fis->( \grace { gis32[ fis] } e4.) dis8 | dis4( e8) r e2~ | e }

The march is twice interrupted by a calmer secondary theme.

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key aes \major \numericTimeSignature \time 2/2 \partial 2*1 <c ees,>4.\pp\<( <des fes,>8\!) | <des fes,>2->(\> <c ees,>4. <aes c,>8\! | <c ees,>2) <bes des,>4.\<( <c ees,>8\! | <bes des,>4->\> <aes c,>8) r <aes c,>4.( <ees aes,>8\! | <c aes>2) }

2. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz

There are many shared elements between the first and second movement. A sighing motive heard in the first movement

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key des \major \numericTimeSignature \time 2/2 \partial 2*1 aes2(\p\< | ges'4.\!->) ges8-.\> f2\! }

becomes more prominent in the second movement

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key a \minor \time 2/2 \partial 4*1 dis\ff( | e'\sf dis8) }

and leads into the first theme.

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key a \minor \time 2/2 \partial 4*1 dis\fff(\glissando | f'!2\sf)~ f8( e) c-. b-. | a2 r8 c\sf-. b-. a-. | gis b a gis b a gis fis | e2 }

Rehearsal mark 5, marked im Tempo des ersten Satzes "Trauermarsch", introduces a theme accompanied by the sighing motive and a repeated quaver motive from the beginning of the movement.

 \relative c { \clef bass \key f \minor \time 2/2 \partial 2*1 c4.\p( f8) | aes1~ | aes2( g4. f8) | aes1~ | aes4 }

Later, another return to the Tempo des ersten Satzes: Trauermarsch, brings a return to the Secondary Theme of the first movement. A triumphant choral breaks forth but dissolves into a return of the tragic material of the opening of the movement.

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key d \major \time 2/2 \partial 2*1 a2\p(\< | <a' fis d>1\!\f | <g e b>\sf)~ | <g e b>\> | <a fis d>\!\sf | <fis d a>2-> r4 <e cis a>8-> r | <d b fis>1-> }

Part II

3. Scherzo

The central scherzo develops several waltz and ländler themes.

  •  \relative c' { \clef treble \key d \major \time 3/4 d8-.\sf fis-. a,2-> | r4 b8-.\< cis-. d-. fis-.\! | b2.~\p\< | b8\ff-. r a4. fis8 | e-. r d4. fis8 | a2.\fp }
  •  \relative c'' { \clef treble \key bes \major \time 3/4 \autoBeamOff g4\p( r8 d) f-. r | g4--( r8 c,-.) f4(~ | f\glissando bes8) r  }
  •  \relative c'' { \clef treble \key f \minor \time 3/4 g2(\p aes4) | g2( f4) | ees(\< g, g')\! | f2 }

Part III

4. Adagietto

The Adagietto is scored for only the string section and a solo harp. The themes are:

  •  \relative c' { \clef treble \key f \major \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \partial 8*3 c8(\pp\<-- d-- e--)\! | e4\pp( f4.)\breathe f8( bes a) | a4( g4.) }
  •  \relative c' { \clef treble \key f \major \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \partial 8*1 c8\f(\< | d\! f) f2( ees8) d | \slashedGrace { aes8( } d4)( f2 \grace {g16[ f] } ees8 d) | \slashedGrace { g8( } f4)\>( ees)\! }

5. Rondo finale

The final rondo is a contrapuntal tour de force. Several of the themes evolve out of the fragments heard in the opening measures. The last movement also utilizes themes from the Adagietto as well as the chorale from the second movement.

  •  \relative c'' { \clef treble \key d \major \time 2/2 a2\f-> e-> | a1\fp }
  •  \relative c { \clef bass \key d \major \time 2/2 \partial 4*1 a8\f-. r | d-. e-. fis-. g-. a-. r a-. r | d-. r cis-. b-. a2 }
  •  \relative c'' { \clef treble \key d \major \time 2/2 fis\p( e d a') | b1( | a) }
  •  \relative c { \clef bass \key d \major \time 2/2 e2\f-> a-> | b4-. b-. e-. e-. | cis-. cis-. | a'2 }

The symphony is generally regarded as Mahler's most conventional symphony up to that point[which?][clarification needed], but from such an unconventional composer it still had many peculiarities. It almost has a four movement structure, as the first two can easily be viewed as essentially a whole. The symphony also ends with a rondo, in the classical style. Some peculiarities are the funeral march that opens the piece and the Adagietto for harp and strings that contrasts with the complex orchestration of the other movements.

A performance of the symphony lasts around 70 minutes.


The fourth movement may be Mahler's most famous composition and is the most frequently performed of his works. The British premiere of Symphony No. 5 came 36 years after that of the Adagietto, conducted by Henry Wood at a Proms concert in 1909.

It is said to represent Mahler's love song to his wife Alma. According to a letter she wrote to Willem Mengelberg, the composer left a small poem:[3]

It lasts for approximately 10 minutes, and Mahler's instruction is Sehr langsam (very slowly). Mahler and Mengelberg played it in about 7 minutes.[3] Some conductors have taken tempos that extend it to nearly 12 minutes (viz. recordings by Eliahu Inbal, Herbert von Karajan, and Claudio Abbado), while Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performed it in ​9 12 minutes. The shortest recorded performance is from Mengelberg (Concertgebouw, 1926) at 7′04″. The longest commercial recording is Bernard Haitink (Berliner Philharmoniker, 1988) at 13′55″. A recording of a live performance with Hermann Scherchen conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1964 lasts 15′15″.

Leonard Bernstein conducted it during the funeral Mass for Robert F. Kennedy at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Manhattan, on 8 June 1968,[5] and he also briefly discusses this section along with the opening bars of the second movement in his Charles Eliot Norton lectures from 1973.

It was used in the 1971 Luchino Visconti film Death in Venice.

The Adagietto has been used by figure skaters. Ekaterina Gordeeva commemorated her deceased husband, Sergei Grinkov, at the 1996 "Celebration of a Life". Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, from Canada, used it for their free dance at both the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2010 World Championships, winning the gold medal at both events.

It was used during a scene in the 1992 film, Lorenzo's Oil.

In Emmerdale in 2003, The Adagietto was used in Chris Tate's final scene. In 2016, The Adagietto was also used in a Gucci perfume add, starring Jared Leto. It was also used on January 10, 2017 in the opening scene of "Broken Promises", the ninth episode of Season 4 of the ABC television show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Mahler's composing cottage in Maiernigg

Mahler wrote his fifth symphony during the summers of 1901 and 1902. In February 1901 Mahler had suffered a sudden major hemorrhage and his doctor later told him that he had come within an hour of bleeding to death. The composer spent quite a while recuperating. He moved into his own lakeside villa in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia in June 1901. Mahler was delighted with his newfound status as the owner of a grand villa. According to friends, he could hardly believe how far he had come from his humble beginnings. He was director of the Vienna Court Opera and the principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. His own music was also starting to be successful. Later in 1901 he met Alma Schindler and by the time he returned to his summer villa in summer 1902, they were married and she was expecting their first child.

Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 and 7, which all belong to this period, have much in common and are markedly different from the first four, which all have strong links to vocal music. The middle symphonies, by contrast, are pure orchestral works and are, by Mahler’s standards, taut and lean.

Counterpoint also becomes a more important element in Mahler’s music from Symphony No. 5 onwards. The ability to write good counterpoint was highly cherished by Baroque composers and Johann Sebastian Bach is regarded[by whom?] as the greatest composer of contrapuntal music. Bach played an important part in Mahler's musical life at this time. He subscribed to the edition of Bach's collected works that was being published at the turn of the century, and later conducted and arranged works by Bach for performance. Mahler's renewed interest in counterpoint can best be heard in the second, third and fifth movements of this symphony.



  • After its premiere, Mahler is reported to have said, "Nobody understood it. I wish I could conduct the first performance fifty years after my death."
  • Herbert von Karajan once said that when you hear the symphony, "you forget that time has passed. A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience. The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath."[7]


  1. ^ 'Gustav Mahler', in New Grove, Macmillan, 1980
  2. ^ Letter to Peters Music Publishers dated July 23, 1904. Cited after:
  3. ^ a b Daan Admiraal (2007). Mahler-5 Adagietto, its historic tempo and changed emotional content.
  4. ^ Willem Mengelberg's conducting score of Mahler Symphony no. 5. Handwritten quote of the poem on page 178, Adagietto. Nederlands Muziek Instituut. Cited after
  5. ^ Henahan, Donal (9 June 1968). "Protestant and Catholic Songs Mingle With Symphonic Music" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  6. ^ Henry-Louis de la Grange, Gustav Mahler, III, Vienna: Triumph and Disillusion (1904-1907), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 319-320
  7. ^ Gustav and Alma Mahler... Symphony n° 5...,

External links

  • Symphony No. 5: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
  • Analysis from
  • Opening Trumpet solo from Mahler's Fifth Symphony
  • Horn solo from Mahler's Fifth Symphony
  • Gilbert Kaplan: In One Note of Mahler, a World of Meaning. New York Times, 17 March 2002 (online)
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