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Mahler: Symphony 1, Third Movement

Can you guess this piece? Here’s a hint: some morbid children’s literature…

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 took a long time to write, and Mahler’s idea of its overall shape changed as he wrote it! Originally, he thought of it as a programmatic rendering of the novel “Titan,” by the French Romantic novelist Jean-Paul, and this nickname has stuck, even though Mahler eventually discarded it. Several themes over the course of the symphony also refer to Mahler’s early song cycle “Songs of a Wayfarer.” The inspiration for the movement we just heard may have been a familiar illustration used in many Austrian children’s books, depicting a procession of forest animals bearing the coffin of a hunter. Further deepening the grotesque irony of this movement is Mahler’s minor-key use of the folk song “Bruder Martin,” also known in translation both as “Frere Jacques” and “Brother John.”

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