Origins: Folk & Folkways

Mahler's Origins: A "Sonic Goulash"

The many folk traditions Mahler encountered gave him a rich source of songs, dances, and legends.
“The Bohemian music of my childhood home has found its way into many of my compositions.”
VIDEO:MTT on Mahler’s experiences of tavern sounds
  • The second movement of Mahler’s First Symphony draws on the folk tradition of the Ländler, a heavy dance in 3/4 time. Here, its principal idea refers to the “Song of the Postilion.” In Mahler’s day, the post was delivered by horse-drawn coach, and the driver (or postilion) would play a horn or sing a song to announce his arrival.

VIDEO:SFS Associate Principal Horn Nicole Cash on this movement

This movement incorporates a variety of quick mood changes. At times, Mahler asks the horn player to change the instrument’s sound by blocking the bell with the hand. Mahler uses this “stopped horn” effect to produce a spirited, and vulgar noise, appropriate to a drinking song.

Mahler's Methods

VIDEO:MTT on the Ländler in Mahler’s day

Mahler based the Scherzos of his First and most of his later symphonies on the Ländler, a rustic peasant waltz often accompanied by heavy stamping.

  • His college friend Hans Rott had done this in 1880 in his Symphony in E.

  • Mahler seems to echo a phrase from this work in his own Second Symphony. Was this a tribute to the highly talented man who had taken his own life some years earlier?

Related Examples