Anticipating Cinema

Playing with Blocks

Explore Mahler's magical orchestral palatte. Find out how he used instrumental colors to give each composition its own rich and varied world of sound.
"We moderns need such a great apparatus in order to express our ideas…"

It isn't just individual colors that make Mahler's soundscapes, but the way he combines them into new dramatic possibilities by anticipating the techniques of great filmmakers.

VIDEO:SFS principal trumpet Mark Inouye on playing offstage
From Afar

While offstage effects had commonly been used in opera and theatre to enlarge the depth of the action, symphonies before Mahler’s were usually composed on one sonic plane. To give depth to his world from the very beginning, Mahler asks that the trumpets be placed offstage, in the far distance.

VIDEO:SFS principal trumpet Mark Inouye and a Bohemian yodeller
The Posthorn

In the Scherzo of the Third Symphony, Mahler uses the arresting sound of the postman's signal to transform our sense of time and space. Everything goes still, and as if in a daydream, we hear a gentle posthorn signal played from offstage. The high notes evoke the piercing cry of a yodeller in the mountains.

VIDEO:MTT on Mahler's cinematic technique
Shifting perspectives

Late in the Scherzo of the Third Symphony, Mahler stretches the scale of his music in ways that anticipate cinematic effects of decades later. In a few seconds, for example, Mahler creates a musical scene change, transforming a rustic call of a clarinet in a peasant band to a cosmic call in the horns. Suddenly, it’s as if we’re looking down on a scene from miles above.