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Symphony No. 2 (Mahler)

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Symphony No. 2 (Mahler)

Symphony No. 2
by Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler in 1892
Key C minor
  • 1888 (1888)–1894 (1894) – Steinbach
Recorded 1924 (1924) Oskar Fried, Berlin State Opera Orchestra
Movements 5
Date 13 December 1895 (1895-12-13)
Location Berlin
Conductor Mahler

The Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler, known as the Resurrection Symphony, was written between 1888 and 1894, and first performed in 1895. Apart from the Eighth Symphony, this symphony was Mahler's most popular and successful work during his lifetime. It was his first major work that established his lifelong view of the beauty of afterlife and resurrection. In this large work, the composer further developed the creativity of "sound of the distance" and creating a "world of its own", aspects already seen in his First Symphony. The work lasts around eighty to ninety minutes and is conventionally labelled as being in the key of C minor; the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians labels the work's tonality as 'c--E [1]


  • Origin 1
  • Publication 2
  • Instrumentation 3
  • Form 4
    • 1. Allegro maestoso. Mit durchaus ernstem und feierlichem Ausdruck (With complete gravity and solemnity of expression) 4.1
    • 2. Andante moderato. Sehr gemächlich. Nie eilen. (Very leisurely. Never rush.) 4.2
    • 3. In ruhig fließender Bewegung (With quietly flowing movement) 4.3
    • 4. Urlicht (Primeval Light). Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht (Very solemn, but simple) 4.4
    • 5. Im Tempo des Scherzos (In the tempo of the scherzo) 4.5
  • Text 5
    • Fourth Movement 5.1
    • Fifth Movement 5.2
  • Premieres 6
  • Notes 7
  • Sources 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Mahler completed what would become the first movement of the symphony in 1888 as a single-movement symphonic poem called Totenfeier (Funeral Rites). Some sketches for the second movement also date from that year. Mahler wavered five years on whether to make Totenfeier the opening movement of a symphony, although his manuscript does label it as a symphony. In 1893, he composed the second and third movements.[2] The finale was the problem. While thoroughly aware he was inviting comparison with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 -- both symphonies use a chorus as the centerpiece of a final movement which begins with references to and is much longer than those preceding it -- Mahler knew he wanted a vocal final movement. Finding the right text for this movement proved long and perplexing.[3]

When Mahler took up his appointment at the Hamburg Opera in 1891, he found the other important conductor there to be Hans von Bülow, who was in charge of the city's symphony concerts. Bülow, not known for his kindness, was impressed by Mahler. His support was not diminished by his failure to like or understand Totenfeier when Mahler played it for him on the piano. Bülow told Mahler that Totenfeier made Tristan und Isolde sound to him like a Haydn symphony. As Bülow's health worsened, Mahler substituted for him. Bülow's death in 1894 greatly affected Mahler. At the funeral, Mahler heard a setting of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection), where the dictum calls out "Rise again, yes, you shall rise again / My dust".

"It struck me like lightning, this thing," he wrote to conductor Anton Seidl, "and everything was revealed to me clear and plain." Mahler used the first two verses of Klopstock's hymn, then added verses of his own that dealt more explicitly with redemption and resurrection.[4] He finished the finale and revised the orchestration of the first movement in 1894, then inserted the song Urlicht (Primal Light) as the penultimate movement. This song was probably written in 1892 or 1893.[2]

Mahler initially devised a narrative programme (actually several variant versions) for the work, which he shared with a number of friends (including Natalie Bauer-Lechner and Max Marschalk). He even had one of these versions printed in the program book at the premiere in Dresden on 20 December 1901. In this programme, the first movement represents a funeral and asks questions such as "Is there life after death?"; the second movement is a remembrance of happy times in the life of the deceased; the third movement represents a view of life as meaningless activity; the fourth movement is a wish for release from life without meaning; and the fifth movement – after a return of the doubts of the third movement and the questions of the first – ends with a fervent hope for everlasting, transcendent renewal, a theme that Mahler would ultimately transfigure into the music of his Das Lied von der Erde.[5] As generally happened, Mahler later withdrew all versions of the programme from circulation.


The work was first published in 1897 by Friedrich Hofmeister. The rights were transferred to Josef Weinberger shortly thereafter, and finally to Universal Edition, which released a second edition in 1910. A third edition was published in 1952, and a fourth, critical edition in 1970, both by Universal Edition. As part of the new complete critical edition of Mahler's symphonies being undertaken by the Gustav Mahler Society, a new critical edition of the Second Symphony was produced as a joint venture between Universal Edition and the Kaplan Foundation. Its world premiere performance was given on 18 October 2005 at the Royal Albert Hall in London with Gilbert Kaplan conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.[6]

Reproductions of earlier editions have been released by Dover and by Boosey & Hawkes. The Kaplan Foundation published an extensive facsimile edition with additional materials in 1986.

1899 saw the publication of an arrangement by Bruno Walter for piano four-hands.


The offstage ensemble of brass and percussion. The use of two tam-tams, one pitched high and one low, is particularly unusual; the end of the last movement features them struck in alternation repeatedly.

4 flutes (all four doubling piccolos)
4 oboes (3rd and 4th oboe doubling English horns)
3 clarinets in B-flat, A, C (3rd clarinet doubling bass clarinet)
2 E-flat clarinets (2nd E-flat clarinet doubling 4th clarinet in B-flat and A) [n 1]
4 bassoons (3rd and 4th bassoon doubling contrabassoon)[n 2]
10 horns in F, four (7-10) also used offstage (preferably more)[n 3]
8-10 trumpets in F and C, four to six used offstage [n 4]
4 trombones

(Requires total of seven players)

timpani (2 players and 8 timpani, with a third player in the last movement using two of the second timpanist's drums)
Several snare drums
bass drum
3 deep, untuned steel rods or bells
rute, or "switch", to be played on the shell of the bass drum
2 tam-tams (high and low)
offstage percussion in Movement 5:
bass drum with cymbals attached (played by the same percussionist), triangle, timpanum
organ (used in fifth movement only)
soprano solo (used in fifth movement only)
alto solo (sometimes credited as and sung by a mezzo-soprano) (used in fourth & fifth movements only)
mixed chorus (used in fifth movement only)
harps I, II (several to each part in the last movement and possibly at one point in the Scherzo)

"The largest possible contingent of strings"

1st and 2nd violins
double basses (some with low C extension).


The work in its finished form has five movements:

1. Allegro maestoso. Mit durchaus ernstem und feierlichem Ausdruck (With complete gravity and solemnity of expression)

Performed by the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (Reinhold Behringer) with digital samples.

Problems playing this file? See .
The first movement – written in C minor – though passing through a number of different moods, resembles a funeral march.
  \relative c' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key c \minor c1-^\p | d2^^ f4.^^ aes8-. | c2^^ g4.^^ g8-. | c2^^ \times 2/3 { r8 r8 c-. } \times 2/3 { d-. c-. b-. } | c8-.[ r16 g-.] c,8-. }
The movement's formal structure is modified sonata form. The exposition is repeated in a varied form (from rehearsal letter 4 through 15, as Beethoven often did in his Late String Quartets). The development presents several ideas that will be used later in the symphony, including a theme based on the Dies Irae plainchant.
  \relative c'' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key ees \minor ges2^^\mf f^^ | ges^^ ees^^ | aes4^^ ges8^^ fes^^ ges4^^ ces,^^ | fes2^^ ees^^ }
Mahler uses a somewhat modified tonal framework for the movement. The secondary theme, first presented in E major (enharmony of F♭ major, neapolitan of E♭),[7]
  \relative c'' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key c \minor b2--\pp e4-- fis-- | gis-- a-- b-- cis8--( dis--) | fis4( e2) }

begins its second statement in C major, a key in which it is not expected until the recapitulation. The statement in the recapitulation, coincidentally, is in the original E major (F♭ major). The eventual goal of the symphony, E-flat major, is briefly hinted at after rehearsal 17, with a theme in the trumpets that returns in the finale.

  \relative c'' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key ees \minor 2^^\p ^^ | ^^ r4 f, | g^^ bes^^\< ees^^ d8[\!-. r16 c-.] | bes1\f }
Following this movement, Mahler calls in the score for a gap of five minutes before the second movement. This pause is rarely observed today. Often conductors will meet Mahler half way, pausing for a few minutes while the audience takes a breather and settles down and the orchestra retunes in preparation for the rest of the piece. Julius Buths received this instruction from Mahler personally, prior to a 1903 performance in Düsseldorf;[8] however, he chose instead to place the long pause between the fourth and fifth movements, for which Mahler congratulated him on his insight, sensitivity, and daring to go against his stated wishes.[9]
A practical way of following Mahler's original indication is to have the two soloists and the chorus enter the stage only after the first movement. This creates a natural separation between the first movement and the rest of the symphony and also saves the singers more than twenty minutes of sitting on stage. One can get an idea of Mahler's intention through a comparison with his 3rd symphony, where - due to the length of the piece - a real break after the first movement (as between two acts of an opera) is highly recommended, and indeed - indicated by Mahler. As in the case of the 2nd symphony, this is not always observed nowadays.

2. Andante moderato. Sehr gemächlich. Nie eilen. (Very leisurely. Never rush.)

The second movement is a delicate Ländler in A-flat major
  \relative c' { \clef treble \time 3/8 \key aes \major \tempo 8 = 92 \partial 8*1 ees16^"grazioso"\p r | ees8( c16-. des-. ees-. f-.) | ees8(\upbow aes aes)}

with two contrasting sections of slightly darker music.

  \relative c'' { \clef treble \time 3/8 \key dis \minor \tempo 8 = 92 \partial 8*1 \times 2/3 { dis'16-.\ppp cisis-. dis-. } | \times 2/3 { e-.[ dis-. cis-.] } \times 2/3 { b-.[ ais-. gis-.] } \times 2/3 { fisis-.[ gis-. ais-.] } | \times 2/3 { gis^^([ dis-.) dis] } }

This slow movement itself is contrasting to the two adjacent movements. Structurally, it is one of the simplest movements in Mahler's whole output. It is the remembrance of the joyful times in the life of the deceased.

3. In ruhig fließender Bewegung (With quietly flowing movement)

The third movement is a scherzo in C minor. It opens with two strong, short timpani strokes.
 \relative c { \clef bass \time 3/8 \key c \minor \partial 16*1 g16^^\ff | c8^^ }

It is followed by two softer strokes, and then followed by even softer strokes that provide the tempo to this movement, which includes references to Jewish folk music.

 \relative c' { \clef treble \time 3/8 \key c \minor \partial 8*1 c16(\p g | c d ees f g aes | g ees c d ees f | \slashedGrace { aes } g fis g b c d | ees) }

Mahler called the climax of the movement, which occurs near the end, sometimes a "cry of despair", and sometimes a "death-shriek".

 { \new PianoStaff << \new Staff \relative c'' { \clef treble \time 3/8 \key c \major 4.\fff } \new Staff \relative c { \clef bass \time 3/8 \key c \major 4. } >> }

The movement is based on Mahler's setting of "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn", which Mahler composed almost concurrently; in correspondence, Mahler expressed amusement that his sinuous musical setting could imply St. Anthony of Padua was himself drunk as he preached to the fish. (The movement was the basis for the third movement of Luciano Berio's "Sinfonia", where it is used as the framework for adding, collage-like, a great many quotations and references to other scores.)

4. Urlicht (Primeval Light). Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht (Very solemn, but simple)

Performed by the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (Reinhold Behringer) with digital samples. Solo voice has been replaced by solo cello.

Problems playing this file? See .
The fourth movement, Urlicht, is a Wunderhorn song, sung by an alto, which serves as an introduction to the Finale. The song, set in the remote key of D-flat major, illustrates the longing for relief from worldly woes, leading without a break to the response in the Finale.
 { \new PianoStaff << \new Staff \relative c' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key des \major \partial 4*1 des4 | des2\fermata ees\fermata | f1\fermata } \addlyrics {O Rös- chen roth! } \new Staff \relative c' { \clef bass \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key des \major \partial 4*1 r4 | 2\fermata \fermata | 1\fermata } >> }

5. Im Tempo des Scherzos (In the tempo of the scherzo)

The finale is the longest, typically lasting over half an hour. It is divided into two large parts, the second of which begins with the entry of the chorus and whose form is governed by the text of this movement. The first part is instrumental, and very episodic, containing a wide variety of moods, tempi and keys, with much of the material based on what has been heard in the previous movements, although it also loosely follows sonata principles. New themes introduced are used repeatedly and altered.
The movement opens with a long introduction, beginning with the "cry of despair" that was the climax of the third movement, followed by the quiet presentation of a theme which re-appears as structural music in the choral section,
 \relative c'' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key c \major g'4.-- c,8~-- c d-- e-- f-- | g4. }

and by a call in the offstage horns.

  \relative c { \clef bass \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key c \major \partial 4*1 f4-^ | c'2-^\fermata r4 f,4-^^"(Echo)" | c'2-^\fermata r4 \times 2/3 { c8-^ f,-^ c'-^ } | f2-^ g2~-^ | g2\fermata }

The first theme group reiterates the "Dies Irae" theme from the first movement, and then introduces the "resurrection" theme to which the chorus will sing their first words, and finally a fanfare.

 \relative c' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \key f \minor \time 4/4 \partial 4*1 c\p-^ | f2-^ g-^ | f-^ r4 c8-^ ees-^ | aes4-^ g-^ f2-^ | ees-^ }

The second theme is a long orchestral recitative, which provides the music for the alto solo in the choral section.

  \relative c'' { \clef treble \time 2/2 \key bes \minor \partial 4*1 ges4~\sf | ges2\p\>( f4)\!~ r | r1 | r4 ges2.(\sf\> | f4)\!\p r r ges~\< | ges\! f--\p ees-- f-- | des2.(\pp bes4) }

The exposition concludes with a re-statement of the first theme group. This long opening section serves to introduce a number of themes, which will become important in the choral part of the finale.

The development section is what Mahler calls the "march of the dead". It begins with two long drum rolls, which include the use of the gongs. In addition to developing the Dies Irae and resurrection themes and motives from the opening cry of despair, this section also states, episodically, a number of other themes, based on earlier material. The recapitulation overlaps with the march, and only brief statements of the first theme group are re-stated. The orchestral recitative is fully recapitulated, and is accompanied this time by offstage interruptions from a band of brass and percussion. This builds to a climax, which leads into a re-statement of the opening introductory section. The horn call is expanded into Mahler's "Great Summons", a transition into the choral section.
Tonally, this first large part, the instrumental half of the movement, is organized in F minor. After the introduction, which recalls two keys from earlier movements, the first theme group is presented wholly in F minor, and the second theme group in the subdominant, B-flat minor. The re-statement of the first theme group occurs in the dominant, C major. The development explores a number of keys, including the mediant, A-flat major, and the parallel major, F major. Unlike the first movement, the second theme is recapitulated as expected in the tonic key. The re-statement of the introduction is thematically and tonally a transition to the second large part, moving from C-sharp minor to the parallel D-flat major — the dominant of F-sharp minor — in which the Great Summons is stated. The Epiphany comes in, played by the flute, in a high register, and featuring trumpets, that play offstage. The choral section begins in G-flat major.
The chorus comes in quietly a little past the halfway point of the movement.
{ \new ChoralStaff << \new Staff \relative c' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key ges \major des2\ppp ees | des\fermata } \addlyrics { Auf- er- steh'n, } \new Staff \relative c' { \clef bass \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key ges \major 2  | \fermata } >> }

The choral section is organized primarily by the text, using musical material from earlier in the movement. (The B-flat below the bass clef occurs four times in the choral bass part: three at the chorus' hushed entrance and again on the words "Hör' auf zu beben". It is not the lowest vocal note in standard classical repertoire. Mahler instructs basses incapable of singing the note remain silent rather than sing the note an octave higher.) Each of the first two verses is followed by an instrumental interlude; the alto and soprano solos, "O Glaube",

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 \key des \major \partial 4*1 ges4 | ges2 f } \addlyrics { O glau- be, }

based on the recitative melody, precede the fourth verse, sung by the chorus; and the fifth verse is a duet for the two soloists. The opening two verses are presented in G-flat major, the solos and the fourth verse in B-flat minor (the key in which the recitative was originally stated), and the duet in A-flat major. The goal of the symphony, E-flat major, the relative major of the opening C minor, is achieved when the chorus picks up the words from the duet, "Mit Flügeln",

 \relative c { \clef bass \numericTimeSignature \time 2/2 \key ees \major \partial 2*1 aes2 | bes2. g4 | aes bes c d | f2. ees4 | d ees8( c) bes4 c8( aes) | g2 bes } \addlyrics { Mit Flü- geln, die ich mir er- run- gen, wer- de ich ent- schwe- ben! }

although after eight measures the music gravitates to G major (but never cadences on it).

E-flat suddenly re-enters with the text "Sterben werd' ich um zu leben," and a proper cadence finally occurs on the downbeat of the final verse, with the entrance of the heretofore silent organ (marked "volles Werk") and with the choir instructed to sing "mit höchster Kraft" (with highest power). The instrumental coda is in this ultimate key as well, and is accompanied by the tolling of deep bells. Mahler went so far as to purchase actual church bells for performances, finding all other means of achieving this sound unsatisfactory. Mahler wrote of this movement: "The increasing tension, working up to the final climax, is so tremendous that I don’t know myself, now that it is over, how I ever came to write it." [10]


Note: This text has been translated from the original German text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn to English on a very literal and line-for-line basis, without regard for the preservation of meter or rhyming patterns.

Fourth Movement

Fourth movement, beginning of alto solo

Fifth Movement

Note: The first eight lines were taken from the poem Die Auferstehung by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock.[11] Mahler omitted the final four lines of this poem and wrote the rest himself (beginning at "O glaube").



  1. ^ According to the instrumentation list in the edition of the Symphony published by Dover, both E-flat clarinets are doubled in ff where possible, but there is no indication of this in the score itself.
  2. ^ At no point does the score require two contrabassoons. In the first four movements, the third bassoon alternates on the contrabassoon, and in the fifth movement a fourth bassoon is added to the ensemble, which is assigned the doubling of the contrabassoon (presumably for convenience of writing the score).
  3. ^ At rehearsal number 3 in the fifth movement, "as many as possible, at great distance". Horn 7-10 return to the orchestra after number 31. (and start playing after no. 46)
  4. ^ At one point in the fifth movement, rehearsal numbers 22-25, there are two off-stage trumpet parts in F and C with multiple instruments on each part, according to the score playing from as furthest a distance as possible, which utilize players other than parts 1-6 of the orchestra. Later, four trumpet parts are used off-stage, which the score states are played by parts 3-6. In this passage, the score states that the four trumpets must play from opposite sides: the horns and offstage trumpets 2 and 4 on the left side and parts 1 and 3 on the right. For the final minutes of the symphony, the on-stage trumpets are to be joined with "reinforcement" players, presumably using the off-stage musicians from the section starting at rehearsal number 22. The figure of 8 total players assumes that in this passage only one trumpeter is playing on each of the two offstage parts, while the high-end figure of 10 assumes 2 on each part. It is probable, however, that Mahler would have preferred even more players in this section than allowed by the "ten" he indicated in the score, especially as he wrote "mehrfach besetzt" rather "doppelt besetzt" for the passages at rehearsal numbers 22-25 (that is "multiple to the part" rather than simply "doubled"), and as the indication for "reinforcement" applies to all six trumpet parts.


  • Steinberg, Michael, The Symphony (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). ISBN 0-19-506177-2.


  1. ^ 'Gustav Mahler', in New Grove, Macmillan, 1980
  2. ^ a b Steinberg, 285.
  3. ^ Steinberg, 290-291.
  4. ^ Steinberg, 291.
  5. ^ "Symphony No. 2 in C minor (Resurrection)".  
  6. ^ Press review for World Premiere performance of the new Critical Edition of Mahler's Resurrection symphony
  7. ^ Schram, Albert-George. Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (C Minor): A Historical Background and Analysis. Thesis (D.Mus. Arts)--University of Washington, 1985.
  8. ^ San Francisco Symphony
  9. ^ Kennedy Center
  10. ^ Natalie Bauer-Lechner, Recollections of Gustav Mahler, trans. Dika Newlin, ed. Peter Franklin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. 43-44.
  11. ^ Klopstock's Die Auferstehung is not, as is commonly believed, one of his Oden, but rather from a set entitled Geistliche Lieder (Spiritual Songs).

External links

  • Symphony No. 2: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  • The Music of Gustav Mahler: a catalogue of manuscript and printed sources The entry for the Second Symphony outlines the work's history, provides a list of performances up to 1911, a discography of early recordings, and detailed descriptions of the surviving manuscript and printed sources.
  • Classical Notes
  • Mahler's Second: The Story within the Symphony - WQXR Radio Feature
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