Concert Notes

Mahler’s Symphony No. 5

Notes by TŌN violinist Yeseul Park

Mahler’s Counterpoint
Gustav Mahler was an Austro-Bohemian composer and conductor known for composing ten symphonies and various songs with orchestral accompaniments during the period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His Fifth Symphony is one of the most popular pieces that he wrote and exemplifies his composition style. The work consists of a total of five movements, which Mahler grouped in three parts. This piece is known to have been greatly influenced by Bach’s counterpoint; for example, fugue passages and complicated parts in counterpoints are heard in the fifth movement. When Mahler was composing this piece, he told his friends that he regards Bach’s music as the “seed” of all music and that there is no greater than Bach’s contrapuntal music. Mahler’s sophisticated counterpoints are most prominently heard in second, third, and fifth movements.

An Innovative Spirit
Mahler was a composer who did not fear trying something new, and the Fifth Symphony bears his innovative spirit. Unlike the first four symphonies, which contain vocal parts with orchestra, this work was his first purely instrumental symphony that lets the audience focus solely on the sound of the orchestra. Intending to focus solely on the sound of harmony, the Fifth Symphony was Mahler’s first attempt at composing “absolute music,” a piece that was not derived from collections of poems or other writings. Instead, this symphony is filled with his decluttered focus on the sound of music, as well as his personal emotions, such as the fourth movement which contains his confession of love to his wife, Alma Schindler. I fell in love with Mahler’s music as I experienced his innovative attempts filled with meaningful emotions in this symphony. I hope this piece helps you to enter the world of Malher as well!