“In the Fourth movement, the famous Adagietto, harp and strings alone play. The opening melody recalls two of Mahler’s songs, “Nun seh’ ich wohl” (from Kindertotenlieder) and the separate Ruckert setting “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”. The long upbeats and expressive appoggiaturas of the melodic lines give the music a yearning, almost heart-breaking quality. The intensity that builds up inthis movement finaly assuages the darkness and doubts of the earlier movements, making the lighter mood and extrovert energy of the Rondo-Finale acceptable. Together, these two movements form the third part of the symphony. The formal function of the Adagietto is ambiguous. It acts as an introduction to the last movement, which follows without a break, and is thematically bound to it, for twice in the Finale we hear the Adagietto’s main theme, now at a fast tempo. The Adagietto also functions as a slow interlude in F major, between two faster movements in D major; but is also has an expressive weight sufficient for it to stand on its own – indeed, it is often performed by itself.
Even without a text or programme, the music’s emotional and referential content implies an existential dimension. Without an explicit programme or titles, we have few clues to the “meaning” of the Fifth Symphony other than the music itself. Mahler offers some guidance by grouping the five movements, which share some thematic Material, as well as an obsession with death, from the first part; the central scherzo stands alone as the second part; and the lat two movements, which are also linked thematically, form the third.
An essential aspect of Mahler’s symphonies is the idea of emotional and spiritual progression, through various alternatives to a (provisional) conclusion. One important means he uses to articulate this spiritual journey is the technique of progressive tonality. In other symphonies he begins and ends movements in diferent keys, but in the Fifth each movement begins and ends in the same key; however as a whole, it moves from C sharp minor opening movement to the D major of the third and fifth movements.
One reason for Mahler’s significance and influence as a composer is that he viewed his music as a means of seeking and expressing solutions to the problems of his personal, spiritual life. The Depth and seriousness of these problems naturally drew him to the largescale form of the symphony, wich he expanded in length and number of movements to unprecedented proportions.