Symphony No 3 (Mahler)

From Wind Repertory Project
Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler (arr. William Schaefer, Donald Patterson (Kräftig. Entschieden); Jimmy Reynolds (Langsam (excerpts))

General Info

Year: 1893-1896 / 1906 / 2018
Duration: c. 42:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Symphony
Publisher: Unpublished (U.S. Marine Band)

For further publication information, please see Discussion tab, above.


1. Kräftig. Entschieden - c. 34:00
4. Langsam (excerpts) - 7:05


Full Score
C Piccolo/Flute III
Flute I-II
Bassoon I-II-III
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-VIII
Trombone I-II-III-IV
String Bass
Timpani I-II
Percussion, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Glockenspiel
  • Snare Drum
  • Tambourine


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Gustav Mahler had a grand vision for a work that would indeed encompass the world in a very literal sense, embodying all that made up both the physical and spiritual environment around him. The germ for the symphony began with a song, as was often the case for the composer. A few years earlier, Mahler had set the poem Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life) from one of his favorite collection of German folk poems, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). He envisioned this song as the final movement of a symphony that explored the elements of nature before ending with this child’s vision of the heavens. This was the music in his ear as he retreated to his hut on the banks of the Attersee in the summer of 1895 to start his new symphony. He began that summer by composing a new tone picture of the meadow that sat next to his little abode, a gentle minuet the composer described as “the most carefree thing that I have ever written -- as carefree as only flowers are. It all sways and waves in the air [. . .] like flowers bending on their stems in the wind.” Other movements then began to evolve that summer, and an unconventional symphonic shape emerged. As he wrote about the symphony to his close friend, violinist and violist Natalie BauerLechner, “It’s not really appropriate to call it a symphony, for it doesn’t stick to the traditional form at all. But ‘symphony’ means to me building a world with all the resources of the available techniques.” Mahler’s emerging vision was that his symphony should follow the evolution and hierarchy of nature itself: from flowers, to animals, to man, to angels, and eventually, to God. Each of these elements of nature were to be represented in their own movement, and by the end of the summer of 1895, Mahler had settled on the following seven-movement structure:

Symphony No. 3
The Joyful Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft)
A Summer Morning’s Dream

I. Summer marches in.
II. What the flowers in the meadow tell me.
III. What the beasts of the forest tell me.
IV. What the night tells me. (Alto solo.) [Mankind]
V. What the morning bells tell me. (Women’s chorus with alto solo.) [The Angels]
VI. What love tells me. (Motto: “Father, behold these wounds of mine! Let no creature be unredeemed!” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn)

VII. Heavenly life. [Das himmlische Leben.] (Soprano solo, humorous.)

The proposed title of the symphony, The Joyful Science, came from Friedrich Nietzsche’s book of the same name. Although Mahler had fussed quite a bit with the structure that summer, the order of the central movements and musical evolution of the entire piece had taken shape by August. However, Mahler had yet to compose the opening movement of the work. He set about that task the following summer, with a vision of Pan, the god of all nature and companion to the nymphs, marching in to awaken the natural forces that would be explored in the successive movements. He was reinvigorated by the start of his composing season and by revisiting his symphony in progress, and what resulted from that summer’s labor was a symphonic movement on a scale unrivaled by any other in the repertoire. When Mahler finished composing his opening chapter to the Symphony No. 3, it was nearly a work unto itself. Beginning with a bold declaration by eight horns in unison and moving through an incredibly varied succession of brilliant marches and passionate interludes, the first movement alone clocked in at nearly thirty-five minutes and served as a detailed introduction to every aspect of the Symphony that followed. He wrote again to Bauer-Lechner about the movement:

It has almost ceased to be music; it is hardly anything but sounds of nature. I could equally well have called the movement “What the mountain tells me” -- it’s eerie, the way life gradually breaks through, out of soul-less, rigid matter. And, as this life rises from stage to stage, it takes on ever more highly developed forms: flowers, beasts, man, up to the sphere of the spirits, the “angels.” Over the introduction to this movement, there lies again that atmosphere of brooding summer midday heat; not a breath stirs, all life is suspended, and the sun-drenched air trembles and vibrates. At intervals there come the moans of the youth -- that is, captive life -- struggling for release from the clutches of lifeless, rigid Nature. At last he breaks through and triumphs.

Although this opening movement was completed last, its inclusion changed Mahler’s view of his entire symphony. It no long seemed musically appropriate to end with the child’s song that had begun his entire creative process; rather, the intensely emotional Adagio that now occupied the sixth chapter of the symphony became the perfect culmination of the movements that preceded it. The seventh movement was dropped from the symphony altogether, and the song Das himmlische Leben would eventually become the finale of the Symphony No. 4. Mahler subtitled the now-final Adagio movement What love tells me, but would explain once again to Bauer-Lechner that he could have just as well entitled this music, “ What God tells me, in the sense that God can only be comprehended as love.” Both rapturous and elegiac at times, the deeply felt lines within this movement are among the most emotionally charged of any of Mahler’s individual symphonic movements, and by the end of that summer of 1896, it was the culmination of the thirty-six-year-old composer’s intense feelings about the natural world around him and his own personal sense of spirituality.

Mahler’s completed opus was the longest symphony of the nine he composed, a performance generally lasting nearly ninety minutes. It was finally cast in two main parts, with the colossal first movement serving as Part One, and the composer calling for a long break for both audience and musicians before continuing with Part Two, which encompassed the rest of the work. Shortly after he finished the symphony, Mahler decided to eliminate the title he borrowed from Nietzsche as well as all references to the specific elements of nature that had served as his compositional muses. He listed the movements only by their generic tempo markings; however, these descriptive dedications have since been restored, giving the listener a vivid glimpse into the composer’s inspirational depths.

When the legendary conductor Bruno Walter went to visit Steinbach am Attersee in the summer of 1896, when Mahler was fully immersed in the composition of the symphony, Walter stopped to admire the beautiful mountains. Mahler said, “No need to look. I have composed all this already,” and then played through the score for Walter at the piano. “His whole being seemed to breathe a mysterious affinity with the forces of nature,” Walter later wrote, “I saw him as Pan.”

- Program Note from U.S. Marine Band concert program, 25 February 2018


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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • United States Marine Band (Washington, D.C.) (Jason K. Fettig, conductor) – 25 February 2018

Works for Winds by This Composer