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Symphony No. 3 (Mahler)
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Symphony No. 3 (Mahler)

The Symphony No. 3 in D minor by Gustav Mahler was written between 1893 and 1896. It is his longest piece, with a typical performance lasting around two hours.

As is usual in Mahler, the piece is written for a large orchestra, consisting of four flutes and piccolos, four oboes, cor anglais, clarinets, bass clarinet, four bassoons, double bassoon, flugelhorn, eight French horns, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, two sets of timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tamtam, triangle, snare drum, Rute, two glockenspiels, bells, two harps, organ, violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

As in his Symphony No. 2, Mahler adds vocal forces to the later movements of the piece. The fourth movement is a song for alto, and the fifth movement adds a women's chorus and a boys' chorus.

In its final form, the work has six movements:

  1. Kräftig entschieden (Strong and decisive)
  2. Tempo di Menuetto (In the tempo of a minuet)
  3. Comodo (Scherzando) (Comfortably, like a scherzo)
  4. Sehr langsam--Misterioso (Very slowly, misteriously)
  5. Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (Happy in tempo and bold in expression)
  6. Langsam--Ruhevoll--Empfunden (Slowly, tranquil, deeply felt)

As with each of his first four symphonies, Mahler originally provided a programme of sorts to explain the narrative of the piece. In the third symphony this took the form of titles for each movement:

  1. "Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In"
  2. "What the Flowers of the Meadow Tell Me"
  3. "What the Creatures of the Forest Tell Me"
  4. "What Man Tells Me"
  5. "What the Angels Tell Me"
  6. "What Love Tells Me"

All these titles were dropped before publication in 1898.

There was originally a seventh movement, "What the Child Tells Me", but this was eventually dropped, becoming instead the last movement of the Symphony No. 4.

The third movement quotes extensively from Mahler's early song "Ablösung im Sommer". The fourth is a setting of Friedrich Nietzsche's "Midnight Song" from Also sprach Zarathustra, while the fifth, "Es sungen drei Engel", is one of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs.

The piece is rarely performed, due in part to its great length. When it is performed, a short interval is often taken between the first movement (which alone lasts around half an hour) and the rest of the piece.

The second movement of this work was arranged by Benjamin Britten for a smaller orchestra, a version published by Boosey and Hawkes in 1950.

First performances