Howard Stern | On Mahler’s Cuckoos: Ironies of Text and Music


The third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony is a purely instrumental scherzando arrangement of the composer’s earlier song for voice and piano “Ablösung im Sommer,” which thematizes the singing styles of cuckoo and nightingale. Standard interpretations of the symphony read the movement as little more than an “animal fantasy” – halfway between the elemental forces of nature and the moral world of humanity. A full reading of the song, attending to its text and literary background, reveals it to be a profound meditation on the general question of “high” and “low” styles – and thus a pivotal moment in the symphony’s vast metaphysical argument.

Full PDF