Mahler's 3rd Symphony: A Fitting Reflection (An Entire Christmas Dinner)


It's Christmas, so why not take some time away from those relatives to listen to Mahler's longest symphony? Yes, this is in fact one of the longest symphonies out there, at around 90-105 minutes long, yet not a single boring moment. But why have I chosen it for Christmas day? Well, I think there's something inherently Christmassy about it, or perhaps Christmas has something inherently Mahler-like about it. And I don't just mean the fifth movement, which is more traditional than Christmassy. This symphony, at such a length, has time to reflect on quite a lot. Indeed, Mahler's simple programme notes for each movement of the music are as follows:

1. Pan awakes, Summer marches in
2. What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me
3. What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me
4. What Man Tells Me
5. What the Angels Tell Me
6. What Love Tells Me

So as you can see, not really Christmas themed on the whole. But the end of the year is perhaps a time to reflect on what you've learned throughout it, and this music seems to in some sort of pastoral sense, do just that. In fact, you could argue that just like Christmas, this piece goes back to tradition to celebrate the past and look forward to the now.

The Greek god 'Pan' as mentioned above was the god of nature, the wild, rustic music, that kind of thing (pictured above) but 'pan' in this context could also mean 'all'. This music, then, may not just be a reflection of time but of life itself in all its guises. Yes, Mahler didn't really do simple, small scale concepts did he?

What's especially noteworthy in this symphony, apart from its sheer scale, is the way that the music exists in this epic realm until the final movement, depicting love, brings everything down to a much calmer, personal level - and very effectively so, too. It was the first time Mahler had ended a symphony with what effectively is a slow movement and that, to me, is what screams 'reflection'. And indeed, with that in mind, the final movement seems all the more emotionally complex and contextualises the entire 100 minutes of music perhaps a little differently.

So as Christmas takes place, do take some time to reflect and enjoy, just as this music does. This isn't just a slice of musical cake, it's an entire Christmas dinner... there's lots to feast on with lots left over even after you've finished.

And with that in mind, I'll see you again soon - for one last time....

Benjamin Jackson