The ‘motto’ theme of Mahler’s sixth:

6 motto

…the banal militaristic rhythm of the drum combined with a simple shift – on oboes and trumpets – from loud major to whispered minor induces a sense of horror that has little to do with the few notes that are written on paper – Mahler here seems to connect with something dark and visceral that exists outside the light of intellect.

And in the finale there are the three famous hammer strokes: three blows of fate, the third of which (out of fear or superstition, or both) Mahler eventually suppressed.


The hammer stroke (this is the second one) is 13 seconds into the sound file.

(Thomas Sanderling, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra)

(The composer –  judging from the score directions above – clearly had a pretty specific sound in mind for these hammer blows, but it was a sound that he, apparently, never managed to realise satisfactorily outside of his febrile aural imagination.)

Course materials:

List of works

Below (some things never change!) is some general stuff – useful for intervals, key signatures, etc.


Cycle of 5ths

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as “fair use/dealing”, for the purpose of study, and critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s).