Mahler’s symphonies are famous for their large orchestras. Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, featured on the final concert of the HPO Season, is no exception. There will be more than 80 musicians on the stage at FirstOntario Concert Hall on May 11, including seven French horn players!
Featuring a special solo for the French horn, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is considered a must-play by many horn players. We asked Principal Horn Jessie Brooks about what to listen for at our mainstage concert Mahler’s Fifth.
HPO: What qualities of Mahler’s music are most distinctive?
Jessie Brooks: Mahler’s music is full of emotion. In his fifth symphony, he takes the listener on a journey, an orchestral portrayal of loss and love. It begins with a Funeral March, followed by a stormy second movement. Then, the lively dancelike Scherzo, followed by the Adagietto slow movement and ends with a heart pounding Rondo-Finale. Mahler is known for incorporating music that wasn’t considered respectable for the concert hall, like brass band marches and folk tunes. All sections of the orchestra are featured at different times throughout the piece, so that individual personalities of players can be heard.
HPO: What were your first experiences listening to Mahler’s music or performing it in an orchestral context?
JB: My first exposure to Mahler’s music was for an assignment in my high school music class at Oakwood Collegiate Institute in Toronto. The students were asked to pick a piece of music from a list of classical music composers and write about why they liked it. I chose Mahler’s Das Lied Von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). I was so struck by the opening horn lines and the melancholy of the second movement. It was hard to put into words why I liked it so much, but I knew then that one day I wanted to play music like that. It wasn’t until later, in university, that I was able to explore Mahler’s music more and be able to play it. This upcoming Mahler Symphony No. 5 will be my first time playing principal horn on this work and I’m so excited to play it with my incredible colleagues and with a conductor like Gemma!
HPO: The horn gets a boisterous solo that opens the third movement of the work. How do you interpret this solo and how it changes over the movement?
JB: I love this movement of the symphony. It’s the shift from the darkness of the first two movements into light and the romance and hopefulness of the last two movements. In the horns, it’s unusually scored for 4 horns and a solo horn called Corno Obligato. It starts out with a joyful Waltz. The horns are featured in this part and about halfway through, the horns signal a change of mood by all playing the same note, but staggered to sound like bells. The Corno Obligato part emerges out with a more pastoral solo that leads the orchestra into a slower section called a Ländler, which is an Austrian dance. You can hear how Mahler uses a muted third horn to echo the first horn solo. The boisterous Waltz comes back and ends the movement with a flourish.
HPO: What other movements in the symphony should we listen for from the brass section?
JB: The first two movements of this symphony are dominated by the brass section, but I really enjoy the Rondo-Finale or the last movement for the brass parts. It comes after we hear the beautiful slow Adagietto, featuring strings and harp, which was written as a love song for Mahler’s wife Alma. The whole movement is joyous and uplifting. We hear bits of musical material from all the previous movements interwoven throughout. This movement builds up to a euphoric moment when the brass play a chorale to end the piece on a high.
HPO: If you had to describe Mahler’s Fifth in one word or phrase, what would it be?
JB: Transforming. Uplifting. Sublime and heroic.
Sounds like a great concert for those who love a great, triumphant symphony ending! Stay tuned to the HPO blog to hear from Principal Trumpet Michael Fedyshyn about the famous solo trumpet opening of the work. Don’t miss our previous blog from violist Brandon Chui! Tickets for Mahler’s Fifth are available here.