Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/Class Lesson 4/29/2020



Random/Not-so-random thought:

Returning to normal, visiting everyone again, getting back to school, playing together in BAND…

All of these are wonderful thoughts that I’m certain that we are all feeling.

The JOY that we are sure to experience on that “homecoming day” is going to be AWESOME!

We will need to have a GIANT BAND PARTY!!!

And these wonderful thoughts of a “return” lead us directly into our lesson for today:  the “Recapitulation” (final section) of a work in sonata form.  YAY!



Monday’s Lesson: Aaron Copland’s 3 planes of music-listening; Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6,” first movement, exposition

Tuesday’s Lesson:  Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6,” first movement, development


Today’s Lesson:  Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6,” first movement, recapitulation and coda (second development)

As a review, we discussed the 3 planes of listening based on the writings of Aaron Copland:  the sensuous plane, the expressive plane, and the musical plane. We have applied these planes to the first movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, which is in “sonata form.”

In the Exposition, we explored the 2 main themes (Mahler’s and his wife’s), the bridge theme that represents Mahler’s obsession with life after death, and the little tag theme that may represent his young daughter.

In the Development, we divided this 6-minute section of music into 4 parts:  development of 1st theme, development of 2nd theme, development of eternity theme, and another development of both the 1st and 2nd theme.

Now let’s explore the Recapitulation, a fancy word for “return” of the first section, exposition—but with a twist!

First some background:  In early symphonies—those written mid 1700’s (early Haydn/Mozart), recapitulations were fairly straight-forward—a restatement of both Theme A and B, except both themes are now in the “home” key!  The bridge that always occurs between these themes no longer modulates (changes key) like it did in the Exposition, instead it recurs, but is re-written to make sure you get back to the home key for the B theme.  And that’s it!

However, you must realize that in these early works, the beginning of the Recap is a real triumphal moment—a WELCOME BACK!  After listening to the unsettled music of the development, the arrival of the original theme is such a joy and relief.  Often composers made this moment the climax of the work!  Sometimes they would fool you…they would sound something that sounded like the recap but it was not yet in the right key and then give you the right one.  Sometimes (although rarely) they would actually start with the second theme and then go back to the first theme.  Bottom line, there was a lot of inherent musical drama with just the return of the themes.  The fact that they were both now in the home key added such a strong unity and feeling of closure to the work.

In the romantic era (1800’s) there were still recaps…but because the developments were often so long—and often contained the climax point—the recaps were not as dramatic (but they were still structurally important).

Let’s listen to the recapitulation of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, first movement.  It will also serve as a reminder of our main themes.


Theme A returns—first in “A Major” for 4 measures (surprise!), after which the theme returns to the minor mode.

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This passage is followed by the “chorale theme” which reflects Mahler’s obsession with the afterlife.  However, now it is presented twice as fast as in the exposition!  This is called “diminution” where the note values are diminished to half their original length (half notes are now quarter notes).

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Theme B returns very briefly and then instead of ending the movement, Mahler launches us into a SECOND DEVELOPMENT (which serves as a long Coda).  Can he do this?  Why not just end the piece here???  Yes, he can do it—in fact Beethoven started this practice with his famous Symphony No. 5…and many romantic composers followed up on it.  They just were not finished developing their themes to their satisfaction!  Ah, so many ideas, so little time!

In the CODA/SECOND DEVELOPMENT, Mahler continues to develop Theme A, gives you a peek at his child’s song (which was absent from the development and recap) and then climaxes with Theme B (his wife’s theme) stated twice as long (this is known as augmentation where the note values are increased to twice their original length:  eighth notes become quarter notes—the opposite of diminution).  He finishes the movement with fanfare-like flourishes of Theme A and Theme B.

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Note what is missing in the Coda/Second Development—the chorale music associated with Mahler’s death/after life obsessions.  One theorist commented that maybe Mahler wanted to write the coda with this omission as if to state that in the end, he truly wants to “chase away” these demons!

Unfortunately, he’ll revisit them later in the symphony!  EEK!



1)  Listen to the entire first movement Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6” several times.  Try to keep track of where you are in the work:  Exposition 1, Exposition 2 (the repeat), Development; Recapitulation; Second Development/Coda.  Ask yourself what “plane” you listening-in (sensuous, expressive, musical).


2) Transfer the same exercise with Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

3) Listen to all 4 movements of  Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6.”  The second movement is a demonic scherzo (a relatively quick piece in ¾), the third movement is a song without words, and the last movement is a work in sonata form (again) and has more pathos in it than the first movement…it simply sounds more tragic—but it is very cool!  At 3 points in this finale, a large HAMMER played by a percussionist, strikes a wooden surface to depict 3 tragedies that will eventually befall the composer.  Really!

And you know what is really eerie?  These 3 tragedies did not yet occur when Mahler was writing this work—remember, he wrote it during one of the happiest periods of his life.  However, he was always obsessed with death and “bad omens.”

A few years after he wrote this work, Mahler did experience 3 tragedies in his life:  his young daughter passed away due to illness, his contact with the Vienna Opera was not renewed, and he was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition that would eventually take his life.  Yikes!


Tomorrow, we are going to explore the music that we will be playing in our MARCHING BAND SHOW NEXT YEAR!!!  WOO-HOO!!!




Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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