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Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, in D major, is written as a typical and conventional four-movement structure (opening - dance - slow - finale):

  • I. Langsam, schleppend.
  • II. Scherzo. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell.
  • III. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen.
  • IV. Finale. Stürmisch bewegt.

Mahler used the song "Frère Jacques" in the 3rd movement of his Symphony. Why?

(It looks like this:)

enter image description here

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Mahler was inspired by a satirical etching called "The Hunter's Funeral," in which a dead hunter is carried to the grave accompanied by all the animals which (one presumes) he killed in life.

His idea was to write an ironic funeral march, using an upbeat children's tune everybody would know, but changing the mode from major to minor.

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It's the only quotation used in all of Mahler's symphonies.

It's a funeral march - so the minor sonority fits well - Frere Jacques is in a major key - so it's just a parody, of an old folk song that happens to also be a round, as used in the 3rd movement here. Also, it's not exactly as the old song went anyway. He fancied using it, and why shouldn't he? There were no dues to be paid to PRS etc.

  • 7
    Yeah, not plagiarism, but hardly the only time Mahler borrowed folk songs for his symphonies! – Carl Witthoft Jun 4 at 12:32
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    Plagiarism seems like a strange term in this context. – Your Uncle Bob Jun 4 at 12:35
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    show me a artist that is not inspired by some other music. – Neil Meyer Jun 4 at 12:46
  • 1
    @YourUncleBob indeed. "Quotation" would be a more appropriate term. – phoog Jun 6 at 23:22

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