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:)

Transcript of 3rd movement of Mahler's symphony "Frère Jacques"


3 Answers 3


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.


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! Jun 4, 2019 at 12:32
  • 3
    Plagiarism seems like a strange term in this context.
    – user4431
    Jun 4, 2019 at 12:35
  • 2
    show me a artist that is not inspired by some other music.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 4, 2019 at 12:46
  • 1
    @YourUncleBob indeed. "Quotation" would be a more appropriate term.
    – phoog
    Jun 6, 2019 at 23:22

Mahler actually used "Bruder Martin", in Germanic cultural parlance... same basic Melody, that Mahler has transposed to a minor key in an ironic manner for the forest animals funeral March through the woods behind the Hunter's coffin. Mahler spoke of a folk print of animals acting as pallbearers for the dead hunters funeral cortege as an inspiration for the use of the theme.

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