Going Meta: Transcendence of Sonata Form in the First Movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony

For some reason, whenever most people think of symphonies, they generally think of their first movements.  Some may not even be aware that what they associate with such a massive work only represents the first part of it.  But when you think of “dun-dun-dun-duuuuuun” from Beethoven’s Fifth, what are you humming?  The first movement.  When someone’s cell phone goes off during a concert and you hear the melody from Mozart’s Fortieth, what are you hearing?  The first movement.  And so forth. Perhaps this is because many opening movements of larger works are written to entice and excite their audience from the start.  Perhaps it is because sonata form (the default choice of form for a symphony’s first movement – more on this later) is such an expansive and enriching way of constructing music that it merits close listening and extensive analysis.  Or maybe it’s just because it’s the first thing people hear, and they either doze off or stop listening shortly thereafter. I like to think the second reason is the most compelling, or at least that is why I tend to be drawn towards these movements.  Even though most composers use the same form for their symphonies’ opening movements, more »