Smack in the center of the mighty sonic sprawl of the six movements of Mahler’s 3rd symphony is a moment that arrests time. We hear an offstage “post horn” solo sounding completely foreign to anything we heard previously in the symphony. It establishes its own world, and note by note hypnotizes us, as it mingles with two French horns into a tune of indescribably deep emotion and nostalgia.
This moment is the trio section of the 3rd movement scherzo. Mahler asks for a flugelhorn to play in the style of a post horn—a type of bugle that postmen used to announce their arrival. The flugelhorn combines the mellow sound of a French horn with the penetrating sound of a trumpet. So stop time for a moment and listen to this stunning passage from Mahler’s 3rd: