This Magic Moment (one in a series)
Mahler, Symphony No. 9, first movement, 2 mm. before fig. 5
We've heard the big first theme a time or two or three; we've crested one big crunching climax, with several more obviously still to come; and now there's stuff churning below the surface of this new reiteration. Complications are in the air. We careen around the corner, and — whoosh, everything gets sucked out of the atmosphere. Suddenly there's just this gaping wide-spaced ninth: B in the bass, C# way up in the first violins, and nothing much in between except a sugary harp arpeggio to fill in the simple harmony. It's like biting into what you think is a hunk of bread and finding meringue.
The first 15 or 20 times I heard the piece, this passage bugged the snot out of me. It sounded treacly and sentimental, and the unprepared rush into the wide-open texture inspired vertigo. And then one day I pulled a 180, the way one does. Now I look forward to it every time, and feel a little shiver of delight as it hits.
(As the title suggests, we're only doing individual moments here. You want large-scale harmonic effects, you gotta go elsewhere.)