According to the critical consensus on Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony, Mahler seems, through both his orchestration and musical material, to be evoking both the composers who preceded him and childhood. Many scholars have claimed to hear specific allusions in the first movement to pieces composed in a classical style, and Mahler's use of simple themes with ornamented melodies in the Fourth Symphony also seems to suggest a classical style.
At the same time, however, most writers hear a disparity in the movement between Mahler's nominal late romantic compositional style and his use of simpler or more naïve-sounding materials. Nostalgia – defined here as a simultaneous acknowledgment of and rebellion against the irreversibility of time – offers one way of examining Mahler's juxtaposition of traits of music from the past and present. Using nostalgia as a theoretical frame, we can examine how music might be able to suggest a relation between the past and present akin to memory.
In the first movement, Mahler's late romantic treatment of ‘classical’ materials seems to depict an unsuccessful attempt to recapture an idealized past, and the fourth movement‘s depiction of heaven in childlike terms set predominantly in the style of a lullaby suggests the irretrievable – perhaps even non-existent – past in which the soothing tones of a mother's voice hold the promise of calming all worry.