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Gustav Mahler’s Mental World

A Systematic Representation. Translated by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch

Constantin Floros

With his extensive three-volume investigation, the author has newly drawn the image of Gustav Mahler for our time. Should Mahler’s symphonies really be categorized as «absolute music»? – Little-known manuscript sources contain significant hints to the contrary: programmatic titles and catchwords or phrases, mottos, literary allusions, associations, sighs, exclamations. Mahler fully understood his symphonies as «erlebte Musik», music of experience, as autobiography in notes, and as expressions of his «weltanschauung». All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on. A knowledge of the programmatic ideas provides access to a hitherto barely sensed interior metaphysical world that is of crucial importance for an adequate interpretation of the works. This first volume uncovers the complexity of relations between Mahler’s wide-ranging reading and education, his aesthetics and his symphonic creation.


About the German edition of this book:

«One of the most thoroughgoing and comprehensive investigations of Gustav Mahler’s work and world to date.»

(Norddeutscher Rundfunk)


«The way in which Mahler’s literary background, his education, and his aesthetic and philosophical maxims are presented here indeed opens up a new approach.»

(Die Musikforschung)

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Carl Dahlhaus and Mahler’s Programs


In the summer of 1977, the first two volumes of my Mahler trilogy appeared at Breitkopf & Härtel in Wiesbaden. In October of the following year Carl Dahlhaus published a review of the volumes in Die Zeit under the title “Tönende Metaphysik,” Sounding Metaphysics. I regret having to say that this pseudo-criticism violates the most elementary requirements of objectivity (not to say, fairness). Dahlhaus either did not understand what I had set forth, or he did not want to understand it.

The central point of the argument concerned Gustav Mahler’s programs. I had been the first to prove that those on which the first four symphonies are based were authentic. If Mahler withdrew them in 1900, it was partly so his symphonies would not be confounded with Strauss’ literary tone poems and partly because Eduard Hanslick, Vienna’s musical high priest, was a bitter foe of any and all program music. Dahlhaus now was of the opinion that “the aesthetic decision of a composer that programmatic elements should not pertain to the thing itself, the work as an aesthetic object, had to be respected”; and he opined in all seriousness that “how a musical creation came about is a private matter of the composer’s.”

I must confess that I find such a judgment simply astonishing. For the investigation of a musical work of art’s genesis is surely among the chief tasks of musicology. And everybody knows by now that in conceiving his musical...

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