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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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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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I Problems and Positions


“One must know the goal before knowing the path to it.”

Jean Paul, Levana, erstes Bändchen, § 211

“Starting with Beethoven, there is no modern music that does not have an inner program.”

Mahler (GMB 296)

False Doctrine: The View of Mahler’s Symphonies as Absolute Music

The chief task of Mahler research, the interpretation of Mahler’s symphonies, has been bedeviled by a prejudice that pervades the scholarship like a red thread. The doctrine holds that Mahler is a prototype of the absolute musician and that his symphonies have nothing in common with program music. Professors of this doctrine have been such prominent interpreters as Guido Adler,2 Paul Bekker3 and Theodor W. Adorno.4

To the uninitiated, such a doctrine must seem all the more paradoxical when they learn that authentic programs have come down to us for Mahler’s first four symphonies! These have always been a vexation – for the critics, who did not know what to make of them and therefore dismissed them with a smirk, for the public, which was at a loss about them, and also for theory, which they did not fit. Thus it was not difficult to minimize their significance. It was said (wrongly) that some of the programs had been drafted as afterthoughts, and people above all invoked the fact that the original programmatic headings for the individual movements of the ← 19 | 20 → first four symphonies were suppressed in the first...

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