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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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


For this appears to be the main task of biography, to depict the human being in the context of his temporal condition, and to show to what extent it is repugnant to him, to what extent it favors him, how he forms his view of the world and of humanity from it, and how, if he is an artist, poet, writer, he mirrors it back to the outside. Goethe, Aus meinem Leben, Preface

The Poet-Composer

Gustav Mahler is one of the most literarily interested and educated composers of Late Romanticism. Although he was not as prominent a writer as, say, Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, or even Hugo Wolf, Hans Pfitzner or Arnold Schönberg, his close relation to literature, his engagement with art theory, his strong interest in questions of weltanschauung and philosophy require his being included among these artists. Mahler had a comprehensive encyclopedic education. He was so well versed in literature and philosophy that people of little insight – according to Paul Stefan – reproached him with “having been corrupted by his reading, he composes literature, he is too intellectual…”1 Even Richard Strauss, the most prominent representative of symphonic program music in the late 19th century, for some time at least liked to speak of Mahler’s music as literature!2

Mahler’s passion for literature is understandable in the light of the fact that in his youth he had “for a long time given up the thought of...

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