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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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


That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.

1 Cor. 15:36

Die I shall that I may live!

Mahler, Second Symphony

Theories of the Jewish Element in Mahler’s Music

The subject of “the Jewish element in the music of Gustav Mahler,” topical from the start, has produced a sizable literature. Zionists, anti-Semites and neutral persons have tried time and again to explain certain peculiarities of Mahler’s music in terms of the Jewish background of the composer. There are positive and negative assessments, with the latter seemingly preponderating. Few of them have a solid foundation.

The noted writer Max Brod, for example, traces Mahler’s predilection for marches to “the headwaters, unconscious to him, of eastern Jewish Hasidic folk music” and thinks that only the recognition of the Jewish elements in Mahler’s nature could solve some of the enigmas his music poses.1

On the other side, Rudolf Louis made no secret even during Mahler’s life of his thorough distaste for his music. He stated flatly that its “pronouncedly Jewish character, its half-Yiddish [jüdelnde] intonation,” its “inauthenticity” were grossly repulsive to him, although he did not for a moment doubt “the subjective candor” of the music.2

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