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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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


Art [is] only a symbolic abbreviation of life.

Siegfried Lipiner1

Of special importance, now, is the fact that in recollection experience is integrated into a unity and obtains a relation to other experiences in the whole of life = significance. The significance of life sets poetry, religion, philosophy into an inner relation. The l’art pour l’art is here refuted.

Wilhelm Dilthey2

1. Preliminaries

Unlike Berlioz, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Busoni, Pfitzner and Schönberg,3 Mahler produced no art-theoretical writings – one reason, perhaps, that nobody to date has spoken about his aesthetics. In his letters and the records of his friends, however, there are numerous observations that can instruct us about his views on art. If one takes the trouble to collect and examine the scattered utterances, one will gradually recognize a widely ramified aesthetic system, whose analysis proves to be rewarding in many respects.

Mahler has expressed himself both on large art-theoretical questions and on immediate problems of musical aesthetics. His art-theoretical statements circle about the three principal questions of art theory: the relation of art and life, of art and nature, and of art and world. All three of these questions Mahler engages also from the particular standpoint of the composer. He regards the close connection between musical creation and lived experience as self-evident, makes common cause with the proponents of mimesis aesthetics, and develops a theory about the nature and transcendental mission of...

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