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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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


“And traces and emanations of such worlds as are gruesome and mysterious even to me are numerous in my works.”

Mahler (BL 141)

Mahler’s Theory about the Relation between Weltanschauung and Symphonic Music

The value of the great Mahler monograph of Richard Specht lies among other things in the many Mahler utterances only he has handed down to us. They are of the greatest relevance for an understanding of Mahler’s intellectual and religious world. We are indebted to Specht for yet another statement of Mahler’s that throws a bright light on a central aspect of his art.

While discussing the relations between Richard Strauss and Mahler, Specht reports that Mahler was convinced he “could give perfect symphonic expression to his entire weltanschauung even without the medium of the abbreviating and plain-speaking word.”1 Elsewhere, while discussing the first Symphony, Specht returns to this assertion and supplements it by the following account:

I recall that during a walk he told me he knew that he was capable of reproducing in musical sounds his entire weltanschauung, his philosophic conception of life, as well as he could any feeling, natural process or landscape. And he accepted words in a work only as an abbreviating means and guidepost so as to save oneself, by such abbreviation, the sprawling complex of notes otherwise necessary. But he rejected any commentary, any program external to his symphonies; he wanted to address the feelings, not the...

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