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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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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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VI Stage Productions “In The Spirit of Music”


Mahler and Musical Theater

From October 1888 to March 1891, Gustav Mahler served as director of the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest. As such, he had not only to conduct but also to provide stage direction. In a subsequent letter of recommendation to the management of the Vienna Court Opera, his Budapest sponsor, Count Albert Apponyi, recalled that in the works he directed, Mahler controlled “with sovereign force also the stage, the acting, the facial gestures, the movements of the actors and the chorus.” His supervision extended over the entire stage direction, the sets, the machinery, the lighting. He never met, Apponyi thought, “another such harmoniously well-round artistic nature.”1

On November 20, 1889, Mahler’s First Symphony, then called “Symphonic Poem,” premiered in Pest. One week later, on November 28, Mahler performed Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Huguenots, a grand opéra then highly esteemed, which dramatizes the bloody conflict between French Catholics and Protestants in the notorious St. Bartholomew Day Massacre of August 23/24, 1572. Eugène Scribe, Meyerbeer’s librettist, wove a freely invented, tragic love story into the murderous events. The Huguenot noble Raoul de Nangis falls in love with Valentine, the daughter of the Catholic ringleader Saint-Bris. In the night of the massacre, the lovers are married by Raoul’s old retainer Marcel. In the final scene, Valentine’s fanatical father has not only Raoul and Marcel but also his own daughter killed.

Mahler had the last act of the opera struck. In a...

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