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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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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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The present volume is part of a comprehensive study of Gustav Mahler and the symphonic composition of the 19th century, designed as a “trilogy” and consisting of the following volumes:

I The Mental World of Gustav Mahler: A Systematic Representation

II Gustav Mahler and the Symphony of the 19th Century

III Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies

The starting-point of the first volume is the realization that that no well-grounded exegesis of Mahler’s music is possible without a systematic exploration of his many-facetted spiritual-intellectual world. The second volume deals with the foundations – aesthetics and compositional theory, genres and semantics – of the symphonic music of the 19th century from Beethoven to Mahler. The third volume is devoted specifically to Mahler’s symphonies, which are exhaustively analyzed in their relations to the literary models on which they are based as well as to the tone poems of Richard Strauss.

Each volume is thematically independent and self-contained.

The symphonic music of the 19th century is a research area I have occupied myself with time and again ever since my student years (1951–1955). Since the winter semester of 1962/63, I have given lecture courses and seminars about it at Hamburg University. I first presented the thesis that all of Mahler’s symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, are based on literary and philosophical programs in a Mahler course in the winter of 1965.

My cordial thanks for the transmission of microfilms...

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