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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 All the symphonies, including the purely instrumental ones, can be traced back to programs that Mahler originally made public, but suppressed later on.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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Preliminary: The Exploration of Mahler’s Mental World as Precondition for the Exegesis of his Music


“It has of late been repeatedly remarked that nothing is to be made of the technical analysis of a musical piece, that at the end of it one knows no more of the real inner being of the work of art than at the beginning.”

Once we have gotten this far, once we have realized experientially by what artful devices a certain spiritual expression can be achieved, we will have taken an important step forward; to the technical analysis, the other side, that of the spiritual significance, will be added, it will be possible to say that in using a preferred construction the tone poet has expressed such and such a spirit, the preponderance of a certain element points toward such and such a character, etc.; we are enabled to grasp the quality of the work of art in purely rational terms, as yet without any contribution of the feeling and the immediate aesthetic pleasure, and in this way a far more objective, generally valid basis will have been attained.” Franz Brendel (1860)1

Ever since 1900, or at least since his death in 1911, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler have been and are regarded as absolute music. But this view, which ranks as an official doctrine in Mahler criticism, is a mere legend, to whose genesis Mahler himself contributed decisively. The truth of the matter is that all of Mahler’s symphonies, even the purely instrumental ones, are based on literary and philosophical programs...

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