Translated by Kenneth Chalmers
“Music is not to be Decorative; it is to be True” – Towards an Aesthetic of the Second Viennese School
Beauty and truth – the two primary concepts of artistic theory – are essentially different from each other. While the beauty of a work of art is the main subject in aesthetics (a more recent discipline),1 truth is one of the primary issues in the philosophy of art.
It is known that aesthetic problems are generally discussed in terms of controversy, and the relevant questions of the nature of music and its position in the system of fine arts are no exception. While Kant gave music the lowest place among the arts, because it “played merely with perceptions”,2 Schopenhauer declared it to be the highest of all the arts.3 Eduard Hanslick, whose specific area of interest was music, defined it as “tonally moving form”, while in contrast Siegmund von Hausegger termed it the art of expression. The Austrian composer Gottfried von Einem admitted that he wanted to rouse listeners to think and feel. He sought truth in beauty – a standpoint that Mahler and the composers of the Second Viennese School had taken up long before him.
In April 1896, in the course of a conversation with his confidante Natalie Bauer-Lechner, Mahler made a statement that warrants particular attention. That in his conception of the so-called “flower” movement of the Third Symphony he had achieved “the most precisely delineated expressive effects” he put down to the fact that he had “never written a single note that is not absolutely true”.4 It is a remark that immediately...
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