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Gustav Mahler and the Symphony of the 19th Century

Translated by Neil K. Moran

Constantin Floros

The subject of this book is the semantics of symphonic music from Beethoven to Mahler. Of fundamental importance is the realization that this music is imbued with non-musical, literary, philosophical and religious ideas. It is also clear that not only Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner were crucial role models for Mahler, but also the musical dramatist Wagner and the programmatic symphony composers Berlioz and Liszt. At the same time a semantic musical analysis of their works reveals for the first time the actual inherent (poetic) quintessence of numerous orchestral works of the 19th Century.
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II. Beethoven and the new categories of symphonic music

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Pour nous, musiciens, l’oeuvre de Beethoven est semblable à la colonne de nuée et de feu qui conduisit les Israélites à travers le désert…

FRANZ LISZT (1852)33

Viewed in their totality, the symphonies of the 19th century are distinguished by an astonishing variety of forms, genres, techniques and concepts. After Beethoven's death both the typical four-movement, purely instrumental symphony as well as new genres appeared such as the multi-movement symphony program, the single- movement symphonic poem and the symphonic cantata in several movements. It would not be remiss to say pointedly that both the development of the classical- romantic symphonic tradition as well as the formation of new species were themselves the result of the creative involvement with Beethoven’s symphonies. Beethoven's symphonic works were unchallenged as the epitome of the symphony. With that in mind, it is not surprising that all of Beethoven’s successors – regardless of whether they were included in the “romantic-classical school” 34 (Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms), or whether they considered themselves to be disciples of “musical progress ”(eg. Berlioz, Wagner, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler) – sought to legitimize their artistic endeavors by appealing to their great predecessor.

Thus, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (1807-1808) was declared to be the archetype of explicit symphonic program music. And indeed. There can be no doubt that this work gave the stamp of validity to a controversial genre hitherto looked at with askance.35 (Illustrious composers of program music – especially when criticized...

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