Gustav Mahler


Song and Symphony

  • espoused symphony; rejected tone poem

Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn)

  • “folk-poetry” anthology published 1805-08 by Arnim and Brentanoi
  • poems set by Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Franz, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss, Schoenberg, Webern
  • Mahler and Schoenberg approached the collection through its appeal to a sense of alienation found in many of the poems, that stressed the irony, uncertainty and brevity of life (as opposed to an affinity with folk art)
  • text themes varied, but forshadow motifs taken up by Viennese circle, reflecting a world of abandoned hopes; neglected, downtrodden, suffering creatures;
  • images of death, melancholy
  • soldier songs (Serenade of the Sentry, Reveille, The Drummer Boy) paralleled in Schoenberg’s The Lost Brigade, op. 12 (1907), Berg’s Wozzeck (1915-21)
  • Serenade of the Sentry: “ghostliness” in contrasting mood of march and lyric song in dialogue; lingering unresolved dominant ending; prefigues Expressionists spectral note
  • Reveille: introductory march music in third stanza anticipates mood and melody of drum major’s music in Berg’s Wozzeck
  • Mahler occasionally modeled his melodies upon the numerous folk tunes associated with the Wunderhorn texts
  • composite references from Schubert, Beethoven also allude to folk and Viennese elements

The Wunderhorn Symphonies (2, 3, 4)

  • role of song in Mahler’s symphonies is fundamental
  • Romantic emphasis on pathos, Weltschmerz, and cult of suffering that finds refuge in redemption
  • music is obliged to find new technical means of expession beyond time-honored constructions: 19th C cyclical forms promoted narrative, formally cojoining text with music
  • Beethoven’s intensification of this idea (Eroica, Pastoral symphonies, Sonata op. 81a, “Heiligen Dankgesang” movement of quartet op. 132 and especially symphony #9) was intensified in works of Berlioz, Liszt’s tone poems, Wagner’s operas
  • Mahler’s final contribution to this idea in Romantic repertoire promoted new attitudes that were the point of departure for modernism
  • Mahler’s stylistic dichotomy: context/placement of children’s songs, folk tunes, country dances, bugle calls, marches, therefore function by contrasting their associations to the symphonic context in which they appear; **this stylistic dichotomy creates powerful psychological overtones (re: Freud, late Beethoven works)
  • Schoenberg: “Ach, du liever Augustin” in Quartet 2; “Annchen von Tharau” in Suite, op. 29
  • Berg: barrel-organ music and “Lautenlied” in Lulu; Carinthing folksong in Violin Concerto; music response to folksong verses in Wozzeck

Symphony 2

  • epitomizes Mahler’s approach to genre: 5 movements; of which first 3 prepare for concluding 2 w/ text
Mvt.1: “Funeral Rite” (Totenfeier) hero of first symphony is born to the grave
  • parallels third movement of his First Symphony; lineage including Eroica mvt. 2, Siegfried’s “Funeral March” in Die Gotterdammerung;
  • funeral march is a signpost of Mahler’s style, reappearing in symphonies 3, 6, 9; emulated by Berg, Hindemith, Britten, Shostakovich
  • subtitle Totenfeier comes from an old poem that serves as inspiration for Mahler’s work: hero of parts2, 4, named Gustav, suffers increasing madness over a hopeless love affair for a young girl who marries another man; impasse, which drove the original poet to near suicide, was mirrored in Mahler’s emotional involvement with Marion von Weber, who was similarly married to another man; this idea of the Artist as suffering Hero dominates virtually all of Mahler’s works (re Beethoven’s use of this idea)
  • Mahler’s description of mvt. 3: “...And so life seems without meaning, a fearful nightmare from which you awaken with a cry of horror.”
  • program of the symphonic scherzo helps wild mood swings in Mahler’s music, heralded as propetic by Adorno, Krenek, Stockhausen for its Modernism [man’s restlessness in his ceaseless struggle to comprehend human existence]
  • Tonal frame of 2nd Symphony is from C minor, concluding in Eb major (Death-Resurrection) [fundamental to Beethoven, also Bach’s B minor mass (b-D)
  • We know from Alma Mahler that Mahler often claimed that, except for Wagner’s Beethoven essay, only Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea had said anything of value about the essence of music. Wagner’s Beethoven essay is, in  fact, aninterpretation of the Bayreuth master’s view of Schopenhauer. He believed that music creation sprang from the subconscious activated through the will, and that through man’s inner self he was related to the whole of Nature; his reliance upon Nietzsche’s distinction between the Apollonian and Dionysian elemtns led him to suggest that too great an emphasis had been placedon reason, and that only through the introductino of emotion could a proper balance be achieved in musical creation. Wagner also held that the emphasis upon reason was a foreign importation from France; that Beethoven had overcome the rigid bonds of rationalism and restored music to its true realm of feeling; and that through him a nw German music was destined to lead teh way to a general cultural rebirth. Beethoven, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Wagner together provide the foundatin for an appreciatin of Mahler’s view of creativity and teh roles of reason and emotion...  Schoenberg was also a firm believer in the destiny of German music.. .propounding his belief in the role of intuition in fashioning an identity between word and tone.
  • Mahler’s attention to symphony was inspired by Beethoven: Boulez has judged Mahler’s contributio comparable to Wagner’s destruction of the artificial order of the opera: his solutions involve exploration of tonal relationsips, 5-6 movement formats, cyclic thematic connections between movements, autobiographical backgrounds, rhythmic motifs frequently attached to motives of Fate and Death.
  • Influenced later composers: Berg (“Warm die Lüfte,” op. 2 #4), Foss (Time Cycle) Berio (Sinfonia); attraction of Foss and Berio was a reinterpretation in a post-war world fraught with sense of history and its unbearable weight for the creative spirit
  • reinterpretation of Mahler’s sonorities, nocturnal pedals, melodic figuarations, rhythmic symbols, textual themes were to reappear in many diverse works, including:
Pierrot Lunaire (1912) Schoenberg
Three Pieces for Orchestra (1914) Wozzeck (1917-22) Berg
Lyric Symphony (1922) Zemlinsky
Symphonis 103 (1919-22) Krenek
Violin Concerto (1924) Weill
Der Wein (1929) Violin Concerto (1934) Berg
Symphony #4 (1935-36) Symphony #14 (1969) Shostakovich
Time Cycle (1960) Foss
Sinfonia (1968) Berio
Ancient Voices of Children (1970) Crumb
String Quartet #3 (1971-72) Rochberg
String Quartet #6 (1974) Leif Segerstam