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Reading Mahler

Reading Mahler: German Culture and Jewish Identity in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

Carl Niekerk
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    Reading Mahler
    Book Description:

    Gustav Mahler's music is more popular than ever, yet few are aware of its roots in German literary and cultural history in general, and in fin-de-siècle Viennese culture in particular. Taking as its point of departure the many references to literature, philosophy, and the visual arts that Mahler uses to illustrate the meaning of his music, Reading Mahler helps audiences, critics, and those interested in musical and cultural history understand influences on Mahler's music and thinking that may have been self-evident to middle-class Viennese a hundred years ago but are much more obscure today. It shows that Mahler's oeuvre, despite its reliance on texts and images from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is far more indebted to fin-de-siècle modernism and to an eclectic, proto-avantgardist agenda than has been previously realized. Furthermore, Reading Mahler is the first book to make Mahler's position within German-Jewish culture its analytical center. It also probes Mahler's problematic but often overlooked relationship with the musical and textual legacy of Richard Wagner. By integrating newer approaches in humanistic research - cultural studies, gender studies, and Jewish studies - Reading Mahler exposes the composer's critical view of German cultural history and offers a new understanding of his music. Carl Niekerk is Professor in the Department of German, the Program in Comparative and World Literature, and the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-719-7
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Literature, Philosophy, and Images in Mahler’s Music
    (pp. 1-26)

    This is not a book like other books about Gustav Mahler. It is different in that it does not approach Mahler’s oeuvre from a musicologist’s perspective, but rather focuses on his interest in and use of literature, philosophy, and the visual arts.Reading Mahleris meant as a companion to Mahler’s music that helps its audiences understand its literary and cultural roots. Mahler’s view of German cultural history is of great importance for understanding his music in the context of its time. Only if we reconstruct this history and Mahler’s perspective on it will the true polemical points underlying Mahler’s...

  6. I. The Crisis of German Culture

    • 1: Titan: Symphony of an Anti-Hero
      (pp. 29-55)

      Mahler’s First Symphony has come to be associated with a little-known novel by the German author Johann Paul Friedrich Richter—commonly known as Jean Paul—entitledTitan,which was first published in four volumes between 1800 and 1803. This association between symphony and literary text is intriguing but quite problematic. The assumption that the two works are somehow connected is based on a handful of rather contradictory references. In spite of the fact that the works are mentioned in relation to each other frequently, and that “Titan” has become the First’s unofficial title, the exact connections between novel and symphony...

    • 2: Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Rediscovering the “Volk”
      (pp. 56-82)

      Jean Paul was not exactly forgotten around 1900, but his texts, while of interest to some, were clearly not part of the German literary canon. This was not the case, however, for the poems collected by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano inDes Knaben Wunderhorn(The Boy’s Magic Horn). Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano were prolific German authors, belonging to the second Romantic school affiliated with the city of Heidelberg. While the first generation of Romantic authors (Novalis, Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel, Tieck, and Wackenroder) was primarily a protest generation, the second generation, partially influenced by the...

    • 3: Nietzsche and the Crisis of German Culture
      (pp. 83-132)

      To understand the importance of Nietzsche for Mahler and many of his contemporaries, it is crucial to realize that Nietzsche was seen not as just another figure in the history of Western philosophy but rather as someone who personified an endpoint and also the chance for a new beginning. Around 1900 Nietzsche’s name was synonymous with a fundamental crisis that indicated the end of Western metaphysics. One did not read Nietzsche; one “experienced” his thought.¹ Nietzsche had come to be associated with “the death of God,” a maxim he first put forward in his 1882 bookDie fröhliche Wissenschaft(The...

  7. II. German Culture and Its Others

    • 4: Rembrandt and the Margins of German Culture
      (pp. 135-153)

      Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, like his Fifth and Sixth, is considered to be a symphony without a program. While denying that this work is programmatic, Alma Mahler gives us several important clues to the contrary; for instance, the fact that Mahler had Eichendorff’s poetry and German Romanticism in mind while composing this symphony.¹ Interestingly, Bruno Walter also mentions Romanticism in relation to it. In his monograph on Mahler he characterizes the symphony’s three middle movements as a return to the kind of Romanticism that he had assumed Mahler had overcome.² It is not clear whether he means Romanticism in German cultural...

    • 5: Goethe against German Culture
      (pp. 154-177)

      In explaining his Eighth Symphony to contemporaries, Gustav Mahler called it a “gift to the entire nation” (Geschenk an die ganze Nation).¹ He thereby helped create a genealogy for the work that would have occurred to few people on the basis of the music alone, and simultaneously provoked a number of questions. Mahler refers to a tradition of composing works for national occasions, but does he identify with that tradition or distance himself from it? Characterizing the Eighth as a “gift” to the “nation” does not necessarily mean that Mahler intended it to be a piece of national music. But...

    • 6: The Two Faces of German Orientalism
      (pp. 178-211)

      Two essays that Mahler wrote in 1877 as part of his final exams for obtaining his high school diploma have survived. One of them deals with the Duke of Wallenstein (1583–1634), a military hero from the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) best known from a series of plays that Schiller wrote about him. Mahler was clearly not (very) familiar with them and as a consequence received a failing grade. The other essay topic asked him to discuss the impact of the Orient on German literature. For this essay, Mahler received a passing grade, even though it was clearly unfinished.¹...

  8. Conclusion: Beyond Mahler
    (pp. 212-222)

    The image of Mahler that has emerged from this study is neither that of a nostalgic modernist nor that of a neoromanticist. Mahler was not melancholically looking backward in the sense that he longed to reinstate traditions presumably lost or mourned values associated with earlier times—an image that was in part created by Alma Mahler and Bruno Walter, but that, in a far more sophisticated way, also underlies Adorno’s ideas about Mahler. What is sometimes called Mahler’s “eclecticism”—a term I am not entirely comfortable with, because it has associations with a passive borrowing and an implied lack of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 223-274)
  10. Works Consulted
    (pp. 275-298)
  11. Index
    (pp. 299-312)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-313)