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Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies


Gustav Mahler thought of his symphonic writing as being based on personal experience, as autobiographical, and as an expression of his philosophy of life. Thus his symphonies deal with profound existential questions and with programmatic ideas that the composer was at first willing to reveal but later preferred to keep to himself.

Important references to musical meaning in Mahler's symphonies can be found in numerous sources - sketches, drafts, autograph scores, and printers' proofs. These references take the form of programmatic titles, cues, and mottos, and include literary allusions, outcries of grief, and other emotional expressions; they demonstrate that his symphonies cannot be classified as absolute music but rather as music with personal, biographical, literary, and philosophical meanings.

With this thesis in mind, Constantin Floros undertakes a precise and detailed exploration of each of Mahler's ten symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde, bringing to light for the first time various aspects of the works. Professor Floros examines their history and autobiographical origins and discusses the events that profoundly influenced the composer's symphonic writing. For example, Mahler's meeting with Alma Schindler (later to become Alma Mahler) in November 1901 and the tragic events of 1907 - the death of the composer's older daughter and the diagnosis of his heart trouble - profoundly changed Mahler's attitude toward life and subsequently his music.

The compositional techniques employed by Mahler in each symphony are analyzed and related to stylistic and semantic aspects to decode the composer's symbolic musical language. The author is thus able to identify certain basic qualities ofthese works: tragic irony, the sense of the grotesque, and the affirmation of Mahler's belief both in life after death and in the power of love to transcend death. Understanding this language leads to a more profound understanding of Mahler the symphonist.


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