Remembering Mahler : music and memory in Mahler's early symphonies
MetadataShow full item record
According to the critical tradition, Gustav Mahler’s music is full of memories, memories portrayed most frequently as being Mahler’s recollections of his own childhood. My study interrogates this trope—that Mahler’s entire oeuvre is an autobiographical puzzle waiting to be solved—using each of his first four symphonies as a case study. To accomplish this, I offer interpretations of each symphony, which rely on an analysis of the musical substance of the piece, and also refer to Mahler’s programs, potential allusions to preexisting material, and critical reception. Chapter 1 lays the theoretical foundation for these analyses, which draws on cultural memory, nostalgia studies, and the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. In Chapter 2, by proposing connections between the Third Symphony and both the antisemetic political climate in Vienna and Mahler’s hopes for a conducting career in the city, I suggest that interpretation can make recourse to the composer’s biography without focusing on his childhood. Moreover, I use Mahler’s biography to suggest new avenues for approaching his music, rather than using his music to shed light on his life. In Chapter 3, I move interpretation away from details of the composer’s biography: I analyze his First Symphony with Freudian repression as a theoretical framework, but I focus on how repression might eludicate both the musical processes in the piece itself and the persistent recourse made to the suppressed program in reception of the piece, rather than attempting to explain Mahler’s own supposed neuroses. After proposing several ways in which music processes might resonate with forgetting in the form of repression, in Chapters 4 and 5, the Second and Fourth Symphonies are discussed in terms of mourning and nostalgia respectively, defined as two specfic types of remembrance. Turning in the final chapter to the later Seventh Symphony, I unwind the implications of the standard image of Mahler as a figure obsessed with the past. Mahler’s music grants us no access to his memories, but it does allow us to remember him. Our memories are all that remains, and the Mahler that we hear has always been merely our own construction.