Extreme narration in Mahler’s late adagios




Hogrefe, Eric Peter

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The symphonies of Gustav Mahler continually inspire analyses that invoke terms and concepts from narrative theory. Yet little work has been done on the particularities of Mahler’s narrative idiom. Instead, analysts tend to use narrative theory for interpretation of individual movements, or to situate Mahler’s works within a particular historical context. Seth Monahan’s (2015) recent work on narrative and sonata form in Mahler’s earlier symphonies represents one counterexample, but only addresses a small portion of Mahler’s entire output. Mahler’s Adagio movements remain a particularly noticeable gap in the literature. This dissertation offers an examination of Mahler’s Adagio narratives, with particular emphasis on his late stylistic period (1908-1911). As Mahler’s music moved from a reliance on codified formal schemes towards a more discursive style in his late music, the Adagio took on greater importance within his symphonies. But these less clearly defined movements challenge traditional notions of narrative. I view Mahler’s late Adagios through the lens of unnatural narratology, a strand of literary theory that focuses on strange or aberrant texts, and articulates narrative strategies that go beyond realist or mimetic norms. Chapter 1 positions musical narrative as an intersubjective phenomenon through three theses and a brief analysis of Mahler’s song “Der Einsame im Herbst.” Chapter 2 articulates a theory of extreme narration in music by adapting ideas from unnatural narratology to the analysis of music. Chapter 3 outlines prototypical narrative strategies in what Margaret Notley (1999, 2007) has called the Adagio genre—as Mahler inherited it. The final two chapters each present an analytical essay on one of Mahler’s late Adagios. Chapter 4 analyzes the finale of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony as an example of what Byron Almén and Robert Hatten call tropological narrative (2013). Finally, Chapter 5 analyzes the first movement of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony as an example of what narratologist Brian Richardson calls denarration (2006).



LCSH Subject Headings