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Culture and the creative imagination: The genesis of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony. (Volumes I and II)

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  • History
  • European|Music
  • Literature
  • Musicology
  • Philosophy
  • Religious Science


For Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) composing endowed the creative mind with privileged insight into the profound questions of human existence. Thus, in pursuing his artistic vision, Mahler felt compelled to confront the philosophical issues that captured the imagination of his day. The dissertation examines Mahler's Third Symphony from this fundamental perspective by relating the composer's ideas about the work to the thinking and artistic endeavors of his contemporaries. The aim is not to attribute Mahler's ideas to any particular source, but to demonstrate how programmatic tendencies and musical gestures in the work reflect concerns common to a generation of thinkers at the turn of the century.^ The first section of the dissertation provides a background on Mahler as intellectual: his readings of thinkers he greatly admired (Schopenhauer, Wagner, Nietzsche) and his views on some of the debates of his day (the role of art, the philosophy of science, the nature of religion). Part Two relates the musical procedures of the Third Symphony to four central topics drawn from the work's program: (1) Pan, Dionysus, and the utilization of Greek mythology in artistic expression; (2) the ominous side of nature; (3) the image of the night; and (4) the sensual and spiritual conceptions of love. These themes are also examined in other compositions by Mahler and compared with some of the literature, poetry, and visual arts of Mahler's time (works by Hauptmann, Dehmel, Klinger, and the Vienna Secession). The third and last part of the dissertation provides a full chronology and discussion of the various extant manuscripts related to the Third (including a newly discovered source).^ In so connecting Mahler's symphony to the background of beliefs and ideas in which it was fostered, I present the creation and conception of music as a phenomenon inextricably bound to its cultural setting. Such a perspective enriches our understanding of the many dimensions of Mahler's work and suggests a musical-historical method that enables the past to regain a voice in the critical thinking of today. ^

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