(Chart referenced in this post)

Introduction

Gustav Mahler is recognized as one of the greatest composers for the symphony orchestra, taking command of that medium during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His remarkable talent for orchestration and his innovative approach to form make his music inextricably linked to the development of orchestral composition after his death. We musicians tend to focus on his development of the craft of orchestration and his ingenious engineering of musical form, and often neglect the meaning to Mahler’s music. As Constantin Floros argues in Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies, our infatuation with Mahler’s technical prowess, coupled with Mahler’s desire to label himself as an absolute musician, leaves much of the discussion of meaning underexposed when we converse about his music.

“The meaning in Mahler’s music is the place where research must begin today. Studies of formal esthetics and of compositional techniques used in his symphonies are not lacking. There is, however, a lack of research relating structural aspects to semantic formulations, research directed not only to compositional techniques but also to style, expression, and idiom.”[1]

Mahler was born in 1860 and died in 1911, placing him in the midst of the late Romantic period. His creative output can be fitted into 3 stylistic “periods”, which can be marked by his symphonic output. Mahler divided his work into symphonies 1 through 4 (1887-1900), 5 through 8 (1901-1906), and Das Lied von der Erde and 9 (and after, 1907-1910). [2] Mahler’s music was deeply tied to his emotional state, and it is worth noting that he naively believed that the emotions he felt while composing would be communicated and felt by the audience at performance.[3] It is interesting that he met Alma Schindler in November 1901 (who would become his wife), and in summer 1907 lost his oldest daughter and had his chronic heart condition diagnosed. Since Mahler’s emotional state was so deeply tied to his music, it follows that these major events in his life found expression in his symphonic output.

As a native of the late Romantic period, Mahler was thrust headlong into the debate between program and absolute music. He tried to brand himself as an absolute musician, but his contemporaries noticed how fluidly his music moved into the programmatic arena, and encouraged him to include program notes with his works.[4] His begrudging willingness to do so led to major issues in the piece at hand, his Symphony No. 1 in D Major.

In this paper I will explore how meaning is changed in Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major through the modification of programmatic elements in his piece prior to the first publication.

[1] Constantin Floros, Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies, trans. Vernon and Jutta Wicker (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1993), 16-17.

[2] Constantin Floros, Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies, trans. Vernon and Jutta Wicker (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1993), 17.

[3] Constantin Floros, Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies, trans. Vernon and Jutta Wicker (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1993), 16.

[4] Constantin Floros, Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies, trans. Vernon and Jutta Wicker (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1993), 16.