Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

A World of Experience

“The symphony must be a world. It must embrace everything.”

The music of Gustav Mahler reflects the breadth of his experience in the rapidly-changing world of the fin-de-siècle: both geographically — from a Bohemian village to glittering world capitals — and artistically — as poet, conductor, and composer. It also reflects the depth of his interior experience: his passions, his sufferings, and his ongoing sense of being an outsider. To realize his artistic vision, Mahler filled his symphonic worlds with recurring fragments of tunes and rhythms from his past, and he embraced “low” musical traditions as part of the “elevated” symphonic tradition in a way that many listeners found challenging, even grotesque, upon first hearing.

Why and how did Mahler weave this material into grand symphonic worlds? What meaning do his musical memories have? When they reappear in a new work, how have they changed? How can a performer or conductor re-weave it all into a coherent musical whole? And what does it mean for audiences today?

First Symphony, fourth movement

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MTT on Mahler's musical worlds.


Gustav Mahler - A World of Experience is supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.