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Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Music (M.M.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Throughout his life Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was aware of his role as an outsider and had a deeply conflicted view of his identity. The challenges he faced as a Jew in an overwhelmingly Christian and increasingly anti-Semitic Central Europe, as a German speaker in predominantly Czech speaking Bohemia and Moravia, as a Czech in the Austrian empire, and as an Austrian in a highly militarized but rapidly declining empire in the face of increasing pan-German nationalism, all contributed to this status. At the same time, his diverse early background provided a rich variety of musical experience, leading to an openness to musical influences that would accompany him throughout his career.

Mahler was one of the first German modernists. His approach to the symphony was unique, revolutionary and widely misunderstood. By stretching the boundaries of structure and content with references to childhood, nature and the sounds and images of everyday life, through the deliberate, unsettling juxtaposition of the banal and the sublime, and through the use of voice and text, he used the symphony as a vehicle for personal reflection and exploration. Mahler’s primary forms of composition were Lieder and symphonies, and as his career progressed the two became inexorably intertwined. His music has been described as Weltanschauungsmusik - music that expresses a world outlook. Driven by a desire to engage with the symphonic tradition, his works included the first non-programmatic choral symphonies since Beethoven.

This study focuses on particular aspects of Mahler’s compositional style to demonstrate his continuous search for identity: the references to and quotations from his own songs, from the works of other composers, and from sources such as Jewish/Central European folk music; the rhythmic influence of dances and marches as social references and indicators; the use of non-traditional instrumentation, timbre and sound effects to provide emphasis, coloration and contrast; and the symphonic use of vocal music to explore religious and philosophical beliefs.


First Advisor

Evan MacCarthy

Second Advisor

Erinn Knyt

Third Advisor

Marianna Ritchey

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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