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Master of Music (M.M.)

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Gustav Mahler, Edward Said, Late Style


Scholarship on Gustav Mahler’s (1860–1911) late works is often overshadowed by the events of 1907: the death of his daughter, his resignation from the Vienna Court Opera, and the diagnosis of his heart condition. The subjective juxtaposition of this biographical detail on his last works—Das Lied von der Erde (1908), the Ninth Symphony (1909), and the Tenth Symphony (1910, unfinished)—has provoked the application of themes of death, transcendence, and farewell as extra-musical elements to his music. While scholars such as Vera Micznik, Henry-Louis de La Grange, and Stephen Hefling have called the acceptance of this program into question, there has yet to be a more objective analysis of Mahler’s last works via the lens of late style theory. This thesis explores two of Mahler’s last works, Das Lied and the Ninth, through the application of Edward Said’s theory of late style. Rather than approaching death with harmony, resolution, and transfiguration, the late artist in Said’s theory evokes “intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction”. Instead of a psychological or biographical interpretation of late style, Said’s theory focuses on irreconcilable characteristics that set the artist apart from the age in an anachronistic way. Following his more objective approach of interpreting late style, this thesis relies on the musical elements that characterize Mahler’s late style, categorized as anachronism, disintegration, and evasion of closure. Through the discourse of Said’s late style theory, this thesis reveals alternative means of interpreting Mahler’s late style that avoids the myth of the artist transfigured by death.


First Advisor

Erinn E. Knyt