Narrative strategies in Gustav Mahler's balladic Wunderhorn lieder Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Breckling, Molly M.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
  • Between 1887 and 1901, Gustav Mahler composed twenty-four songs set to texts adapted from poetry in Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, published in 1803. Of these works, eighteen possess the qualities of a ballad as classically defined by Goethe: poems that progress freely in the epic, lyric, and dramatic modes, describing a series of events unfolding in time for which one might portend to the outcome and derive an embedded moral lesson. The stories told by these ballads range from tales of fantastic child-like wonder, to portraits of Volkisch simplicity, to visions of horrific wartime violence. This study examines these songs specifically as ballads, identifying the salient literal and musical techniques that Mahler utilized to aid in the act of storytelling and attempts to identify the qualities of the Wunderhorn poetry that continued to attract and inspire the composer over such a long period of time, using analytical techniques from a variety of sources including Goethe, Carr, Staiger, Bettleheim, and Propp. Chapter one discusses the complex relationship between Mahler and the poetic anthology and the nature of ballad poetry itself. Chapter two details the modifications that Mahler made to the poetry in the anthology and the impact of his alterations on the narrative process of the resulting texts. Chapter three explores the musical narrative of these songs and identifies those instances in which the music tells stories that do not precisely mirror those of the texts. Chapter four situates Mahler's Wunderhorn ballads in a broader context, proposing that the composer utilized these songs as a form of commentary on his cultural, social, and political environment, offering opinions on his world in fin-de-sicle Vienna. The nature of these ballads leaves them open to a multitude of interpretations, but I view them as one half of an ongoing dialogue between Mahler and his critics, stories open to Freudian interpretation, songs about poverty and class relations, ballads about romantic fidelity, and reflections on the tragedy of war. The wide range of stories that Mahler was able to tell using this poetry and his music speaks to the universality of the anthology and the composer's broadly expressive scope.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Music."
  • Finson, Jon W.
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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