Mahler's importance to the evolution of modern music is very great; the early works of Schoenberg and Berg show the influence of Mahler's concepts.
Better known as a conductor in his lifetime, he primarily composed vocal music and symphonic works. He was inspired by
Mahler directed the Vienna Opera from 1897-1907 and the New York Philharmonic Society from 1909-1911. He brought the Vienna Opera to greatness by:
- the concept of universal art, like that of Bruckner which ultimately stemmed from Wagner;
- and the simple folk melodies of the Austrian countryside, that could also be heard in the pastoral sections of Beethoven's symphonies.
- tightening its musical discipline
- raising performance standards
- collaborating with important visual artists
General style traits
- NOT an innovator in harmony,
- rather, he brought the Romantic era to a culmination
- by virtue of the expansiveness of his emotional expression
- and the grandiose design of his musical structures.
- tendency toward constant variation - nothing recurs exactly (evolution of ideas)
- polyphonic textures
- motivic relationships set in a succession of episodes
- use of folksongs
- added extra beats to vary the traditional metric feel
- used drones and ostinati
- frequent modulations
- contrapuntally combined melodic lines with no regard for coincidental dissonance
- followed Viennese style
- tempered by affection for folksongs
- fit one of four basic categories
- Hungarian-Slavonic and German folk songs
- Brahms/Schubert-style Viennese melodies (expressively dissonant)
- Chorale or chant melodies
- Nature motives (bird-calls, cowbells, etc.)
- tends toward linearity in instrumental music
- more traditional harmonic progressions in vocal music
- much diatonicism
- some chromaticism
- most often uses major triad at final cadence
- frequent modulations
- sometimes ends a work in a different key than it began
- Sym. 2 - C --> Eb
- Sym. 4 - G --> E
- Sym. 5 - C#min --> D
- Sym. 7 - D --> Db
- large orchestral forces / palette of sounds
- used massive forces sparingly
- often thin, transparent texture
- preferred "higher" winds sound
- use of voices - preferred women's voices
- occasional use of "scordatura"
- preferred color and variety over hugeness of sound
- Movements of symphonies are usually in a traditional form
- Symphonies 1, 2, 3, and 4 utilized forms that resemble Sonata-Allegro
- Symphonies 5, 6, and 7 approach Classical forms but on a large, Romantic scale
Vocal MusicMahler was very literary minded and wrote many vocal works. Three important early works are:
- The Song of Lament (cantata, 1880)
- Songs of a Wayfarer (song cycle, 1885)
- The Youth's Magic Horn ("Wunderhorn") (song cycle, 1885)
Mahler wrote NO OPERAS.
- Kindertotenlieder (Children Death Songs)
- Song of the Earth (a huge song cycle, 1908)
- Das Lied von der Erde (song cycle for contralto or baritone and tenor with orchestra)
SymphoniesHe wrote 9 symphonies (plus one incomplete).
Symphony No. 1 (1889) - "Titan"
- The first four had programs, which Mahler later dropped.
- They also incorporated material from his earlier songs.
- Symphonies 2, 3, and 4 all used voices.
Symphony No. 2 (1888-94) - "Resurrection"
- programmatic (the hero's progress through trials of life and death)
- material used from "Songs of a Wayfarer" in the 1st and last movements
- 3rd movement uses minor mode "Frere Jacques" melody as a funeral march
Symphony No. 3 (1896)
- the 1st movement began as a tone poem
- some use of "Wunderhorn" songs in other movements
- 2nd movement has the easy, slow waltz rhythm of the Austrian Ländler
- 4th movement is an alto solo
- finale (after an orchestral section depicting the day of resurrection) includes soloists, chorus, and orchestra (like Beethoven's 9th)
Symphony No. 4
- huge orchestral requirements
- 6 movements
Symphony No. 5 (1904)
- last movement is a soprano solo
Symphony No. 6 (1904)
Symphony No. 7 (1905)
Symphony No. 8 - "Symphony of a Thousand"
Symphony No. 9 (1909)
- a secular, Romantic approach to religion
- a monumental choral symphony in two parts
- "Veni, creator spiritus" (a Latin hymn)
- Goethe's "Faust"
Symphony No. 10 (1910) - unfinished