Mahler's Third Symphony and the Languages of Transcendence
Francisco, Megan Hollis
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A work reaching beyond any of his previous compositional efforts, Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony embodies cultural, political, and philosophical ideals of the Viennese fin-de-siècle generation. Comprising six enormous movements and lasting over ninety minutes, the work stretches the boundaries of symphonic form while simultaneously testing the patience of its listeners. Mahler provided a brief program to accompany his symphony, which begins with creation, moves through inanimate flowers to animals, before finally reaching humanity in the fourth movement. In this movement, Mahler used an excerpt from Friedrich Nietzsche’s "Also sprach Zarathustra" to introduce spoken language into the symphony. The relationship of music and language plays an integral role in Mahler’s expressive design of the Third Symphony, specifically in his vision of transcendence. Mahler creates a subtle transformation from elevated language (the fourth) to a polytextuality of folksong and onomatopoeia (the fifth) that culminates in the final, transcendent sixth movement. Throughout these last three movements, Mahler incorporates philosophical concepts from Nietzsche and his beloved Arthur Schopenhauer. In studying the treatment of language in these culminating movements, this thesis shows how Nietzsche’s metaphysical philosophies help listeners encounter and transcend Schopenhauer’s Will at the climactic end of the Third Symphony.
- Music