Gustav Mahler

Peter Revers (03/2023)

Gustav Mahler is one of the most frequently performed composers in international concert life today. Against the background of a performance and reception history of more than a hundred years, this situation gives rise to a comprehensive review of different approaches to Mahler’s work, above all in dialogue with current innovative research approaches, such as investigations of the performance analysis of his works. For Mahler, composing and conducting were inextricably linked and, above all in his symphonies, led to numerous modifications and clarifications in the musical text, which represent the current state of his musical ideas. Analyzing and evaluating these is one of the main tasks of the New Critical Complete Edition (NKG), which plays a central role in the tasks of the International Gustav Mahler Society.

Gustav Mahler’s œuvre is firmly anchored in the center of musical life today, even though it did not establish itself quickly. As late as the 1950s (after Mahler’s works had been excluded from the musical life during the Nazi era), reception was hampered by aesthetic reservations. The remarkable renaissance of his work since the 1960s, which Mahler – as he himself predicted – quickly made him one of the most frequently performed composers to date, could hardly have been foreseen.

Not only has the number of concert performances, radio broadcasts, and recordings of Mahler’s music exploded since then, but also the academic debate on his biography and his work. The Critical Complete Edition (KGA) since 1960 and the New Critical Complete Edition (NKG) since 2008 have been of particular importance in this process. The edition of Mahler’s works in line with the latest scientific philological research is one of the central areas of responsibility of the International Gustav Mahler Society (IGMS).

In addition, the latest research results and unknown sources are published in regular succession in the News about Mahler Research (NMR), which is published in German and English. In addition to dealing with Mahler’s works, research into his biography, his work as a conductor and as director of the Vienna Court Opera (1897–1907), is a focal point of this journal.

Since 2021, a recent project of the Society is the extensive project Mahler online, which the IGMS developed in cooperation with the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Institute for Musicology at the University of Innsbruck. Through the close interlinking of the catalog of works, a repository of sources, information on the history of the creative process, work characteristics, reception, performance history, and bibliography, Mahler’s artistic activities, the places where he worked, and the historical development of his works are examined in detail on this research portal.

Mahler’s symphonies and songs are interlinked in many ways and thus form a new type of genre sui generis. This goes so far that in his “Symphony for Alto and Tenor Voices and Large Orchestra” Das Lied von der Erde (1908) genre boundaries are explicitly broken. The cross-genre relevance of Mahler’s compositions is already evident in his early works. For example, there are distinct cross-references between the third movement of the First Symphony GMW 11 (1884–88), the first part (Waldmärchen) from Das Klagende Lied GMW 1 (1878–80) and the song Die zwei blauen Augen from the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen GMW 10-K (ca. 1885–90).

This exemplifies the important function innovative digital methods (such as those that are implemented with Mahler online) have for further research and engagement with Mahler’s works. A digital research portal offers the possibility of presenting new findings and connections, making them easily accessible and thus fruitful for the current research discourse. The synergy between Mahler online and the Graz research project Multiple Dimensions in Performances of Mahler's Symphonies also accentuates new dimensions in Mahler performance research.

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