In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gustav Mahler

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Letters
  • Memoirs and Firsthand Accounts
  • Biographies
  • Mahler the Conductor
  • Style
  • Quotation, Allusion, and Resemblance
  • Songs
  • Symphonies
  • Editions of Mahler’s Music
  • Source Studies
  • Collected Volumes/Festschrifts
  • Reception
  • Mahler’s Vienna

Music Gustav Mahler
James L. Zychowicz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0031


Gustav Mahler (b. 1860–d. 1911) is known for the Lieder and symphonies he composed, which may be seen to bring the 19th-century developments in both genres into the early 20th century. In working both with and without texts in his symphonies, Mahler made use of intertextual references to his own vocal music, and he also included quotations and allusions to works by other composers. In this way, Mahler infused his symphonic music with associated meanings that intersect his musical structures. He thus created highly connotative pieces that did not necessarily require the explicit programs connected to some of the symphonic poems of the late 19th century. In addition, he incorporated vocal music in his symphonies by recasting songs instrumentally, as with the Scherzo of the Second Symphony or the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony; he also used orchestral songs as movements in his Second, Third, and Fourth Symphonies, the last culminating in the Song-Finale “Das himmlische Leben.” Mahler built on the precedent found in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by using the chorus in the Finale of his Second Symphony and in both parts of the Eighth. These elements, along with others found in the nine symphonies, reflect his innovative approaches to this genre. Mahler also composed approximately fifty songs, including several cycles, which may be seen to culminate in the symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. He was also one of the most respected conductors of his day, and his influence may be seen in the integrity he brought to opera production, not only by restoring cuts previously taken with the works of Mozart and Wagner, but also by intensifying opera production through his strategic use of innovative new staging techniques in his productions. In the century since his death, Mahler’s music has become familiar to a cross-section of international audiences, through its pervasive inclusion in concert programs, as well as its prominence in recordings. The composer’s name has become synonymous with postmodern culture through the adjective “Mahlerian,” which has also been used to describe late-20th-century culture as “a generation of Mahlerians.”

General Overviews

Among the general introductions to Mahler’s work the concise guide by Cooke (Cooke 1997) remains a useful text. Some series lend themselves to such work, like the Master Musicians series, originally published by J. M. Dent & Co., which is the venue for Kennedy 2000. These volumes contain general information about the composer and his music, along with some of the aesthetic and philosophical issues involved. Newlin 1978 remains useful for the contexts in which the author discusses Mahler’s life and accomplishments, while Hansen 1996 offers concise information about the composer’s works.

  • Cooke, Deryck. Gustav Mahler: An Introduction to His Music. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    Originally published in 1980, Cooke’s Introduction contains general information about Mahler’s works and, as such, is descriptive more than analytic. Cooke includes the texts and translations of many vocal works. This is a reprint of the 1988 second edition.

  • Danuser, Hermann. “Mahler, Gustav.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopaedie der Musik. Vol. 11. Edited by Ludwig Finscher. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1997.

    Useful overview of Mahler’s life, along with a discussion of Mahler’s personality and a description of the composer’s working process, followed by a concise discussion of works; the latter includes some perspectives on reception. The article contains a thorough bibliography, along with a worklist.

  • Franklin, Peter. “Mahler, Gustav.” Grove Music Online.

    Franklin’s article covers the composer’s life in various sections, arranged by the site of Mahler’s various appointments; this is followed by a brief discussion of style, then considerations of various groups of works. The bibliography captures much recent research, with the online version updated. Includes comprehensive worklist. Subscription required for access.

  • Hansen, Mathias. Gustav Mahler. Reclams Musikführer. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1996.

    Includes an essay on Mahler’s life and a chronology, followed by sections devoted to each of the symphonies, other major works, the Lieder, and Mahler’s revisions of music by other composers. Also includes indices, a select bibliography, and short discography. The section on the Lieder also appears in Sponheuer and Steinbeck 2010, cited under Collected Volumes/Festschrifts.

  • Internationale Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft.

    The site contains a useful catalogue of Mahler’s works, information about the critical edition, along with information about various activities of the organization. Includes a database of publications. A mirror site in English is available from the home page.

  • Kennedy, Michael. Mahler. Master Musicians Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    This volume focuses on Mahler’s life and works. The structure of the biography follows Mahler’s career; an overview of works follows the catalogue at the end. Includes chapters on the early works, the songs, the symphonies, and Mahler’s style. First published in 1974 by J. M. Dent.

  • Newlin, Dika. Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg. Rev. ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978.

    Establishes a context for Mahler in the progressive trends associated with Schoenberg and the emerging avant-garde. Some of Newlin’s ideas reflect the time she originally wrote the study (first edition, 1947), but on the whole it remains useful through Newlin’s connections between musical works and stylistic traits.

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