The Symphony as a Novel: Mahler’s Tenth

Pinto, Angelo (2020). The Symphony as a Novel: Mahler’s Tenth. PhD thesis The Open University.


Ever since Theodor W. Adorno published the book Mahler. Eine Musikalische Physiognomik (‘Mahler. A Musical Physiognomy’) it has been commonplace to discuss the music of Gustav Mahler in narratological terms—that is, to search his music for structural analogies with narrative, using the approaches of ‘musical narratology’. Given their focus on only the work’s final version, however, the writings in this field do not pay enough attention to the authorial dimension of how Mahler constructs his musical ‘novel’ through the compositional process. However, a study of narrativity in the compositional process can more easily shed light on Mahler’s musical fragmentariness as a modernist expression of his music than traditional narratological approaches can. In this thesis I suggest the existence in Mahler’s Tenth Symphony of a narrative strategy I call ‘narrativisation’, which runs through the compositional process, leaving traces of what I call ‘narrativity’ in sketches and drafts. The method that supports these hypotheses is a three-stage analytical apparatus applied to each movement of the Symphony. The first stage analyses the narrativity of the Symphony’s draft of the last compositional phase. In the second stage, I then apply the method to the entire compositional process, including all the available sketches and drafts of the Symphony. In the third stage, I consider evidence from the two previous stages in support of an overall narrative interpretation of each movement and the whole Symphony. As a result of my analysis, for each movement and the entire Symphony I suggest that, during his conception of the work, Mahler manifests an overall ‘scriptorial’ narrative intention, aimed to represent in music, meta-referentially, an in-progress process of writing.

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