Mahler: reader, thinker, composer

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Lecture Theatre, The Weston Library, Oxford


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An Oxford Lieder Festival 2017 study event, presented in association with the Open University's Literature and Music Research Group and the Bodleian Libraries.

Mahler has been celebrated since his own day not just for his musical gifts, but also for his wide-ranging literary and intellectual interests. This Study Day will explore the world of the mind behind the music, focusing particularly on the songs which are an equal legacy to his symphonies. Talks by expert researchers will cover topics such as his choice of texts, the poets who inspired him, the way that his music conveys and goes beyond the meaning of the words, and his influence felt down to the present day. Mahler’s fascination with the folkloristic poetry of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, his evident kinship with Rückert’s poetry of grief and consolation, his repeated use of the literary motif of the military Drummer Boy, his oscillation between the intimacy of the Lied and the public statement of the symphony; all these all these and more will be topics for the day’s talks and performances.

How is Mahler best understood? A morbid obsessive who never escaped a traumatised childhood? A Viennese intellectual like Freud or Wittgenstein (both of whom he met), always ready to seize new ideas? A victim of anti-Semitic political manoeuvring who never felt he belonged to the musical establishment? Is his music best heard as a throwback to earlier Romanticism, or as the path to a new kind of composition? These questions can best be explored by examining the thinkers and writers whose works he read, those who lived and worked alongside him, and those who took their inspiration from him in the years following his extraordinary career.

11.15am Session One: three 30-minute talks

1.45pm Recital

3pm Session Two: three 30-minute talks

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