Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy
Theodor W. Adorno's classic study of Gustav Mahler's music defies traditional thematic analysis, which, according to Adorno, "misses the music's substance in its preoccupation with procedure." He reaches beyond the boundaries of conventional analysis for an understanding of the music through the composer's character, his historical, philosophical, and social background, and his moment in musical history. First published in German in 1960, this ground-breaking work quickly established itself as a bold new form of musical interpretation, expanding the framework in which the composer's character and, through this, his creations are more fully understood. Adorno illuminates his argument through evocative metaphors, vivid images, and unusual comparisons. The result is a densely layered, anti-systematic interpretation that reveals as much about Adorno as it does about his subject. One of the most original and highly regarded of modern musical commentators, and among the first to call himself a sociologist of music, Adorno was a philosopher, cultural critic, and composer. His unique critical method illuminated music by relating it to history and social milieu. He held that music was a nonconceptual language that represented yet transcended the social world; in music and art, aesthetic value and social relevance were necessarily united. The essential themes of his Marxism - reification, fetishism, the emancipatory role of art, and the dialectical relationship of affirmation and negation - were alive in even the most formal works of art. In Mahler's A Musical Physiognomy, Adorno views the composer's works as a continuous and unified development from his childhood response to the marches and folktunes of the Bohemian village where he was born. But despite its traditional roots, Mahler's music intentionally breaks the balance of established musical language.