Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Steven M. Bruns

Second Advisor

Carlo Caballero

Third Advisor

David J. Korevaar


Gustav Mahlers Sinfonien by Paul Bekker was published in 1921, just ten years after the composer’s death. Bekker presents critical readings of all nine completed symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde. His “Symphonic Style” chapter sets the stage by considering Mahler’s place in the 19th-century symphonic tradition, which he traces from Beethoven through Schubert and Bruckner. A main concern in Bekker’s introductory chapter and throughout the book is the “finale problem” that had challenged composers ever since Beethoven’s Ninth. He also calls attention to the “dangerous power” of the Adagio as manifested in Bruckner’s symphonies. Bekker argues that Mahler had solved these and other problems of the “modern” symphony, and he revisits questions of form along with other critical concerns throughout the book.

The following ten analytical chapters fall into two main parts. The first part considers topics such as the problematic status of the “program” in Mahler, the changing influence of Mahler’s songs on his symphonies, the fundamental importance of the melodic impulse in Mahler, and aspects of formal design, orchestration, and counterpoint. Bekker’s introductory reflections are often surprising and original. The second part of each analytical chapter is a more traditional hermeneutic narrative that discusses the symphony movement by movement, with copious notated musical excerpts by way of illustration. The present translation presents new digital versions of Bekker’s 888 examples, noting errors in the original edition and adding for each example measure numbers and details about instrumentation.

In addition to presenting the first complete English translation of Bekker’s landmark study, the dissertation introduces the historical and critical context for his work. Bekker’s contemporaries Ernst Kurth and August Halm are considered, among others. Unlike many twentieth-century writers on Mahler, Bekker remains closely focused on musical analysis, with only incidental reference to biographical and documentary details. The translator’s extensive commentary highlights special problems in interpreting Bekker’s German and also traces Bekker’s significant influence upon later Mahler scholarship. Theodor W. Adorno’s debt to Bekker is of particular interest, and one is surprised to discover that Adorno does not consistently acknowledge Bekker’s precedence.