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  • Author or Editor: Lóránt Péteri x
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This study offers a multilevel analysis of the form of the third movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony providing three frameworks (those of a sophisticated trio form, a bipartite idiosyncratic form, and an imaginary, ‘endless’ form). Conceiving of the formal dimensions of the Scherzo of Mahler’s Second Symphony as ontological models, I will contextualize these with reference to the writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Among the new discoveries of this investigation, I will outline the implications of three hitherto neglected circumstances: first, the movement’s first extended unit itself constitutes a self-contained symphonic scherzo movement; next, the movement can be described as two succeeding permutations of the same set of thematic materials; finally, there is a crucial recurrence suggesting the infinitude of the form. Instead of creating an ill-conceived dichotomy between form as a secondary structure and the meaningful ‘narrative’ in negotiation with formal questions, I wish to regard form as a primary source of a work’s meaning. At the same time, I wish to regard the form of the movement as an efficient means of channelling its dialogue with the genre of scherzo. Listened to as a composer’s self-positioning in the field of the masters of symphony, the movement reveals Mahler’s successful attempt at breaking away from the Brucknerian model of scherzo and, at the same time, proudly parading his virtuosity in applying some elements of that model in a different context.

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The psychological concept of the uncanny (“das Unheimliche”) has been established in studies by E. Jentsch (1906) and S. Freud (1919). On the grounds of cultural and textual references, which can be found in these studies, one might regard the uncanny as a discourse construct contained in various literary, evaluative, and visual texts stretching from the late 18th century to the First World War. In my paper, I wish to discuss the assumption that the scherzo genre, commonly seen as founded on Haydn’s opus 33 string quartets and coming to a first fruition in various Beethoven cycles shows a particular propensity to act as the musical vehicle for an uncanny quality. The closer scrutiny of two “programmatic” scherzi (those are the 3rd movement of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony and L’Apprenti sorcier by Dukas) might shed light on the advantages of a genre-oriented approach when musical meaning is concerned.

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Writings on the socio-cultural complexities of Mahler’s identity and his music in context vary in relation to four basic motifs: his Jewishness; his Germanness; the partly Slav environment of his early years; and his relationship to the Austro-Hungar-ian Dual Monarchy. Studies combine these elements, or privilege one above another. It may help to rethink this subject if we consider that his self-awareness formed amid a changing social environment; if his personal identity will be studied in the context of the identity history of his family; and through scrutinizing the decisive socializing role of the localities in which he lived. These conclusions can reveal the unparalleled mobility of his career in a rapidly-transforming context. Late nineteenth-century Central European societies drew at once on the “past” (post-feudal, pre-modern attitudes and practices), “present” (constitutionalism based on equal civilian rights, and nationalism), and “future” (populist and racist ideologies questioning the enlightened, liberal consensus). All three impacted not only Mahler’s identity, but his image: how the surrounding society perceived him. These approaches also facilitate critical readings of the contemporaneous attempts to embed Mahler’s music in national, regional, and ethno-cultural contexts. This paper examines the reception of the third movement of Symphony No. 1 as a case study, exploring how Mahler’s construed images were reflected in different interpretations of this music.

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