Mahler's Voices: Expression and Irony in the Songs and Symphonies

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Passionate and intense in one moment, ironic or brash in the next, Mahler's music speaks with a diversity of voices that often undermine its own ideals of unity, narrative struggle and transcendent affirmation. The composer plays constantly with musical genres and styles, moving between them without warning in a way that often bewildered his contemporaries. Ranging freely across Mahler's symphonies and songs in a thoughtful and thorough study of his musical speech, Julian Johnson considers how this body of music foregrounds the idea of artifice, construction and musical convention while at the same time presenting itself as act of authentic expression and disclosure. Mahler's Voices explores the shaping of this music through strategies of calling forth its own mysterious voice--as if from nature or the Unconscious--while at other times revealing itself as a made object, often self-consciously assembled from familiar and well-worn materials.

A unique study not of Mahler's works as such but of Mahler's musical style, Mahler's Voices brings together a close reading of the renowned composer's music with wide-ranging cultural and historical interpretation. Through a radical self-awareness that links the romantic irony of the late 18th-century to the deconstructive attitude of the late 20th-century, Mahler's music forces us to rethink historical categories themselves. Yet what sets it apart, what continues to fascinate and disturb, is the music's ultimate refusal of this position, acknowledging the conventionality of all its voices while at the same time, in the intensity of its tone, speaking "as if" what it said were true. However bound up with the Viennese modernism that Mahler prefigured, the urgency of this act remains powerfully resonant for our own age.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Blazes innovative trails for scholars in several areas...Johnson finds the perfect balance between specificity and generality, making this book useful to anyone interested in learning more bout Mahler, musical narrative, or both." --Notes

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195372397
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/17/2009
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Julian Johnson is Professor of Music, Department of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. From 2001-2007 he was a Reader in Music and a Fellow of St. Anne's College at the University of Oxford, and recipient of the Dent Medal (2005) awarded by the Royal Musical Association for "outstanding contributions to musicology." Author of Webern and the Transformation of Nature (Cambridge, 1999) and Who Needs Classical Music? (OUP, 2002).

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Table of Contents

1. Mahler and the Musical Voice
a. The Idea of Voice b. Songs and Symphonies c. Orchestral Voices
2. Calling Forth a Voice
a. Calling Forth b. Horn Calls, Birdsong and Bell c. Calling Back
3. Constructing a Voice
a. Artifice and Invention b. Des Knaben Wunderhorn c. The Middle Symphonies
4. Plural Voices
a. Carnival Humor b. Irony and Tone c. Borrowed Voices
5. Genre and Voice
a. Song b. Opera c. Symphony
6. Ways of Telling
a. Literary Voices b. Idyll, Dream and Fairytale c. Narrative Strategies
7. Vienna, Modernism and Modernity
a. Critical voices b. Modernist voices c. Political voices
8. Performing Authenticity
a. Reception and Performance b. Authenticity and Self-Critique c. "As If"

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