Dissertation Index

Author: Burns, Alexandra

Title: The Musical Voices of the “Double-Man”: Nature and Religious Identity in Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony

Institution: The University of Sheffield

Begun: June 2015

Completed: May 2016


This undergraduate dissertation examines the ways in which the themes of both nature and religious identity play a prominent role within Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony. Nature and religion clearly relate to each other through the medium of autobiography, however, Mahler further interweaves them into the ubiquitous themes of Jewish ecology and the philosophy of Judaism. A combination of musical, political and cultural analysis has shown that the themes Mahler has stitched into this symphony are resonant of the cultural and social climate in the 1880s. Critical thought has been applied to the notion of religious identity, as this was a prevalent and recurring issue for Mahler throughout his lifetime.

An underlying story can be read within this symphony, and one can piece together its relevance in coherence with the life of Mahler himself. A story of a hero, who goes on an exploratory journey of the world, and then the afterlife. The cultural environment at the time that Mahler composed this work can be both seen and heard within the score of the First Symphony.

I have concluded that the infrastructure of this large symphonic work has been skilfully built on a narrative, and the main themes within this narrative thread share an intriguing mutual link. I have attempted to address the gap in the study of Mahler’s compositional style whilst under the demanding pressures of fin-de-siècle Vienna, which is currently under-researched.

Keywords: Mahler, Symphony, Anti-Semitism, Vienna, Religious Identity, Nature



Chapter 1 – The City of Imperial Splendour: Fin-de-siècle Vienna

- Political, Cultural and Social Stances in fin-de-siècle Vienna

- Mahler’s Vienna

Chapter 2 – A Symphony like the World: The First Symphony

- Conception, Context and Critical Reception

Chapter 3 – A Nature Soundscape: Movement 1

- Mahler and Nature

- Frühling und kein Ende (“Spring and No End”)

Chapter 4 – A Lack of Nationality: Movement 2

- A Divided Heritage

- Mit vollen Segeln (“Under Full Sail”)

Chapter 5 – The Everlasting Jew: Movement 3

- A Certain Level of Jewishness

- Todtenmarsch in Callots Manier (“Death March in Callots Manner”)

Chapter 6 –A Spiritual Battle: Movement 4

- Mahler’s Narrative

- Dall’ Inferno al Paradiso(“From the Inferno to Paradise”)



Alex Burns
United Kingdom

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