Reading Mahler: German Culture and Jewish Identity in Fin-de-siecle Vienna

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Gustav Mahler's music is more popular than ever, yet few are aware of its roots in German literary and cultural history in general, and in fin-de-siecle Viennese culture in particular. Taking as its point of departure the many references to literature, philosophy, and the visual arts that Mahler uses to illustrate the meaning of his music, Reading Mahler seeks to remedy this deficit, particularly in view of the interest the centennial of Mahler's death in 2011 will certainly generate. The book is designed for a broad readership: it helps audiences, critics, and those interested in musical and cultural history understand the context and meaning of the literary, philosophical, and visual influences on Mahler's music and thinking that may have been self-evident to middle-class Viennese a hundred years ago but are much more obscure today. It shows that Mahler's oeuvre, despite its reliance on texts and images from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is far more indebted to fin-de-siecle modernism and to an eclectic, proto-avantgardist agenda than has been previously realized. Furthermore, Reading Mahler is the first book to make Mahler's position within German-Jewish culture its analytical center. It also probes Mahler's problematic relationship with the musical and textual legacy of Richard Wagner, often overlooked in existing scholarship. By integrating newer approaches in humanistic research -- cultural studies, gender studies, and Jewish studies -- Reading Mahler exposes Mahler's critical view of German cultural history and offers a new understanding of his music. ~~~~ CARL NIEKERK is Associate Professor in the Department of German, the Program in Comparative and World Literature, and the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.