A survey of Mahler’s correspondents, especially his classmates at the University of Vienna in the 1870s, reveals a multifaceted identity he shared with them. Most of his fellow members of the Pernerstorfer Circle, young intellectuals who met to discuss art and politics during their university years, had a similar background: German-speakers with a Jewish heritage and an upbringing in one of the Eastern minority communities of the Habsburg Empire. While some of Mahler’s music has been examined with respect to his Jewish background, little has been said about the influence of Bohemia on the composer, and even less about how this Austrian configuration of identity influenced his worldview and composition. We often repeat Mahler’s famous quote that he was thrice homeless, as a Bohemian in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world, yet the meaning of being Austrian rather than German has been underexplored in Mahler’s music. In this article, I suggest that the mixture of ethnic identities was Austrian for the composer, placing Mahler within a group of like-minded Austrians whose complex allegiances to multiple traditions influenced their contributions to the field of politics, literature, philosophy, and music. Focusing on Mahler’s early symphonies, I demonstrate the interface between Jewish, Bohemian, and Austro-German musical characteristics, and I compare this musical synergy to similar interactions in the publications of members of the Mahler’s university peers, as well as other intellectuals of his generation including Karl Emil Franzos. This article reveals multiethnic networks of influence in Mahler’s music and reconsiders Austrian identity uncoupled from the traditional Austro-German formulation.
A Dance from Iglau: Gustav Mahler, Bohemia, and the Complexities of Austrian Identity
Leah Batstone is amusicologist specializing in the music of twentieth-century Ukraine and fin-desiècle Austria. She received her PhD in musicology from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec in 2019. Her dissertation research explored the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy on the early symphonies of Gustav Mahler by examining Nietzsche’s reception among Mahler’s circle at the University of Vienna.
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Leah Batstone; A Dance from Iglau: Gustav Mahler, Bohemia, and the Complexities of Austrian Identity. 19th-Century Music 1 March 2021; 44 (3): 169–186. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2021.44.3.169
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