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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Lamont School of Music, Musicology and Ethnomusicology


Gustav Mahler is a man of juxtapositions, and it shows in his compositions. Between the deaths of his siblings, his parents, eldest daughter, and a fatal heart condition, Mahler was surrounded by ideas and the possibility of death. This likely motivated many of his works, with pieces such as Das Lied von der Erde ending with Mahler confronting his own mortality. Throughout these works, death is treated differently, for example, in the Fourth Symphony, Death is personified and is presented as a solo fiddle. However, many of these pieces end with a hopeful note, such as in the Second Symphony ending in its nickname, “Resurrection”, or Das Lied von der Erde ending with allusions to spring and rebirth. By looking at these themes of death and mortality, we can understand Mahler’s compositions better, as well as his philosophy and mindset at the time of composition.

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