Modern Antiquity: Modern Interpretations of Folk Sources in Gustav Mahler's Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

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Vaaler, Alyson Sue
Arnim; Achim Von; Des Knaben Wunderhorn; Folk Songs; Gustav Mahler; Herder; Johann Gottfried; Herder, Johann Gottfried; Music
thesis / dissertation description
Between 1805 and 1808, Ludwig Achim von Arnim (1781-1831) and Clemens Brentano (1778-1842) compiled a three-volume collection of German folk poetry entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn or "The Youth's Magic Horn." The collection had an especially mystical appeal for composer Gustav Mahler who set songs to twenty-four of the Wunderhorn poems.Mahler published his Wunderhorn songs in fin-de-siècle Vienna, and was contemporary with a league of artists, writers and philosophers who were attempting to combat the city's fascination with the past and tradition. By analyzing the history of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, as well as the ideals behind its creation, this project aims to move beyond the text of the Wunderhorn songs and explore the musical and social implications contained in Mahler's settings. Philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder's concepts of Volk and Volkslied are discussed, as well as original letters concerning the collection's creation written by the compilers of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. In addition to this historical background, fin-de-siècle Vienna and Mahler's interaction with Des Knaben Wunderhorn are detailed. Interpretations of two songs, "Zu Straßburg auf der Schanz" and "Der Tambourg'sell," are offered with an emphasis on "traditional" and "modern" elements in each song. This is done with the aim of exploring how the tensions between "modern" and "traditional" were described by Mahler and his critics, and in an attempt to draw parallels with similar tensions in the environment of fin-de-siècle Vienna.