History, Analysis, Pedagogy: Music Analysis Conference

  • Rebecca Day (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


‘A parody of grandeur or the grandeur of parody?’ Self-reflexivity in the Finale of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony

The finale of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony is often denounced as one of the most baffling examples of insincere banality of the whole of the composer’s symphonic output. Even Adorno—arguably Mahler’s most doting devotee—criticized the movement for its ‘strained gaiety’ in which he claims that it ‘founders where the joke becomes serious.’ For Adorno, as for many of the movement’s commentators, the thematic material is overly theatrical on account of moments of fulfillment, each ‘announced too eagerly by the very gestures of fulfilling’, that are thus unable to signify anything other than a hollow victory. Yet, the over-exaggeration of climactic fragments throughout gives the sense that such material is capable of gesturing beyond its own syntax to comment on the very structures that demand triumph in a finale. Is this then merely a parody of the pomp and splendour expected of a symphonic finale, or could it be a grandiose and thus bitter confirmation that such victory is no more than an illusion?

This paper considers the capacity of existing analytical methods to make sense of moments that are marked by inadequacy and that thus undermine themselves. It offers a formal analysis of the movement through discussion of rotational form and deformational theory in an attempt to contextualize these ‘gestures of fulfilling’, to ultimately advance a theory of a self-reflexive symphonic language that is aware of its own inconsistencies, and that thus might account for many of the ambiguities that lead to such criticisms.
Period13 Jul 201615 Jul 2016
Event typeConference
LocationNottingham, United KingdomShow on map