Nineteenth Century Programme Music

  • Rebecca Day (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


The emergence of a subject “complicit with chaos”: Between Absolute Form and Metaphorical Programme in Part One of Mahler’s Third Symphony (1893-1896)

Mahler’s Third symphony is accepted by most to be comprehensively programmatic. Scholars such as Franklin and Solvik trace the genesis of the movement’s titles and potential philosophical foundations alongside the compositional process, where as a result, countless analysts rely on metaphors of nature, creation, and chaos to draw together ambiguities, ruptures, and incoherence in the musical form. Yet, documentation surrounding the programme is inconsistent; Mahler repeatedly adapted the movements’ plans within private correspondence, and in 1902 eventually rejected the programmatic titles as ‘utterly inadequate’. The overwhelming temptation in existing scholarship, however, still seems to be to offer philosophical ruminations and to discuss extramusical elements of the programme prior to a consideration of the musical form, as if they are a prerequisite to understanding the work.

This paper will reverse the direction of much existing scholarship through a discussion of the formal aspects of the movement before any consideration of programmatic implications, in order to explore whether potential connections between the narratives of tension and rupture in the form might be reflected in interpretation of the programme. It will offer a rotational reading of the first movement that is located primarily in deformation theory in order to reveal the excess that emerges at the point in which conventional methods of analysis seem to become inadequate, and to ultimately consider the ways in which this excess might contribute to the construction of a particular sense of subjectivity away from the characters of the programme. This paper will ultimately theorize and contextualize moments that are seen to be in-between the form and the programme in order to consider the ways in which their formal interactions begin to articulate aspects of a subject that Adorno suggests is ‘complicit with chaos’.
Period25 Nov 201627 Nov 2016
Event typeConference
LocationLucca, ItalyShow on map