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We should never underestimate that Mahler the Titan was willing to sacrifice Mahler the idealist and Mahler the unhappy child, when it suited him. To live a life to its fullest potential was no soft option. Nietzsche knew from personal experience that an individual who dared to rise above the masses risked ridicule and isolation. But one figure had apparently succeeded in conquering all.

The mature Wagner stood for Schopenhauerian ascetism, the primacy of music as an art-form and the cathartic power of tragedy to help the human individual carry the burden of his heroic existence. Wagner was also considered a cultural leader among pan-German nationalists, while his vicious anti-Semitism was something which Mahler was compelled to overlook.

Discussion Questions

It depicted a world corrupted by greed and materialism, heading towards calamity; a world of corrupt gods and wilful blindness. We know that Mahler was a fanatical follower of Wagner in his youth and remained a devotee of his music throughout his life. In younger days, Mahler was eager to prove himself a cultural radical in the same mould as Wagner. He was willing to support the pan-German vision of the Pernerstorfer group, because he had found friendship there and an outlet for his youthful idealism. There were just a few modest chamber-pieces and a handful of songs.

Only after his graduation from the Conservatory in did Mahler begin to reveal his creative originality. It can be argued that it was his contact with the intellectual hothouse of the Pernerstorfer circle which made the crucial difference. They helped him hone the distinctive philosophical preoccupations of his first four symphonies, as well as the many songs from which they germinated. In , Mahler was in his early-twenties gathering experience as a conductor in the opera houses of Central Europe. That year he arrived in Kassel, Northern Germany, where he had become an assistant to the aging Kapellmeister , Wilhelm Treiber.

Kassel is famous as one of the major centres of the German fairy-tale cult.


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It was where the Grimm brothers published two volumes of their famous legends. But his ambition soon gained him a reputation as an upstart who irritated both Treiber and his aristocratic employers. He began searching for a new job, throwing his relationship with Johanna into crisis. When I came out of the door, the bells were ringing, and the solemn chorale rang out from the tower. Ah dear Fritz, it was just as if the great stage-manager had wanted to make it all artistically perfect.

I wept all through the night in my dreams. It is typical of Mahler already to sense the creative potential of his broken heart. But the theatrical scene he describes was perhaps more colourful than the mundane reality. Things turned out somewhat less dramatically than suggested by his letter. The doomed couple continued to work together for a further six months before Mahler finally left Kassel to take up a new post in Prague. Creatively, the high emotion of the relationship had already born fruit.

During the previous year, Mahler had written six poems for Johanna, expressing his elation and sadness. The poems mimicked the vernacular style associated with Kassel, and in , Mahler set four of them for voice and piano. He called the work, Geschichte von einem fahrenden Gesellen which later became Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen or Songs of a Wayfarer. It suggests someone whose status is between an apprentice and a master; a man in transition, who is not yet fully free of authority. This makes an obvious autobiographical connection with the young Mahler, who was still learning his trade.

We know this to be true because, based on the facts of the story, we would expect this song-cycle to concern a hero forced to abandon his beloved but, in the first song, Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht, it is she who has abandoned him.

The Sorrows of Young Werther: A Study in Adolescence

The day she marries, the wayfarer predicts, he will go to his room and weep. The short piano introduction evokes a wedding dance, but when the voice enters, imitating the dance, the tempo is lethargic, and the atmosphere filled with pathos. The wayfarer cannot respond positively to the nuptial celebrations, for they symbolise the deceptive world of appearances which deny him happiness.

We should focus our attention for a while on that little introductory figure. It is a simple turn-like motif — down two notes and then back up again — something you might whistle to yourself. The middle section of this first song is more fluently lyrical. We meet for the first time a third character in this mini-drama.

Nature appears in the form of a bird. Its singing momentarily delights the wayfarer, but the wedding dance-motif can still be heard, even if it has been transformed into ecstatic birdsong. But the motive serves to remind us that wounded feeling still poisons the air, as the wayfarer recalls his separation from his beloved and from the social world.

Having left the wayfarer in a state of deep melancholy and despair, the second song of the cycle, begins at dawn on another day.

The gloom has lifted. A bird sings to him, echoing the chirping of the first song. All seems well, but confidence soon ebbs away. The wayfarer cannot forget his pain, and we hear again the wedding dance-motive again amidst the birdsong.

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Bildungsroman Novels: The Literary Journey of Youth to Maturity

The bird too falls silent. What I love can never bloom for me! This moment, when the transience of all beauty and human joy is so poignantly expressed, was remarkably anticipated by the philosopher and scientist, G. Fechner in his Little Book of Life after Death. He writes:. But death is only a second birth into a freer existence, in which the spirit breaks through its slender covering… Then, all that reaches our present senses as mere exterior…will penetrate us fully and will be possessed by us in all its depth of reality. The spirit will no longer wander over mountain and field, surrounded by the delights of spring, only to mourn that it all seems exterior to him; but, transcending earthly limitations, he will feel new strength and joy in growing.

It is night again, but there can be no sleep, for the wayfarer has a metaphorical red-hot blade in his breast. The music employs fragments from the earlier songs, but these are made restless by displaced the accents and by the use of the minor key.


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The effect is disorientating. Visceral emotions are expressed by shrieks and sighs. Thereafter emerges an anxious stillness which heralds a vision. The wayfarer has always wanted more than a loving companion, for his beloved has represented his very soul. Like Werther, seeking perfect love has led him only to inevitable failure and suicidal despair.

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The red-hot knife is the symbol of that love betrayed, inflicting a wound that cannot be healed. He is a king with a wound that will not heal, and which symbolises his separation from Nature. The suffering individual now seems to speak for the whole Universe, as his pain resonates throughout the cosmos. It opens with a funeral march; its slow tread interrupted by hesitant pauses.

The wayfarer now regrets being drawn into life by the two blue eyes which had promised him the joys of love. They have been the cause of much anguish. The march reaches the key of C, over a bell-like bass. As the harmony vacillates obsessively between major and minor; the voice tracing a twisting, sighing plaint. It is as if the Wayfarer cannot decide whether to say yes or no to life, shifting between joy and sadness, hope and resignation.

Disillusioned with the ordinary world, the wayfarer goes out to the moor where he sinks into unconsciousness or even death. In the manner of Schubert, a lullaby provides the consoling presence of Mother Nature.

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

But listen carefully, and we can still hear that wedding dance motive woven serenely into the texture, as the wayfarer falls asleep under a linden tree. We know that this tree has not been randomly chosen. It symbolises a gateway to the eternal and the healing of wounds. It offers a once doomed love the chance to become for ever true. Yet, in the very last bars, the funereal tread reappears in the minor key; a doom-laden question-mark, reminding us that grief and separation await the wayfarer if he chooses to return to the waking world.

Mahler clearly intended there to be thematic and narrative links between the Wayfarer Songs and his First Symphony, but the final outcomes of these works could not be more different. Its characters display the kind of extreme impulses which we might associate with the young Mahler. While this appears to be a drastic expression of remorse for his previous shocking behaviour, it also shows that Roquairol cannot face those he has wronged, nor bear the shame of his moral failure. Auden calls him a "horrid little monster" xi and this harsh description is closer to the truth than the tragic hero Werther doubtless imagined himself to be.

He is the quintessential son of bourgeois privilege, a flaccid young man who has no knowledge of hardship or responsibility. Worse, Werther is a hypocrite.

He spends the bulk of the novel idling away his days in the countryside, thoughtlessly spending the money of his successful family even as he disparages the sobriety and hard work which produced it.