Multiple Dimensions in Performances of Mahler’s Symphonies (MMD) - Abstract

The present project applies new methods of musical performance research to the symphonic works of Gustav Mahler (1860–1911). In the preceding project PETAL (Performing, Experiencing and Theorizing Augmented Listening, 2017–2020), the research team developed a holistic methodology toward musical performance that combines music analysis, research of historical performance styles, computer-based analysis of recordings, and close observation of actual performance practice. Such a comprehensive method has not yet been applied to Mahler’s symphonies, which since more than one hundred years belong to the key repertoire of orchestras worldwide.

By further developing the PETAL methodology in the present research we aim to understand how differently Mahler’s symphonies have been conceived in earlier and recent performances. A focus on recorded performances is justified by the observation that the popularity and dissemination of Mahler’s music is closely intertwined with the expansion and dynamic changes of recording industries and techniques. We identify “guiding interpretative ideas” in writings on Mahler’s symphonies and demonstrate how individual musical performances have contributed to or modified these ideas throughout Mahler performance history.

The project integrates three major areas of research: (1) historically informed and perception-sensitive analysis, (2) quantitative measurements of duration, tempo, and dynamics in a large number of recordings, combined with a “close listening” that takes account of special features in individual performances, (3) consultation of scores annotated by conductors and performance materials used in live and recorded Mahler performances. Duration and tempo data from all catalogued recordings of Mahler’s symphonies are visualized in tables and diagrams, with the symphonies 2, 7, and 9 examined in detail. Generally, the impact of sounding performances against the background of their historical contexts is understood as a main dynamic in the history of Mahler interpretation and reception.

The main research data will be published in open access on Mahler Online, a web-based open access platform developed by the principal investigator (PI) with the International Gustav Mahler Society, the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OEAW), and the University of Innsbruck.

Christian Utz acts as PI of the project. He is joined by Thomas Glaser and Majid Motavasseli who both have previously worked with Utz in the PETAL project. External collaboration partners include Federico Celestini (Innsbruck), Seth Monahan (Yale), Anna Stoll Knecht and Sybille Werner (Paris), as well as Barbara Boisits (OEAW), Elaine Chew (CNRS - UMR9912/STMS Lab [IRCAM]), and Rémi Mignot (IRCAM Paris).