Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis defends the legitimacy of expressive interpretations of music 1 by proposing how critics might reconcile a work's expressive, or extramusical inferences 2 , with its autonomous or purely musical substance. It focuses on the music of Gustav Mahler, whose resurgence in popularity in the 1960s owed a great deal to his music's richness in extramusical associations. As one critic observed: "The magnitude and intensity of reactions to Mahler suggests that more is involved than purely musical or aesthetic appreciation."3
Amidst this century's skepticism towards matters of expression in music, there has been a tendency to regard a work's extramusical inferences as entirely arbitrary. Rather than examining the musical elements which may have given rise to these inferences, critics have often dismissed them as musically inconsequential. This thesis counters that many of the non-musical inferences that are drawn from Mahler's music actually underscore purely musical properties; hence, expressive interpretations may be regarded as a complementary, not competing method of musical understanding.
1 Which may be defmed as critical discussions of works which draw comparisons between music and various non-musical phenomena such as ideas, emotions, objects and events.
2 Both expressive inferences and extramusical inferences may be defmed as nonmusical information which is achieved through expressive interpretations.
3 Eva Hoffman. "Mahler for Moderns". Commentary 59 (June 1975), 52.
Wreford, Kathleen, "A Critical Examination of Expressive Content in Mahler's Ninth Symphony" (1992). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 6503.
McMaster University Library