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BK

Monahan, Seth

Mahler´s Symphonic Sonatas

Why would Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), modernist titan and so-called prophet of the New Music, commit himself time and again to the venerable sonata-allegro form of Mozart and Beethoven? How could so gifted a symphonic storyteller be drawn to a framework that many have dismissed as antiquated and dramatically inert? Mahler´s Symphonic Sonatas offers a striking new take on this old dilemma. Indeed, it poses these questions seriously for the first time. Rather than downplaying Mahler´s sonata designs as distracting anachronisms or innocuous groundplans, author Seth Monahan argues that for much of his career, Mahler used the inner, goal-directed dynamics of sonata form as the basis for some of his most gripping symphonic stories. Laying bare the deeper narrative/processual grammar of Mahler´s evolving sonata corpus, Monahan pays particular attention to its recycling of large-scale rhetorical devices and its consistent linkage of tonal plot and affect. He then sets forth an interpretive framework that combines the visionary insights of Theodor W. Adorno-whose Mahler writings are examined here lucidly and at length-with elements of Hepokoski and Darcy´s renowned Sonata Theory. What emerges is a tensely dialectical image of Mahler´s sonata forms, one that hears the genre´s compulsion for tonal/rhetorical closure in full collision with the spontaneous narrative needs of the surrounding music and of the overarching symphonic totality. It is a practice that calls forth sonata form not as a rigid mold, but as a dynamic process-rich with historical resonances and subject to a vast range of complications, curtailments, and catastrophes. With its expert balance of riveting analytical narration and thoughtful methodological reflection, Mahler´s Symphonic Sonatas promises to be a landmark text of Mahler reception, and one that will reward scholars and students of the late-Romantic symphony for years to come.

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