Source: The Complete Classical Music Guide (2012). General Editor: John Burrows OBE HonRCM, edited with Charles Wiffen. p. 152 Bottom Right.


Apart from lost student chamber works, Mahler’s output is virtually all symphony and vocal; although an outstanding opera conductor, he completed none of the three he started. His style is late-Romantic, but he expanded the orchestra in both sound and size (his Symphony No. 8 requires 1,000 participants). However, what really distinguishes a Mahler symphony is more theatrical: the feeling of many voices at work and a sequence of events. There is often an atmosphere of tension and fin-de-siècle angst contrasted with love and joy; Mahler consulted with Freud, and a strong psychoanalytical—some say self-pitying— aspect runs through much of his music. Sarcasm, parody, and irony abound in Mahler’s mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, which may explain the popularity of his symphonies in the “knowing” era of the late 20th century.

I read Wikipedia on fin-de-siècle, but about what was Mahler angsty?

2 Answers 2


The quote doesn't convey that Mahler himself was unusually angsty. Rather, angst was a typical expression of of the fin-de-siècle mood, a feeling of listlessness, apathy, impatience, overdevelopment, and degeneration that attended the end of the 19th century. People were tired of the old century, and ready for a new one to begin, and like high school seniors impatient to leave for college, they felt a mixture of nostalgia and frustration.

The writer is suggesting that the harmonic tension in Mahler's polyvalent orchestrations mirrors the dominant fin-de-siècle mood of his time and place.


It seems clear to je that Mahler suffered a continuing, if not continuous terror of death, which he tried to counter,nin particular by a belief in a resurrection to eternal life, most powerfully expressed in the closing movement of his symphony number 2, The Resurrection.

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