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Inside Mahler's Second Symphony

A Listener's Guide

Lawrence F. Bernstein

Publication Date - 11 March 2022

ISBN: 9780197575642

320 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


This guide introduces concertgoers, serious listeners, and music students to Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony, one of the composer's most popular and most powerful works. It examines the symphony from several perspectives: Mahler's struggle to create what he called the New Symphony; his innovative approaches to traditional musical form; how he addressed the daunting challenges of writing music on a monumental scale; and how he dealt with the ineluctable force of Beethoven's symphonic precedent, especially that of the Ninth Symphony.

The central focus of Inside Mahler's Second Symphony is on the music itself: how it works, how it works its magic on the listener, how it translates the earnest existential concerns that motivate the symphony into powerful and highly expressive music. Beyond this, the book ushers the Listener's Guide into the digital age with 185 dedicated audio examples. They are brief, accessible, and arranged to flow from one to another to simulate how the symphony might be presented in a classroom discussion. Each movement is also presented uninterrupted, accompanied by light annotations to remind the reader of what they learned about the movement. Each musical event in the uninterrupted presentation is keyed to its location in the orchestral score to accommodate readers who may wish to refer to one.

An innovative combination of in-depth analysis and multimedia exploration, Inside Mahler's Second Symphony is a remarkable introduction to a masterpiece of the symphonic repertoire.


  • Offers a holistic presentation of Mahler's Second Symphony, which approaches the work from many vantage points besides its central focus on the music itself: the composer's biography, his avant-garde leanings, his use of musical quotation for symbolic purposes, and his personal eschatology
  • Features audio exemplification: 185 short examples, in addition to full movements
  • Taps into the rich font of experiential knowledge concertgoers bring to their encounters with music, using examples meant to prod this latent store of musical awareness and move it closer to the level of intellectual consciousness
  • Includes a glossary that explains technical terms clearly, avoiding cluttering the text with such explanations

About the Author(s)

Lawrence F. Bernstein is the Karen and Gary Rose Emeritus Term Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received several awards for distinguished teaching. He also taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, and Rutgers University, and at the University of Chicago. His specialty is Renaissance music, in which field he concentrated on the French chanson and on the music of Jean d'Ockeghem. He served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Musicological Society and as Founding Editor of AMS Studies in Music. Bernstein was a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation and of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009, he was elected an honorary member of the American Musicological Society.


"Readers can prepare for an enlightened appreciation of the whole symphony in performance." -- M. Dineen, CHOICE

"This book offers an intriguing, engaging and provocative account of a monumental masterpiece. At one and the same time, Bernstein has written a closely argued guide to the work, helpful to the first-time listener, and also a sophisticated and often unconventional interpretation that can inspire the scholar and connoisseur to reflect not only on Mahler, but on how music creates and conveys meaning and helps to fashion beliefs, faith and values. This is a novel and valuable contribution to our understanding of an icon within the symphonic repertoire." -- Leon Botstein, President, Bard College; Music Director, American Symphony Orchestra

"It is as if the author were looking over Mahler's shoulder while he composed his extraordinary second symphony. I have never read such an illuminating, so detailed, yet always accessible analysis of this universal masterwork on life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Bernstein is able to convey his profound love for the piece majestically, revealing the true meaning of the music while sharing its composer's most intimate creative process. He is indeed the ultimate guide who, with the use of many audio examples online, invites everyone on a fascinating journey, to climb Mahler's formidable mountain and see the primeval light at the summit." -- Stéphane Denève, Music Director, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Brussels Philharmonic

"Bernstein proves an authoritative and engaging guide through Mahler's epic work. His book will be of great value to any listener or performer seeking a deeper appreciation of this keystone of the symphonic repertory." -- Walter Frisch, Gumm/von Tilzer Professsor of Music, Columbia University

Table of Contents

    List of Figures and Tables
    List of Music Examples
    List of Audio Examples
    The Recording
    How to Use this Book

    Part One: Preliminaries
    Chapter 1 Setting the Stage for the Second Symphony

    Part Two: The Five Movements
    Chapter 2 First Movement: The Opening and a Two-part Exposition
    Chapter 3 First Movement: Development and Recapitulation
    Chapter 4 The Second Movement
    Chapter 5 A Song Serves as a Study for the Third Movement
    Chapter 6 The Third Movement: Scherzo and Trio
    Chapter 7 The Fourth Movement: "Urlicht"
    Chapter 8 How to Complete the Symphony
    Chapter 9 The Last Movement, Part 1: References to Judgment and the Airing of Themes
    Chapter 10 The Last Movement, Part 2: Judgment in Action, Musical Development, and Some Continuing Enigmas
    Chapter 11 The Last Movement, Part 3: Collapse, Climactic Resolution, a Stunning Reversal, and Celebration

    Appendix 1 The Formal Template for the First Movement: Sonata Form
    Appendix 2 Second-Movement Forms
    Appendix 3 The Origins, Character, and Form of the Scherzo
    Appendix 4 Complete Performances of Each Movement