Conference Talk—MTSNYS 2019: Signifiers of Transcendence in Moments of Durchbruch in Mahler Symphonies 1 and 2

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Description: Musical moments that evoke transcendence have been a key focus in analytical and historical studies of Mahler’s music. Indeed, the idea of Durchbruch – passages of “breakthrough” – has both intrigued and perplexed scholars in the last two decades (e.g., Darcy 2001; Kinderman 2006; Marvin 2009; Monahan 2011). Although the term is typically applied to highly emotional moments of music, the definitive features of Durchbruch passages (if any) have yet to be qualified. The current paper presents a musical analysis of Durchbruch passages. Additionally, the paper highlights how two recent psychological theories—the Supressed Fear Theory (Huron 2006) and the Hive-Switch Theory (Haidt 2012)—can be used to explain why Durchbruch compositional strategies give rise to feelings of transcendence. By refining the parameters that are necessary to be labeled as Durchbruch moments, I demonstrate that the Mahler Durchbruch passages are intimately related to the success or failure of the sonata form (i.e., Hepokoski & Darcy 2006; Marvin 2009; Monahan 2015) and connect extramusical ideas across movements of a symphony. Powerful moments of music may have structural features consistent with those that lead to musical transcendence, but they can only be considered to be moments of Durchbruch if they include repercussions for the movement as a whole.

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