Mahler’s Programmatic Cadences Identifying Cadential Formulas to Reinforce Narrative

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Neal Warner


Extant physical evidence of Gustav Mahler’s programmatic nature suggests a possible observation of certain musical elements to ascertain narrative meaning. Prior analysis has focused on musical elements such as tonal structure (Agawu, 1986), form (Monahan, 2011), thematic development, excessive, unique, and spatial instrumentation (Peattie, 2011), and many others in order to uncover or decipher Mahler’s narrative.

One important compositional element that remains noticeably absent from these analyses is Mahler’s cadential formulas. While Mahler has been criticized for utilizing “straightforward” tonal cadences, a study observing the orchestration at cadential moments notes a more nuanced manner (Sheinbaum, 2005). I contend that Mahler’s choice of cadence parallels the importance of other musical elements in relation to program. I consider cadences to be a pre-meditated element of Mahler’s compositional style explicitly selected to highlight his programmatic concepts. This approach offers further possible insight for correlating subtle compositional elements and underlying narrative.  

This research complements the well-documented programmatic nature of Mahler’s compositions. Through Mahler’s small collection of written programs, private writings, correlations between events in his personal and professional life and the compositions created around those events, and even abstract ideas from scholars, many narrative programs have been argued. By analyzing specific cadential moments in both Mahler’s symphonic and vocal writing, I offer additional evidence to reinforce some of the previously suggested narratives of his works.

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Author Biography

Neal Warner, University of Arizona

Neal Warner is a Detroit born composer, arranger, producer, and music educator. His chamber works have been presented at the Charlotte New Music Festival, The Oregon Bach Festival at University of Oregon, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. His theatrical compositions have been produced exclusively through the Bonstelle and Hilberry theatres during his tenure as Music Director at Wayne State University in Detroit. Warner holds a Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music and a Master of Music in Composition and Theory from Wayne State University. He is currently pursuing a DMA in composition at the University of Arizona.