Queen's University

The Symphonies of Mahler [MUSC 475]

MUSC 475/3.0



MahlerGustav Mahler was one of the more fascinating classical composers and musicians in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. Renowned as a conductor during his lifetime, his career included holding positions as Music Director of the Vienna State Opera/Vienna Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera/New York Philharmonic. Jewish by birth, early in his career he converted to Catholicism to make it easier to gain promotion in Europe. Later his music was banned by Nazi Germany and was in many ways reclaimed by Leonard Bernstein who not only used Mahler’s own scores from the New York Philharmonic Library but reintroduced Mahler’s Symphonies to many European orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic. Mahler expanded the symphonic form in ways that influenced many subsequent composers.

This course will provide a broad overview of Mahler’s nine symphonies completed during his lifetime and the song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde. The course’s primary focus will be to gain an understanding of Mahler’s composition style and historical context as reflected in the music’s thematic content and development, harmonic language, formal structures, orchestration and specific external influences (poetry, religion, nature, etc.). 

LEARNING HOURS:    120 (12-L; 72-O; 36-P)

PREREQUISITE (Level three in a MUTH or MUSC Specialization Plan) and MUSC-293 or permission of the School.

PROFESSOR:   John Burge


There will be one weekly synchronous meeting time for in-person discussion and student presentations that has been scheduled for Mondays at 11:30 am to 12:50 pm (Kingston time).  Should this time zone prove difficult for some students, the class will be divided into two groups and a second session set-up on Monday evening. 

There is no textbook for this course but readings will be assigned as appropriate. Fortunately, the symphonies of Mahler are in public domain, and pdfs of these works will be posted on the course’s OnQ webpage.  

As some of these works are close to 90 minutes long, to gain an overall understanding of the music, it is strongly suggested that students first watch a suggested video performance of each assigned work and then complete a second listening while reading the score at the same time. To assess student engagement and comprehension during this review process, we will use the software program WeVu, which enables students to make comments while watching an online video recording, answer questions posed by the professor as well as posing and answering student questions.  

The software program Perusall will be used to enable the professor and students to provide similar types of comments or questions directly on the score. All of these activities can be completed by students asynchronously and will be assessed by the professor following a very straight forward rubric to satisfy 20% of the final grade. It is worth noting that in past versions of this course, students spent a great deal of time listening to these symphonies and memorizing their salient characteristics in preparation for a final exam that included a comprehensive listening test and selected pages for score identification and comment.  For remote delivery in Fall 2020 there will be no final exam.

Students will complete three well-structured assignments on movements taken from Symphonies 2, 4 and 6.  Each assignment is worth 20% of the final grade.  Help will be provided in completing these assignments during the weekly meeting.

The final component of the course is a student presentation from a suggested list of topics that are chosen/assigned in the first week of the course (students are also free to suggest their own topic for approval). Presentations are worth 5% of the final grade and will ideally take around 10-12 minutes with 3-5 minutes for questions graded by the professor. An expanded written version of the presentation (no more than 2000 words) must also be submitted during the last week of classes. While the papers will all be graded by the professor (equalling 10% of the final grade), students will be assigned 2 of their peers' papers to read and review anonymously during the examination period to gain the final 5% of the course, thereby increasing the depth of their knowledge of the course material. Each peer assessment will be marked by the professor out of 2.5, again following a rubric presented in advance.

Return to ALL CouRSES