Origins: Synagogue

Mahler's Origins: A "Sonic Goulash"

Mahler’s Jewish heritage gave him both specific musical sources and an ear for the outsider’s voice.
“Always an intruder, never welcomed…”
VIDEO:A Bohemian synagogue

As a boy, the songs and chants Mahler would have heard in the synagogue may well have influenced his predilection to use certain melancholic melodic shapes and bitter-sweet tonalities.

  • Listen to this nineteenth-century Bohemian setting of the Kaddish, an important Jewish prayer. It ends with the musical figure called the turn.

VIDEO:MTT on the fatalistic bass line in Mahler's First Symphony
  • Compare it with the brooding bass line that breaks the pastoral mood of the First Symphony’s introduction. Both extracts end with the musical figure known as the turn. Mahler uses the turn repeatedly here to intensify the phrase's brooding nature.

Mahler's Methods

VIDEO:MTT on Mahler's Jewish sources
Synagogue Gestures

The turn had a long and deep significance for Mahler that dates back to his earliest musical memories. In the synagogue, he would have heard the turn frequently as a ornament in the chanting of the Torah: for instance, in the cantillation called gershayim. He would probably have even sung it while reading the portion assigned to him for his bar mitzvah.

Related Examples