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Feder, S. (1980). Gustav Mahler Um Mitternacht. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 7:11-25.

(1980). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 7:11-25

Gustav Mahler Um Mitternacht

Stuart Feder


This study is chiefly devoted to a single orchestral song, Um Mitternacht, written by the

composer, Gustav Mahler, in his 41st year, to a text by Friedrich Rückert. It is subjected to analysis musically and psychoanalytically in its biographical context. An attempt is made to render technical, musical detail as experienced primarily in the auditory sphere of perception to the kind of psychobiographical interpretation usually reserved for literature and the graphic (visual) arts. There is also some interpretation of a manuscript score. Another song, Der Tamboursg'sell, written at the same time and comparable in several ways, receives similar although less detailed treatment.

Mahler set Um Mitternacht to music during a productive summer following a life-threatening illness and subsequent surgery. In its realization are reflected elements of past memory and conflict, the current concerns of his middle-life, and anxieties for the future, in particular the imminent threat of death. This is revealed in part by his preoccupation with time in all its aspects. An attempt is made to reconstruct certain psychological trends including elements from childhood. Although his treatment of Um Mitternacht appears to suggest a turning to the eternal safety of religion, the latter is viewed as only a way-station to another sort of deathlessness, the common immortality of parenthood.

Thus, this study attempts to reveal Mahler's mental state during the month prior to his meeting his wife, Alma, and his solution to the trials of middle-life in seeking fatherhood and marriage. The possible functions of musical composition in the composer's psychic economy are also briefly considered.

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