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Alma Mahler (1879–1964) grew up surrounded by artists in late nineteenth-century Vienna. Despite her musical training, demonstrated passion for music, and publication of several Lieder, Mahler’s identity as a composer has remained overshadowed by narratives surrounding her personal life and those of her husbands and lovers, not to mention the artistic work of her husbands and lovers. Increasingly, however, interest in Alma Mahler as a composer has been nurtured through creative engagement with that legacy, and frequently by women authors and artists. This dissertation explores the existing literature written by and related to Alma Mahler and identifies some approaches for reevaluating her legacy as a composer. Those writing about the life and legacy of Alma Mahler in the twenty-first century typically follow one of two established paths; that of the rational author writing the irrational female subject or that of creative, and frequently feminist, approaches to Mahler’s life and work. I propose a third path, one that acknowledges both of the aforementioned approaches, but that focuses on Mahler’s work instead of her words. By drawing attention to Mahler works—that is, her songs and the performance thereof—and considering how reception and recording of these songs has shifted over the past several decades, I am poised to assert that Mahler is a composer. The proliferation of diverging primary source materials surrounding her life and musical activities has prompted some to discount the narrative of Alma Mahler as a legitimate composer. This dissertation acknowledges the varied and often conflicting approaches to and perspectives on the idea of Alma Mahler as a composer and vi investigates how her music and its performance have been received in light of, and sometimes despite, her own writings. My work reconciles diverse facets of the composer by exploring her own words, the words of others, and, perhaps most importantly, her musical work in contemporary performance. It is my contention that by investigating Mahler through all of these frames, we can identify and contextualize the hidden but significant musical contributions of a young, female song composer in turn-of-the-century Vienna.


First Advisor: Kenneth Kreitner, PhD

This dissertation was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Music, Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, at The University of Memphis.

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