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College Music Symposium

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songs, gender, feminist analysis, text settings, Alma Mahler, Alexander Zemlinsky


The appropriation of musical climax as an act of subversion became a common claim in feminist analysis of music by women composers. The focus on the tension and release in Western classical music has been called out as overtly masculine and even violent. This article investigates claims that perceived differences in Alma Mahler’s musical climax are gendered and subversive. To do so, it identifies where the climaxes fall in Alma Mahler’s published songs, considers the musical climaxes in relation to textual climaxes, and compares these to the climaxes in the contemporaneous work of her composition teacher Alexander Zemlinsky. It argues that normalizing forces of genre, canon, and tradition are evident in Mahler’s Lieder and that divergences from these norms are expressive rather than subversive.


This open access article was first published in College Music Symposium 63, no. 1 (2023). Available at



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