Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
In the 1960s, Gustav Mahler's music received renewed interest in America. While certain champions of Mahler from this period, such as Leonard Bernstein and Bruno Walter, have attracted scholarly attention, other conductors have been largely overlooked, including Maurice Abravanel (1903–1993). During Abravanel's directorship of the Utah Symphony (1947–1979), he consistently programmed Mahler's music, making the orchestra the first American orchestra to record all of Mahler's symphonies. Although the concerts contributed meaningfully to Utah's musical life and some of the recordings were well-received by critics in and outside America, they remain marginalized in accounts of Mahler's music in America. To bridge this gap, the dissertation examines primary sources, including concert and record reviews, program notes, correspondence, and interview transcripts to present the history, reception, and influence of Abravanel's Mahler journey with the Utah Symphony. By examining the musical past of a Western city and considering musical and extramusical factors, this dissertation demonstrates that local and technological histories influenced musical decisions, all of which in turn played a role in the growth of the Utah Symphony and planted Mahler's music in the community.
The examination reveals that Abravanel's Mahler carried different meanings for different parties. The recordings, with low prices and superior sound, were recommended by critics and welcomed by audiophiles and music lovers. Abravanel's interpretations were commonly criticized as dispassionate, yet were embraced by those who did not prefer Bernstein's more involved, dramatic readings. Through the recordings of Mahler's music, the Utah Symphony gained national and international acclaim. In Salt Lake City, Mahler became a familiar name, and his music remains integral to the city's music culture. As of the completion of this dissertation, the Utah Symphony is nearing the end a two-season (2014–2016) Mahler cycle and has recorded two symphonies by Mahler under music director Thierry Fischer. The McKay Music Library of the University of Utah is digitizing Abravanel's Mahler scores and documenting memories about Abravanel's endeavors with the Austrian composer's music. The concerts, recordings, and efforts to preserve history again bring the collective memories of Abravanel's Mahler back to the community.
The ever-increasing popularity of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) has been largely attributed to conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and Bruno Walter, overshadowing other Mahler champions’ efforts. As the music director of the Utah Symphony between 1947 and 1979, Maurice Abravanel (1903–1993) consistently programmed Mahler’s music in subscription concerts and on tour. Under Abravanel’s direction the Utah Symphony was the first American orchestra to record all of Mahler symphonies. To understand Abravanel’s endeavors with Mahler’s music, this dissertation examines primary sources, including concert and record reviews, program notes, correspondence, and interview transcripts. By examining the musical past of a Western city and considering musical and extramusical factors, this dissertation demonstrates that local and technological histories influenced musical decisions, all of which in turn played a role in the growth of the Utah Symphony and planted Mahler’s music in the community. These documents show that Abravanel’s Mahler recordings provided cheaper options with good sound and competitive interpretations to the general public, thereby promoting Mahler’s music and elevating the Utah Symphony’s standing. All together, the conductor, the orchestra musicians, the record company (Vanguard Records), and the community’s musical resources helped turn Mahler into a local favorite, whose music is now integral to the city’s history.
publicabstract, Gustav Mahler, Maurice Abravanel, recordings, Utah Symphonny
Copyright 2016 Shih-Ni Prim