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‘Made in Germany’: Mahler, Identity and Musicological Imperialism

ByBarham Jeremy

If reports of Mahler's early childhood are accurate, at the age of about five or six he interrupted the chanting during one of his first visits to the synagogue in his home town of Iglau by singing his favourite song 'At se pinkl hazi'. A relatively small, but nevertheless significant, number of commentators – both Czech and non-Czech – have recognised this element in Mahler's music, and have provided examples either of Mahler's actual use of existing Bohemian-Moravian melodies or of his instrumental, textural or harmonic indebtedness to Czech folk idioms. After all, the notions of a culturally central superior Germany and of Czech-Bohemian art as a peripheral German subtype are relatively recent ones: Burney, for instance, described Bohemia as the 'conservatory of Europe'. Born on the eve of the imperialist epoch, Mahler experienced the great struggles of nationality between the German bourgeoisie in Austria and the strengthening Slav countries.