chapter  6
13 Pages

Mahler’s Military Gesture: Musical Quotation as Proto-Topic

WithRaymond Monelle

Gustav Mahler’s singular movement seems to illustrate two topics, the pastoral and the military. Actual quotations of military signals –or of hunting calls, folksongs, bagpipe tunes–while they may be chosen for topical reasons, are poor examples of topical signifiers. A more detailed survey of the military topic will help to demonstrate the complexity of topical signification. The military nobility of the Age of Reason was ‘brought up on fireside tales of heroic deeds’. The military reference is a literal quotation. Literal quotations, it would seem, are only proto-topics. They are chosen because of their topical reference, though they remain intrusions. Since the topical reference in music must evoke something other than the natural suggestion of the signifier itself, the least effective topical gesture is the exact quotation. The era of Baroque and Classical music, however, coincided with a universal reaction against all of this.