Mahler and His Programs vis-à-vis Strauss


  • Joseph P. Jones The University of Southern Mississippi


Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, programmatic music, reception history, Symphony No. 3, Also sprach Zarathustra


Gustav Mahler had, by the late 1880s, achieved considerable prestige as a conductor, yet Richard Strauss’s early success as a composer of tone poems earned him wider fame and fortune. Around the time of Strauss’s triumphant premieres of Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung, Mahler was securing performances of his own programmatic orchestral works, the Symphonisches Gedicht in zwei Teilen and Todtenfeier. After disappointing results, he revised both, adding descriptive movement titles and other programmatic details, seemingly following Strauss’s lead. But further unsuccessful performances followed and Mahler grew wary of publicly sharing such descriptions of his works. The so-called ‘Munich Declaration’ of 1900 in which he denounced the programme seemed to react to this negative reception, which stood out in stark relief compared to the acclaim Strauss received.
Scholars have long reflected on Mahler’s comments on his programs, but the extent to which his adoption and subsequent rejection of such descriptions was influenced by Strauss has remained elusive. Viewing the early symphonies against the backdrop of works such as Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, this article illuminates how Mahler’s stance on the descriptive programme shifted. Later he was more concerned with comprehension and with setting himself apart from Strauss. But Mahler’s earlier approaches to his own programmatic compositions, including what he chose to share publicly, were clearly bound up with Strauss’s own creative output and suggest envy of his rival’s success and frustration with his own failures.




How to Cite

Jones, J. P. (2023). Mahler and His Programs vis-à-vis Strauss. Journal of Music Research Online, 13. Retrieved from