Myth, Metaphysics and Cosmic Drama: The Legacy of Faust in Lipiner’s Hippolytos and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony

Caroline Kita


Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, a setting of the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus and the final scene of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust II, is a composition surrounded by myth: from the story of the composer’s mystical inspiration in the summer of 1906 to the promotion of the work at its 1910 premiere as the “Sinfonie der Tausend” for its epic orchestration and cosmic vision. Yet Mahler’s interpretation of Goethe’s text, which he explained in letters to family and friends, suggest another source of inspiration: his friend and mentor, the poet Siegfried Lipiner. Lipiner’s critical writings on Faust, as well as his dramatic work Hippolytos (1898/1913), reveal the important role of Goethe’s text in Lipiner’s artistic and philosophical program for the spiritual renewal of society at this time. Tracing the intellectual friendship of Lipiner and Mahler during the conception of the Eighth Symphony, this study reveals that Mahler’s composition can be viewed as achieving the goal of “cosmic drama” to which Lipiner’s works aspired: the presentation of metaphysical ideals through myth and music. In revealing Mahler’s indebtedness to Lipiner’s Faust interpretation, this article sheds new light on the reception of Goethe’s work in fin-de-siècle German culture. (CK)

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