The question is well put by a recent convert – to Mahler, that is, not to Judaism.
Here’s Barton Swain’s argument:
I wonder the degree to which Mahler had internalized this Judaic aesthetic, if that’s not an unduly literary way to put it. Many of the Hebrew Bible’s histories read this way: An untidy series of mistakes and betrayals and partial gains leads in time to fulfillment and rest. We know that as a child Gustav was an “excellent” student in Judaic studies, and many scholars have pointed out the Jewish influences apparent in his works, especially the Second Symphony, “Resurrection.” The analogy of his music to the life of Joseph is probably a fanciful one, but it is not preposterous.
Mahler’s achievement, if I’m right, was to translate the things that make human life by turns fulfilling and painful, elegant and stupid—the tawdriness, the chaos, the dignity and comedy and splendor—into exquisitely beautiful works of art. They are overpowering and outrageous in their scope, but beautiful all the same. Six months ago I didn’t see the point of Mahler’s music. Now, as I write, I hear the jokey pulsations and majestic horn trills of the Ninth’s second movement in my head, and it’s hard to see the point of anybody else’s.
Read the full conversion article here.
You can learn more about Mahler and his Jewishness by reading…