34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2003
The symphonies of Gustav Mahler can be listened to on more than one level. As complex and forward-looking as they are, they nonetheless can connect at an elemental, “visceral” level for many listeners.
However, for a fuller appreciation of both the details and the profundity which are in these works, as well as for insight into Mahler’s creative processes, some outside help is required, and this help is usually not forthcoming from the liner or booklet notes that accompany recordings, or from the program notes that accompany performances. This is precisely where this excellent book by Constantin Floros fits in.
First, a few words on what this book is not, and does not purport to be. It is not a comparative discography of available performances; in fact, it neither lists nor recommends recordings. Second, it is not a critical biography of Mahler; the interested reader is referred to the outstanding (but much more expensive) volumes by Henry-Louis de la Grange, available elsewhere at Amazon.com. Third, it is not a psychological study of Mahler, relating, as such a study might, such connections between the man and the music; an excellent small volume by Theodor Adorno, “Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy” covers that territory very well, and is also available elsewhere at Amazon.com. Fourth, and finally, it is not a set of musical scores of the symphonies; those as well, published by Dover in inexpensive paperback editions, can be found at Amazon.com
So, just what is this Floros book? It is the perfect companion for the serious Mahlerite in understanding the genesis and the thematic, harmonic and interpretational details of each of Mahler’s ten symphonies, and the interrelationships and comparisons among them. It has just enough of the material covered in the references noted above, along with detailed analyses of the symphonies, for each of them to be better understood and placed in historical and musical context by the listener. Its greatest insight into these symphonies comes largely from Floros’ remarkable scholarship in tracking down all of the score notes that Mahler provided in his sketches, short scores and long scores, his correspondences with his wife, friends and interpreters, and their comments and observations as well. By piecing all of this research together, relying particularly heavily on Mahler’s own notes, Floros has come up with a near-definitive look into Mahler’s creative and interpretational processes (a term for such a look based on scholarship that Floros describes as “hermeneutics”).
The book’s publication date (1985 in the original German) means that it is the beneficiary of a series of events in the 1960’s that opened the door to greatly improved accuracy in the study of this complex man and his equally complex music. First was the passage into the public domain of much of Mahler’s own private writings, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Second was the agreement on the part of his widow, Alma Mahler-Werfel, to release other materials, particularly related to his unfinished 10th Symphony, for public scrutiny. Third was the availability of this material to the Englishman Deryck Cooke, and others, who provided performing versions of this final 10th Symphony so that the public at large could better judge the direction in which Mahler had been heading when his work was cut short by premature death. Floros pays great respect to, and provides excellent insight into, the work of Cooke in his (Floros’) plan to describe the full symphonic output of Mahler.
This book is very liberally annotated, with briefly-scored examples as reference marks for understanding the interrelationships among the various musical themes, as well as end notes for each symphony and a detailed bibliography for further reading. While it helps to be able to read these brief bars of music, even those who cannot will benefit immensely from Floros’ scholarship and fine, but nonetheless dense, writing in providing extramusical background and values for a better understanding of these remarkable symphonies which moves so many of us.
Without question, the single most valuable reference source for a fuller understanding of the Mahler symphonies. And a compact and inexpensive companion for the Mahlerite.