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Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed the World [Hardcover]

Norman Lebrecht
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 July 2010

A century after his death, Gustav Mahler is the most important composer of modern times. Displacing Beethoven as a box-office draw, his music offers more than the usual listening satisfactions. Many believe it has the power to heal emotional wounds and ease the pain of death. Others struggle with the intellectual fascination of its contradictory meanings. Long, loud and seldom easy, his symphonies are used to accompany acts of mourning and Hollywood melodramas. Sometimes dismissed as death-obsessed, Mahler is more alive in the 21st century than ever before.

Why Mahler? Why does a Jewish musician from a land without a name capture the yearnings and anxieties of post-industrial society? Is it the music, it is the man, or is it the affinity we feel with his productive peak - a decade when Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Joyce and Mahler reconfigured the ways we understand life on earth?

In this highly original account of Mahler's life and work, Norman Lebrecht - renowned writer, critic and cultural commentator - explores the Mahler Effect, a phenomenon that reaches deep into unsuspecting lives, altering the self-perceptions of world leaders, finance chiefs and working musicians. Why Mahler? is a multi-layered exploration of the role that music plays as a soundtrack to our lives.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; First Edition edition (1 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571260780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571260782
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 14.4 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 441,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'This incisive account of the composer's life and work reveals the ways in which his music still permeates 21st century life.' -- The Times >> 'Why Mahler indeed? Because, argues Norman Lebrecht in this erudite, passionate study, his music has the power to transform human lives. Not every civilised person is susceptible to Mahler, Lebrecht acknowledges before writing so lyrically about Mahler s songs and symphonies that you want to rush out and buy the lot. The book brilliantly blends scholarship and personal reminiscence to justify its claim that Mahler is the most important composer of modern times.' -- Sunday Telegraph >> 'Part biography, part critical appreciation, part highly personal tribute, there's a degree of structural eccentricity to Why Mahler? that, like one of the legend's symphonies, keeps you on your toes ... Though gushing, even hyperbolic, at times, this is a book of enormous passion and persuasive power.' -- Editor's Choice, Classic FM magazine >> 'An accessible introduction as well as a heartfelt attempt to answer the question of Mahler's enduring appeal.' -- Sunday Times >> 'Norman Lebrecht's characteristically turbo-charged account of the Mahler phenomenon seeks answers to the question of precisely what it is about Mahler that so transfixes the modern psyche ... Weaving in personal reminiscence and anecdote, he creates a highly unconventional but richly detailed collage that draws deeply on his own experience as an editor, researcher and Jew. Indeed, some of the most valuable insights stem from Lebrecht's identification with Mahler's Jewish identity.' -- The Scotsman >> 'Why Mahler? ... sparked lively fury and debate - rare for a book on music.' --Observer

A fan text for Mahler fans.' -- Guardian >> 'A fascinating, passionate, fast-paced book.' -- --Irish Times

'Compelling book ... [Lebrecht] makes a forbidding subject seem approachable.' --Independent on Sunday --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A fascinating celebration of one of the most important classical composers, and one of the most enduringly popular.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 77 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Lebrecht? 25 July 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a huge fan of Mahler, I found some of the book of interest, but I'd find just about any book about Mahler of some interest and on the whole I have to say that I agree with the two reviewers who gave the book 1*. It was superficial throughout, and Lebrecht's name-dropping just plain irritating (sipping scotch with Lenny, climbed a hill with Klemperer's daughter, became close friends with Anna Mahler etc etc).

Lebrecht's punchline just about typifies the whole book. Speaking of Mahler: "He urges us to see the bigger picture, to listen to the unsaid. He continues the conversation. He makes critics of us all".

Why anyone thought this worth publishing is well beyond me. If you want to find out about Mahler, a great place to start is Stephen Johnson's excellent biography-plus-CD book from Naxos (which Lebrecht left out of his bibliography).

I watched an otherwise very good DVD "In Search of Beethoven" recently, and there was someone called Lebrecht on who said that Beethoven's 9th was flawed! Was it the same guy?
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103 of 113 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mahler according to Lebrecht 24 July 2010
By MartinP
Format:Hardcover
The previous one-star reviewer may have been very brief, but I can only agree, heartily. I've read many books on Mahler, and this is by a wide margin the most ridiculous and superfluous of them all. Did Mahler and his symphonies 'change the world'? Of course they didn't, and the closest Lebrecht comes to substantiating this silly claim is the observation that the Gorbatchovs were moved by a performance of the Fifth. The subtitle of this book gives a good idea of the overblown hyperbole with which it is filled. Lebrecht comes up with the weirdest notions about the symphonies in order to make them look relevant to our time: the First is about child death, he says, the Fourth about racism, the Sixth about war, the Seventh about impending ecological disaster. He offers only the skimpiest of underpinnings for these far flung ideas, if any at all. He also seems to forget that Mahler's symphonies don't need any such help.

It gets worse in the biographical section of the book, where the facts are decidedly subordinate to Lebrechts Big Idea about Mahler, i.e., that the composer was influenced to a very great extent by his jewish background. Let me quote one striking example of Lebrecht's method - and absurdity. It is a description of Mahler's and Alma's wedding. The groom, says Lebrecht (misreading Alma), when trying to kneel tripped over his prayer stool and fell flat on his face instead. The priest mocked him for it, gratified to see this little heathen duly floored. Why did Mahler really fall, wonders Lebrecht? He thinks he found the answer on a visit to the wedding location, the Karlskirche in Vienna. Over the high altar is the Hebrew tetragrammaton that symbolizes God. Mahler must have seen it, guesses Lebrecht.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mahler sold short 14 Aug 2010
Format:Hardcover
When a truly cheap mind comes up against a truly great one, as has happened here, the result is a book like this. Lebrecht is utterly defeated by his subject: the account of Mahler's life reads like a cheap Mills and Boon romance; the account of Mahler's music is cheap, being exemplified by the fact that Lebrecht lacks a clue as to the meaning of the Eighth symphony, which the composer quite rightly regarded as his greatest work; and even the choice of recordings is cheap, being full of clichés. The book abounds in factual errors, and for all its vaunted acquaintance with its subject it must be doubted that Lebrecht is really familiar with the music, his account of which often topples over into outright silliness. The only non-cheap thing about this book is its price, even on Amazon. If you want an insightful account of Mahler's life and art, spend your hard-earned cash elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars My Mahler: Me, Me, Me 25 Feb 2013
By Graham Mummery TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The "Mahler industry" has been one of the features of the classical music world since the second-half of twentieth century at least. From being a neglected composer, Love him or loathe him, Mahler is now mainstream, having influenced composers as diverse as Britten, Shostakovich, Boulez and Bernstein, who as a performer also played a major part in popularizing the the earlier musician's works. With this book Norman Lebrecht looks at the phenomenon.

It's interesting to note that there have been a number of works that interpret Mahler in more ways than musically. Examples include David Holbrook's Gustav Mahler and the Courage to Be as well as high powered (and to my mind overly intellectual) commentators such as Theodore Adorno in Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy. Lebrecht himself has written an interesting essay on the Mahler phenomenon in Mahler Remembered which he edited. The book contains a fascinating selection of memoirs of the composer as seen by his contemporaries. It is worth reading, as is Lebrecht's essay there which links Mahler to various twentieth century artistic and intellectual movements.

It's this that Lebrecht expands upon in the first part of the book, continuing into a wander round Mahler's life which is told in the present tense. The amount Lebrecht has read about Mahler is impressive, as is the number of recordings he appears to have listened to judge from a later chapter about interpretation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended
Faber and Faber is a distinguished publishing house, whose books are generally synonymous with excellence. Read more
Published 5 months ago by zhms
3.0 out of 5 stars Mahler and me...
As an introduction to Mahler, this book has its merits. Firstly it is a bit of a rattling, racy read. Read more
Published 8 months ago by os
1.0 out of 5 stars sheer narcissism
This is not a good book. It is far too much about the sensibility of the writer to tell us much that is interesting or useful about Mahler, and although (I assume) the writer is... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Stanley Crowe
5.0 out of 5 stars An idiosyncratic yet passionately insightful analysis of Mahler's life...
As relatively ignorant Mahlerian, I found this biography to be a hugely interesting, very personal, look at Mahler's life and work. Read more
Published 16 months ago by P. Donovan
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Mahler? A justifiable overstatement??
Outrageously opinionated and maybe a bit unfair on Alma. Easy to allow for in an author already known for his enthusiasms. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Truant
3.0 out of 5 stars Sells Mahler Short
I think that I learned more overall from reading the sleeves of countless Mahler recordings, though some parts of this book do set things into a nice context. Read more
Published on 7 May 2012 by Tintagel
5.0 out of 5 stars Lebrecht's Mahler, superb
The book gets to the soul of Mahler - his subconscious, his dark side, his terrors, his utter oneness with nature, inextricable with his music, utterly his own world printed out in... Read more
Published on 13 Jan 2012 by Michele Gentile
4.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic and deeply personal
An unusual biography that mixes an impressionistic, deeply personal response to Mahler and his music with the documentary record which has been provided by the composer's... Read more
Published on 22 Dec 2011 by Mondoro
5.0 out of 5 stars Preaching To The Converted
Why Mahler

First of all I need to declare an interest; I too am a Mahler obsessive. I love his music; it often moves me to tears and I am fascinated by the man and his... Read more
Published on 4 Oct 2011 by Gerald Cheshire
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting
after reading a few books related with mahler, this is quite interesting, discovering me a few things I did not know.
The rest it is his life.
Nice for new mahlerians
Published on 23 Aug 2011 by Pedro Maria Tapia Andres
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