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Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed the World Hardcover – 1 Jul 2010

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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: 14.3 x 2.9 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 453,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'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

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Miller on 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stanley Crowe on 24 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback
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 genuinely knowledgeable musically, there is no genuine musical analysis in the book. Instead it is a farrago of speculation by the author about Mahler's states of mind at various times in his life, details about facts of his life, comments on speculation by others about Mahler's states of mind, along with name-dropping ("Lenny" Bernstein and others) and the teasing-out of parallelisms between the author's life (and feelings, anxieties, etc.) and Mahler's. All of that, of course, is a way of letting the reader know that you're a hell of a guy -- really cultured, really sensitive, really, in fact, someone whose antennae are finely attuned to the spirit of not only Mahler's age but our own. In a word, it's narcissism. And as far as the substance of the book is concerned, it seems to take its cue from a reductive Freudianism -- so the events in Mahler's life that can be tagged "traumatic" are rather mechanically adduced as causative of the melodic or harmonic construction of parts of the musical works. As James Merrill said of that kind of music criticism, 'Lives of Great Composers make it sound/Too much like cooking: "Sore beset,/He put his heart's blood into that quintet." ' Too much like cooking, indeed.

The author makes great play early on about the extent to which Mahler's work is open to a great breadth of interpretive possibility. A Mahler symphony can "mean" one thing but just as readily mean the exact opposite, we're led to believe. That isn't remotely helpful (how is the exactness of the oppositeness measured??
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Graham Mummery TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 25 Feb. 2013
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 as well as Bernstein, who as performer also played a major part in popularizing the earlier musician's works. In 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 also 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 thesis 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 that he appears to have listened to judging from a later chapter about interpretation.
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104 of 114 people found the following review helpful By MartinP on 24 July 2010
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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