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Customer Review

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for every Classical music lover!, 20 April 2001
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This review is from: The Lives Of The Great Composers: Third Edition (Paperback)
This is the perfect introduction to the history of classical music, a fascinating and amusing mixture of biography, anecdote, musical analysis and social history. It gives a real insight into the development of the music, the alliances and rivalries between composers and the reaction of critics and the public to new compositions. The author writes with great authority but also with humour, a lightness of touch and a genuine enthusiasm for a vast range of music, coupled with a refreshing lack of bias in most cases - though the chapter on Mahler is an exception. I've owned a copy since 1985 and I can't remember how many times I've read it, either cover-to-cover, individual chapters or just dipping in from time to time. On Desert Island Discs, the castaway is allowed just one book (as well as the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare). This would be my book.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Oct 2008 16:06:22 BDT
JJA Kiefte says:
Lack of bias??? Not in the case of Mahler! Schonberg almost dismisses the great man out of hand as a hysterical nutcase, which is surely not the way other, more discerning musicologists would see this towering transitional figure.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Aug 2013 23:21:12 BDT
Last edited by the author on 30 Aug 2013 23:22:46 BDT
Peter Coats says:
You may have a point about Mahler but this book was originally written in 1970, when the reappraisal of Mahler's work and status had not yet reached full swing. As you say, he is now regrded as one of the greats but that was not the case for many years. That said, I still think Schonbreg gets the balance about right on Mahler. He doesn't dismiss him, it's just that he doesn't regard Mahler as the all-conquering Titan (forgive the pun) he is taken to be in current critical circles. That does not make Schonberg in any way an inferior musicologist and it may well be that Mahler's star will fall again, if audiences tire of his overwrought neuroses. To my mind, whilst he is clearly a major figure, and had a supreme mastery of the orchestra (albeit with a bit too much tinselly triangles and flashy brass for my liking) his music is self-indulgent and often way too long for the quality of the musical ideas. I enjoy some of his work and own several recordings but I would seriously question whether he really stands on a par in the musical pantheon with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and Stravinsky - in terms of his impact and influence. Only time will tell and at the end of the day it's all a matter of taste.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jun 2014 20:41:55 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Jun 2014 21:20:28 BDT
JJA Kiefte says:
There were, and there still are, critics who derided Rachmaninov and, certainly around the time Schonberg's book was conceived, thought that within a few years' time his music would all but disappear from the concert halls. Schonberg voiced quite a different opinion. He could have done so with Mahler, but he didn't because he just didn't like him and could barely hide the fact. Schonberg doesn't dismiss him? Of course he does, read page 515 ("When history puts .... hysterical").
In Holland, where I live, there has been a staunch Mahler following ever since Mahler's works were championed by Mengelberg and the RCO (early 20th century) and there has as yet been no sign of a falling-off in popular appreciation. Only last night did I attend, in a packed-to-capacity Concertgebouw, a whopping performance of Mahler's fourth. Contrary to popular belief, there were almost as many young(er) people in the audience as the grey-haired punters usually associated with classical music. If that's anything to go by, Mahler's appeal and place in music's hall of fame will be assured for some time to come, at least in this country. A matter of taste indeed.
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