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Mahler: His Life, Work and World Paperback – 8 May 2000

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; New edition edition (8 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500281971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500281970
  • Product Dimensions: 25.5 x 18 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 80,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This paperback edition of the 1991 revised English translation of a 1976 indispensable "classic" is superior to virtually any combination of individual Mahler biographies that come to mind. I hope I'm able to explain why in this review, and to further explain how it is that a book on Mahler can be a "page turner."
The music of Gustav Mahler has been the centerpiece of my musical listening for virtually all of my adult life, in excess of 40 years now. It's fair to say that it started for me, as it did for others of my generation, with the recordings of Bruno Walter in the late '50's and Leonard Bernstein and others throughout the '60's. It's also fair to say that Mahler's music engenders intense personalization on the part of a listener who is drawn in, to the extent that there is a never-ending desire to know more about the man, his creative processes, his quite obvious contradictions, and the bipolar way in which his contemporaries, his critics, his musicians, and audiences and critics ever since his death, have characterized the man and the music.
I have yet to read a Mahler biography or critique that is not in one way or another colored by the thoughts and opinions of the biographer, starting with the first Mahler biography I read about 30 years ago, by his widow, Alma Werfel-Mahler. Each has had a "pitch," an agenda, which has left rather an incomplete, and often judgemental, picture of this complex human being. Perhaps, had I read all of them in an attempt to weigh matters in the balance, I would have been satisfied in having reached a reasonably accurate overview.
Kurt and Herta Blaukopf, in their "Mahler: His Life, Work & World," have done something quite different and remarkable.
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By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER on 1 Jun. 2009
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This is a life of Mahler presented through selections from the written testimony of people around him; diaries of friends, family and colleagues, newspaper articles, publishers memos and so on. I find, at the end of reading this, I have the feeling that I understand the character of the man, in a way that biography usually manages to fall short of. I had already formed a quite vivid impression of Mahler on the basis of listening to the music, and while I can say that reading this has not completely overturned that impression, it has certainly enriched it and has obliged some substantial corrections to my imagined picture. To understand Mahler just as the composer of music that straddled the gamut between the titanic and the sublimely otherworldly is to fail to see that, first and foremost, his life's work was as a conductor who fought a never ending crusade to raise musical performanceto the highest artistic level. We find that Mahler was a kind and generous man, fitting my hitherto saintly image of him, but only when 'off duty' so to speak, when no artistic principles were at stake. However, once 'at work' he became a force of nature, incapable of compromise, but who could be reasoned iwth, who was adored, feared or both, loved, hated or both by all those who came into professional contact with him. While there were times when he had doubts about the success of his mission he had absolutely no doubts about his own greatness, and with respect to his own compositions, fow which there was never enough time in his frantic schedule, Mahler knew from the start that it would be an uphill struggle to get his works across to what was, for the most part, a rather conservative Viennese public.Read more ›
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I have been reading Thomas Mann's 'Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer, Adrian Leverkuhn'. Mahler was one of the inspirations for this fascinating character and one can see why from reading this biography.

But this is a biography pieced together from documents - letters, newspaper articles, private publications, etc. And the Blaukopf's have cleverly assembled these to create a hopefully objective and revealing portrait of the great composer.

The Mahler you 'see' is therefore the one your own mind puts together from those facts. (Though, because of the 'Alma Problem', any material from this source is immediately suspect/tainted, and some of it as presented here is now proven incorrect/fanciful. But this all adds to the mystery.)

What struck me most forcefully - the personification of Mahler which formed in my head - was how he was like a 'daemon'. Pan. A force of Nature. Totally absorbed in the musical art. Unable to pretend. The descriptions of his temper tantrums are often quite amusing, and I found myself cheering on this 'Steppenwulf' character, so opposed to mediocrity, stupidity and falsity.

His compassion and sense of responsibility are there too. His underlying kindness and sensitivity. But Mahler just seems a man so far ahead of his times he is almost 'out' of his time.

Reading about his compositions within this book's framework has added a more poignant element to my listening appreciation of them. I saw just how much he battled to get them appreciated in any meaningful way.

The way Mahler's death approaches in the book, and the suffering he endured at the end, really upset me. The passing of such a great spirit. His essential vulnerability, and his steadfast endurance of what life presented him with, are clear within the text.
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