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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Mahler: His Life, Work and World
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on 2 March 2014
I'm finding this book to be a very addictive read. It's not strictly a biography, although almost functions as one; it's a collection of correspondences, articles and interviews in more-or-less chronological order from Mahler's lifetime. It presents first-hand accounts of Mahler's life and times, rather than an author's interpretation.

Reading these accounts written from the 1860s through the early 1900s gives a real sense of what the times were like for Mahler; we read in his own words (translated to English, of course) of his jubilations and his frustrations. The book features some poignant articles from the anti-Semitic press and the influence of the Christian Socialist Party which were sad indications of the nastiness that was to grow over the following decades.

Read while listening to a Mahler symphony (the RCO Live collection is to be recommended!).
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 June 2009
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. Numerous other, more minor, aspects of Mahler's character are bought to light in the book, such that he was a very fine pianist in his earlier years. We sees his close relationships with other composers, particularly Strauss, and other conductors, for instance Bruno Walter, of his own generation. My heart again goes out to Alma who walked knowingly into a marriage on terms that no modern woman would dream of accepting. Though the way she talks about her children is quite chilling, and one would like very much to know whether this was a trait of Alma's, or just the fashion for child-rearing among the Viennese bourgeousie of that era.

This book has no musicological content and does not provide musical examples. It is entirely a work of biography realised through anecdote. Those seeking analysis of the works should look elsewhere. A book for any Mahlerphile then, but one, I would suggest, to be reserved until after a reasonable acquaintence with the works has been made.
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on 3 February 2016
I'm only partly through ,but am finding it very enligtening
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on 7 July 2004
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. As a result of reviewing what must have been millions of words by and about the man and his music, incorporating the most up-to-date research on the availability of these materials, and selecting and incorporating those pieces that illuminate the man, his music, his life, and the times in which he lived, a gripping yet balanced portrait of Mahler, from birth to the first posthumous performance of his "Das Lied von der Erde," conducted by Bruno Walter on November 20, 1911 (six months after his death).
Along the way, we follow him through success and failure, appointments gained and appointments lost or surrendered, works that came relatively easily and works that resulted only from Herculean struggle, through his own words and the words of friends, associates, subordinates, superiors, acquaintances, rivals, and critics (who, it is clear to see from the selections chosen for this volume, were clearly on one side or the other in the matter of the worth of his music). In several instances, the juxtaposition of critical reviews by admirers and detractors, published the same day but in different papers, lead one to ask "Were these two critics at the same concert?"
The pages literally fly by. When, in the last year of his life he experienced his greatest triumph (the first performances of hs Eighth Symphony) in the face of mortality, the narrative becomes absolutley gripping, despite its being comprised of nothing more than what is in the written record. The last dozen or so entries are simply heartbreaking in their poignance as the end approaches, a fellow composer places a valuation on his estate as testator, and, six months after Mahler's death, Anton von Webern corresponds to Alban Berg about the text to the final poem in "Das Lied von der Erde" and how, in planning for the two of them to travel to Munich to hear this as-yet-unplayed music, in the premiere conducted by Walter, he knows that they will "...expect to hear the most wonderful music that there is. Something of such magnificence as has never yet existed." And of course Webern was absolutely correct in his assessment.
The Blaukopfs note in their Preface that "The biographer who seeks to portray an artist is unable to resist colouring the picture with his own ideas. Documentation, on the other hand, is more disciplined: it provides the reader with the factual components of Mahler's life and identifies their sources. Each individual can then fit these pieces together to form their own Mahler portrait." At barely 250 pages, this book is a treasure for the Mahlerite. It could have been twice or three times as long and still have been the page-turner that the Blaukopfs have created from the private papers and public records of Gustav Mahler.
Every Mahlerite should have this volume in his or her collection.
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2009
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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on 30 November 2012
This is a stunning piece of scholarship. It's a biography by reportage. It brings Mahler to life - his selfishness as well as his immense talent and drive. It's readable and moving as well.
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