GUSTAV MAHLER by Henry-Louis de la Grange


Vienna: The Years of Challenge
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 Volume two of a contemporary monument in musical biography. More than twenty years ago de La Grange published the first volume (1973) of his life of composer/conductor Gustav Mahler. De La Grange proceeded through the first 40 years of Mahler's life, packed with creative work and emotional turmoil, on virtually a week-by-week (sometimes day-by-day) basis, claiming that the extraordinary length and detail of his book were necessitated by gaps in the written record occasioned by two world wars and the flux of national boundaries in Eastern Europe. The good news is that the second volume--which covers Mahler's legendary opera productions in Vienna, the anti-Semitism he battled against, his composition of the middle-period masterpieces, and his love affair with and marriage to Alma Schindler--is as good as, probably (by dint of the interest of its subject matter) better than, volume one. (The bad news is that this volume covers only the years between 1897 and 1904 in Vienna; volume three will complete the Vienna years, and volume four the New York years.) The approach is once again comprehensive. Thousands of letters, newspaper articles, and manuscript sources illuminate every corner of Mahler's life during the seven years in question. We are told the particulars of his favorite dessert and promised the recipe in an appendix to volume three. Nonetheless, such minutiae are not allowed to obscure the central fact that enabled Mahler to pursue his phenomenally challenging dual career as composer and conductor: his unshakable aesthetic. It is evident in every one of his many judgments and projects, extending from the largest compositional design to his informed rebuke of a tenor at the Vienna opera who was trying to worm out of singing Die Fledermaus on the grounds that light opera was ``beneath him.'' Against this artistic background, the complexity of Mahler's emotional life becomes easier to comprehend. A must-have for music libraries and all but the most superficial Mahler-ites.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-315159-6
Page count: 1100pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994