MAHLER by Jonathan Carr

MAHLER

A Biography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A useful reference tool, somewhat marred by the author's zeal to make everyone a Mahler maniac. Some biographers scribe the life of their subject and let the reader decide whether the subject was Satan or saint. Others can't resist luring the reader to their point of view. Carr, a former correspondent for the Financial Times and the Economist (Helmut Schmidt, 1985, etc.), falls in the latter category in a biography of Gustav Mahler (18601911) that openly tries to ``correct'' other histories of the famous composer/conductor. Of Mahler's oft-described ``reign of terror'' as conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic--he replaced about 80 instrumentalists, including more than 30 wind players, in his decade at the podium- -Carr notes, ``Mahler surely acted not from spite but from the highest artistic motives.'' Mahler's wife, Alma Schindler, meanwhile, is portrayed as a selfish, manipulative woman whose memoirs, long a primary basis on which history has judged Mahler, are according to Carr filled with errors and attempts to make herself look better. Using letters, diaries, and other materials not previously available in English, Carr repeatedly debunks Alma's claims about Mahler and their relationship. He quotes, for instance, her editing of Mahler's letters to her. A letter from Mahler that asked Alma to ``answer . . . if you are able to follow me'' was amended in Alma's memoirs to read ``answer . . . if you are willing to follow me.'' While Alma's apparent misperceptions are probably worthy of correction, the lack of objectivity by the author is so blatant at times, it makes the reader doubt other valid points he tries to make. The book, however, is not without interesting revelations. Carr's analyses of Mahler's symphonies, both in their relationships to one another and to his various philosophies, are unique and stimulating. Classical music aficionados either love Mahler or they don't. Those who read this biography will likely fall into similar camps. (35 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1998
ISBN: 0-87951-802-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997