Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World

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9780375423819: Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World

Although Gustav Mahler was a famous conductor in Vienna and New York, the music that he wrote was condemned during his lifetime and for many years after his death in 1911. “Pages of dreary emptiness,” sniffed a leading American conductor. Yet today, almost one hundred years later, Mahler has displaced Beethoven as a box-office draw and exerts a unique influence on both popular music and film scores.
 
Mahler’s coming-of-age began with such 1960s phenomena as Leonard Bernstein’s boxed set of his symphonies and Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice, which used Mahler’s music in its sound track. But that was just the first in a series of waves that established Mahler not just as a great composer but also as an oracle with a personal message for every listener. There are now almost two thousand recordings of his music, which has become an irresistible launchpad for young maestros such as Gustavo Dudamel.
 
Why Mahler? Why does his music affect us in the way it does?
 
Norman Lebrecht, one of the world’s most widely read cultural commentators, has been wrestling obsessively with Mahler for half his life. Pacing out his every footstep from birthplace to grave, scrutinizing his manuscripts, talking to those who knew him, Lebrecht constructs a compelling new portrait of Mahler as a man who lived determinedly outside his own times. Mahler was—along with Picasso, Einstein, Freud, Kafka, and Joyce—a maker of our modern world.
 
“Mahler dealt with issues I could recognize,” writes Lebrecht, “with racism, workplace  chaos, social conflict, relationship breakdown, alienation, depression, and the limitations of medical knowledge.” Why Mahler? is a book that shows how music can change our lives.

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About the Author:

Norman Lebrecht has written several best-selling works of nonfiction, including The Maestro Myth and Who Killed Classical Music? He is also the award-winning author of the novels The Song of Names and The Game of Opposites. He writes regularly for Bloomberg.com and The Wall Street Journal, and he presents The Lebrecht Interview series on BBC Radio 3 and The Record Doctor on WNYC. He lives in London.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Vienna of Freud, Mahler, Mach, Wittgenstein, Schnitzler, Herzl, Trotsky, and the young Hitler forged the world we know today. It was a meeting point of individualism and collectivism, egotism and idealism, the erotic and the ascetic, the elevated and the debased. At its center whirled Gustav Mahler . . . The man and his music are central to our understanding of the course of civilization and the nature of human relationships.
 
Art that is both high and low, original and derived, breathtaking and banal, Mahler’s music resists textbook analysis. It is an open-ended mind game of intellectual and ironic discourse, a voyage of discovery that combines self-revelation, consolation, and renewal . . . Each symphony is a search engine for inner truths. To know Mahler is ultimately to know ourselves.

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Norman Lebrecht
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