26 December 2010

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

This is a non-fiction book about the great composer, Gustav Mahler, written by Norman Lebrecht. When I read somewhere that the music of Mahler was performed more often than Beethoven, I had to find out more about this man, and this seemed as good a place as any to begin.

Mahler was born in 1860 and died in 1911, and was a conductor as well as composing music. This book covers Mahler's personal life and music, much of which is very interesting. However; the reader quickly learns that Lebrecht himself has spent countless years researching anything to do with Mahler, almost to the point of obsession. The author can't resist including his own personal anecdotes here and there, which often disrupt the flow of the text. I often found myself confused, wondering if this particular anecdote was about Mahler or about the author. This appeared quite self-serving, and these segments should have been edited more clearly, or incorporated in some other way.

It was interesting to read about the times in which Mahler was composing, and how his music was received by others. He was liberal in his instructions to other conductors performing his music, so much so, that some performances of a particular symphony could vary by as much as 20 minutes, depending on Mahler's mood, or the interpretation of the conductor. Fascinating stuff! Mahler was one of the most accomplished conductors in his time, and was in constant demand, working long hours. According to Lebrecht, Mahler was a perfectionist when it came to the skill of those musicians in his orchestra and would often dismiss musicians who didn't meet his high standards.

According to Lebrecht, Mahler's music influenced many people, including those in important roles within society. (Lebrecht includes a few examples in his book). He claims Mahler was an important influence for musicians that followed, no doubt true. But did Mahler change the world? I don't think so, at least not to the extent the author has claimed.

Recommended for those interested in learning a little about Mahler, although you may find a better reference than this book.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

No comments: