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Gustav Mahler: Recuerdos y cartas by Alma…

Gustav Mahler: Recuerdos y cartas (edition 1983)

by Alma Maria Schindler Werfel

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793152,477 (4.1)4
Title:Gustav Mahler: Recuerdos y cartas
Authors:Alma Maria Schindler Werfel
Info:Madrid : Taurus , 1983
Collections:Your library
Tags:Historia de la musica

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Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters by Alma Mahler



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Alma Mahler has a fair claim to have been even more of a larger-than-life figure than her first husband, but in this memoir she seems to be doing her best to tone herself down a bit and come across as the devoted little woman. It doesn't quite convince us, of course, and it's not meant to. We’re supposed to understand that she could have been a great musician herself, had she not sacrificed her career before it even started: “Ich habe, was ich an produktiven Gaben besaß, in andern großen Hirnen ausleben dürfen.”

This memoir mostly covers their ten years of married life, from 1901-1911. There are only a few brief notes of Mahler’s life before the time they met. But, of course, if you wanted a detailed, reliable biography you wouldn't be reading this: its interest should come from Alma’s unique opportunity to get close to Mahler as a person. Which unfortunately isn't something she really manages to tell us much about. There's a lot about his ailments, his unworldliness and his absent-minded tendency to inconvenience others (like the unfortunate cook who had to carry the breakfast things up a steep and slippery path to his composing hut because Mahler couldn't bear to meet anyone in the early morning). But there's not very much about the intellectual life that informed his composing work. He was obviously a very private person where that aspect of his life was concerned. For all Alma’s claims to have been his creative helpmeet, it looks as though he kept her and everyone else firmly out of earshot when he was at work. At those times her job was to keep him free from disturbance by noise or visitors; only once the work was safely sketched out on paper could she do her bit as copyist and editor. (In fairness to her, she must have been very good at giving him a secure environment in which he could be creative: the years of their marriage were by far the most productive of Mahler's life.)

Alma's account is most fun to read when she's talking about their circle of artistic friends and the backstabbing of Vienna (and later New York) cultural life. Some of her vitriolic little sketches are very entertaining: Pauline and Richard Strauss in particular get a hard time. She is a dim-witted Hausfrau who interrupts sophisticated debates about late Beethoven with silly questions about hairdressers (she was actually a distinguished singer, but Alma never mentions that), he a boor who only thinks about money, and they both talk with uncouth Bavarian accents. Other biographers confirm Strauss’s assertion that Alma made up most of the stories she tells about them, but given that she is writing in the thirties, when Mahler’s music was banned in Germany whilst Strauss was hand in glove with the Nazis, her animosity is understandable. The singer Anna von Mildenburg (referred to as “M.”) also, predictably, gets a hard time. She and Mahler had been lovers in Hamburg before Alma came on the scene, but Alma depicts her as a deluded stalker.

In the big scenes where you might expect her to go over the top and milk it for all it's worth, Alma is actually surprisingly restrained. Her account of the death of their daughter is sober and very moving, whilst her description of Mahler’s final illness and death even has a few little touches of wry humour in it. If there is a weakness in the construction of the book, it is her inability to resist the urge to foreshadow. When we’re heading for a catastrophe, she inevitably gives us a kind of countdown as we get nearer. But she's by no means the only biographer to be guilty of that particular sin...

Entertaining, and definitely worth taking the trouble to read if you care for Mahler’s music. But you may well want to read a more balanced biography as well. ( )
  thorold | Apr 22, 2013 |
I found this book fascinating. I don't even like Mahler, and only read this book because I happened to find it in my bookshelf, and I usually find biographies of musicians interesting. Surely nobody knew Mahler better than his wife, and this is a wonderful book. ( )
  dorotheabaker | Dec 11, 2012 |
Written by the wife of the late Romantic composer giving an account of their day-to-day life during the last years of the Hapsburg Empire. She was in her own right a composer, pianist and poetess who was forbidden to compose by her husband although her contribution to his art was enormous.
  antimuzak | Nov 16, 2005 |
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