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The Mahler Companion.

The Mahler Companion. Edited by Donald Mitchell and Andrew Nicholson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. [xviii, 633 p. ISBN 0-19-816376- 2. $75.]

The long-awaited Mahler Companion is finally in print, and it was certainly worth the wait. With contributions by nineteen authors (almost all recognized Mahler specialists), it consists of an introduction and twenty-eight chapters, the last of which--a very interesting memoir of Anna Mahler, the composer's daughter--serves as an epilogue. Fifteen chapters are devoted to Mahler's compositions, mostly one per chapter; the earliest completed works and the First Symphony are treated together by John Williamson. A further ten chapters cover Mahler's activity or posthumous influence in various places: Vienna (Leon Botstein), Germany (Morten Solvik), France (Henry-Louis de La Grange), Holland (Eveline Nikkels), Prague (Donald Mitchell), America (Edward R. Reilly), Russia (Inna Barsova), Japan (Kenji Aoyagi), England (Mitchell), and London during Mahler's 1892 visit (Andrew Nicholson); the inclusion of Japan seems tenuous, as it is the only one of these places that Mahler never visited. Of these contributions, Bots tein's is particularly excellent, providing as it does a rich overview of fin de siecle Viennese politics and civic culture, demographics, aesthetics, and cultural politics. The remaining two chapters are Gerard Pesson's largely incomprehensible discussion of Mahler and Claude Debussy, and Wilfrid Mellers's valuable examination of Mahler's place in the history of composition in relation to his predecessors and successors, including Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Benjamin Britten, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Charles Ives. Also included in these chapters is the first publication (in facsimile, transcription, and translation) of two Mahler letters: one, of early August 1910 to Emil Herzkta, addresses the dedication of the Eighth Symphony to Alma and has been known to scholars; the other, however, of early November 1907 to Earl Kohler, the proprietor of a St. Petersburg concert agency, was discovered by Inna Barsova and completely unknown up to now. It deals with the preparation of parts for the second rehearsal of the Fifth Symphony before its St. Petersburg premiere on 9 November 1907.

The editors have not imposed consistency of treatment on their authors. As a result, the chapters on the symphonies, for example, are all quite different. Mitchell (Fourth and Fifth), David Matthews (Sixth), Peter Revers (Seventh), and Stephen Hefling (Das Lied von der Erde and Ninth) are very analytical, while Peter Franklin (Third) spends a lot of time on the cultural and philosophical context, and Reilly (Second) and Colin Matthews (Tenth) each include an extensive discussion of the sources for the works as well as their compositional process. Williamson's account of the early works (especially Das klagende Lied and the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) and the First Symphony usefully highlights the strong connections between these pieces; I did miss a more in-depth treatment of the First Symphony on its own. It also seems odd not to have a fuller consideration of Hans Rott, given what Williamson terms his "extensive influence on the later Mahler" (p. 42). In view of the strong emphasis on analysis, the Co mpanion really needs to be read with the scores in hand for most chapters, even though Oxford University Press has been very generous in allowing a large number of music examples. (The two copies that I examined were both missing music example 13.8(e) on p. 362; apart from that, the volume seems quite error free.)

One theme that weaves its way through the early chapters is that of Mahler's uneasy relationship with printed programs for his Wunderhorn symphonies. Reilly, Franklin, and Mitchell all tackle this issue. Franklin compellingly argues for a "tension between Mahler's behavior in the public as opposed to the private sphere" (p. 172) in this regard, and Mitchell expands upon Theodor Adorno's telling observation that the more-absolute Fourth has "swallow[ed] the programme" (p. 187). On this topic, however, more consideration of the First would have been helpful, given its conflicted history. It was first performed in 1889 as a two-part symphonic poem without any program; Mahler later devised a detailed program for its 1893 and 1894 performances, but then withdrew it before the work's next performance in 1896.

Of the chapters devoted to the works themselves, only Paul Hamburger's treatment of Mahler and Des Knaben Wunderhorn seems Out of place. Largely written from his viewpoint as a practical musician, it is not without its insights, but it does not demonstrate the same scholarly rigor characteristic of the rest of the volume. For example, Hamburger mistakenly suggests that all ten of the later Wunderhorn songs were originally called Humoresken (p. 71), when in fact it was only the four composed in 1892 (plus "Das himmlische Leben," later used as the last movement of the Fourth) that Mahler briefly referred to by this name. Also, Hamburger oddly seems not to have examined the 1993 critical edition of the piano version of these songs (Samtliche Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe [Vienna: Internationale Gustav Mahler Gesellachaft, 1960-], 13:2b), preferring instead to rely on Mitchell's description of their manuscripts in his Gustav Mahler: The Wunderhorn Years (London: Faber, 1975).

It is often the nature of a review to dwell on what is wrong with, or missing from, a volume. Happily, there is not too much more to be said in that regard about The Mahler Companion. Instead, I will highlight several particularly substantial contributions. Reilly's chapter on the Second Symphony could serve as a model for integrating the analysis, source study, and performance history of a work. His discussion of Mahler's programs has already been mentioned; it is noteworthy that he regards Hefling's connection of Todtenfeier (the original version of the first movement) with Adam Mickiewicz's dramatic poem Dziady (in Siegfried Lipiner's translation) as "al most entirely speculative" (p. 93; the reference is to Hefling, "Mahler's 'Todtenfeier' and the Problem of Program Music," 19th-Century Music 12 [1988]: 27-53). Hefling's considerations of the Ruckert songs, Das Lied von der Erde, and the Ninth Symphony are typically insightful, as is David Matthew's strikingly original interpretation of the "Purgatorio" movement of the unfinished Tenth. This he connects not to Dante, as has been generally assumed, but to Lipiner's 1880 book of poems, Buch der Freude, which Mahler reread during the last years of his life (p. 509). He suggests that some lines of Lipiner's poetry were written on the now-missing bottom half of the manuscript title page of the movement, which Alma may have removed and destroyed because they were too personally connected to the Mahlers' 1910 marital crisis. (Matthews proposes that they were either the complete twelfth poem ["Ich kann dir nicht in's Auge seh'n"] or a stanza from the first one ["Die Holle lieben: kannst du Das versteh'n?"].)

But it is Mitchell's many contributions that form the heart of the volume--particularly the three-chapter, 138-page discussion of Mahler's 1901-2 change of style. This indefatigable scholar has essentially given us one of the missing middle books of his Mahler series, written in his inimitable, invaluable, and chockablock-full style. He sees the Fourth Symphony as negotiating the twin rubrics of Experience and Innocence, and, with reference to Kinder-totenlieder and the last two Wunderhorn songs, he examines what he calls Mahler's "Kammermusikton," the new, chamber-music-like textures found in Mahler's middle- and late-period works. In Mitchell's estimation, Mahler's stylistic transition takes place within the score of the Fifth Symphony itself: we move from the "Der Tamboursg' sell"-influenced first movement (and hence from the Wunderhorn world) to the Ruckert-like Adagietto (and, by extension, to Mahler's "Kammermusikton"). Both movements are closely connected to the following movements, and form, respecti vely, parts 1 and 3 of the symphony. Drawing on Willem Mengelberg's handwritten annotations to his score of the Fifth, Mitchell thus argues that the Adagietto be seen as a song without words, and he uses aspects of its orchestration to connect it with Mahler's new style; along the way, he disputes the relationship usually seen between the Adagietto and the Ruckert setting "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen." Mitchell also notes the odd chronological paradox that the orchestration of the Fifth Symphony should have caused Mahler such difficulty when he had just created the new and perfect textures of the Ruckert settings.

In short, then, an essential acquisition for all libraries and lovers of Mahler's music.
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Title Annotation:Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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