Discovering Mahler: Writings On Mahler 1955-2005.
Described by the publisher as "the fourth and final volume of Donald Mitchell's unique studies of Mahler and his music," Discovering Mahler would seem to belong lo the biographic ally oriented volumes that the author has published to date, namely Gustav Mahler: The Early Years (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958; subsequently revised, with the latest edition dating from 2003); Gustav Mahler: The Wunderhorn Years (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975; and revised several times, with the latest edition dating from 2005); and Gustav Mahler: Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, rev. ed. 2002). Since the first two volumes take up Mahler's music through the composition of the Fourth Symphony, and the author discusses at length the settings of poetry by Friedrich Ruckert, the Eighth Symphony, and Das Lied von der Erde in the third, the expectation exists for a fourth volume devoted to the three instrumental symphonies in order to complete the kind of seeming gap that exists among the published volumes. This is not the case and, thus, the subtitle of Discovering Mahler reflects the nature of the volume more accurately, since it is a collection of various articles and short pieces about Mahler that Mitchell wrote during the half century between 1955 and 2005 and, in this sense resembles the author's Cradles of t he New: Writings on Music 1951-1991 (London: Faber and Faber, 1995). The latter volume intersects Discovering Mahler through the inclusion of three articles on Mahler ("Mahler and Nature: Landscape into Music," "Mahler's Hungarian Glissando," and "Mahler's Abschied: A Wrong Note Righted") that are also found in the present collection. Apparently, no other full-length study is planned since, as Mitchell states in the "Abschied" that prefaces this book it will be his last published volume about Mahler's music, and in it he claims to have nothing more to say on the subject.
Some of the articles are reprinted from recent publications, like The Mahler Companion, ed. by Donald Mitchell and Andrew Nicholson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) and Mahler Studies, ed. by Stephen E. Helling (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997) and, as such, may already be familiar. Yet the publication in Discovering Mahler of Mitchell's contribution to the 1980 edition of The. New Grove Dictionary- of Musk and Musicians should be lead with bibliographic caution, since both this article and its published revision have been superseded by Peter Franklin's article on Mahler in the second edition of The New (Wove. In addition, the provenance of " "Hidden Treasure Within': The Early-Songs for Voice and Piano and Wunderhorn-Lieder" is stated as derived from Donald Mitchell, ed,, Guslav Mahler; The World Listens (Haarlem: TEMA Uitgevors, 1995) and augmented with "additional sections interpolated" from the liner notes Mitchell contributed to two recordings, as well as the further inclusion of material from the paperback edition of The Mahler Companion (which is essentially a revised edition, because of its inclusion of an article not issued in the preceding hardcover edition). Such revisions constitute a revised version of the article.
A similar problem exists in the organization of the volume, which divides the contents under the rubrics "Vision," "Scrutiny" (in which pieces are arranged by work discussed) "Reflection," and "Resonance," all concepts that fit the materials in each of them. While any arrangement is arbitrary, the order of materials in "Scrutiny" inevitably results in presenting writings from various times side-by-side, as well as shifting tone between pieces, A more useful format would distinguish intended original audiences for the essay, which include articles in professional journals, contributions to collected essays; liner notes, and texts of talks. At the same time, this volume would benefit from a chronological listing of its components, since readers could then distinguish between earlier and later material. After all, the half century encompassed in Discovering Mahler is a critical time for the reception of the composer's music, with the so-called Mahler-Renaissance having occurred around 1960. The articles in this volume that emerged in the mid-1950s and the following decade differ at least in tone from what would emerge in later years, when Mahler's music became increasingly accepted in the repertoire, and scholarship would benefit from decades of research by some of the pioneers in Mahler study, like Mitchell himself.
When Mitchell's first pieces on Mahler were published, the standard sources on Mahler extended to a handful of studies, including the reminiscences of Alma Mahler as well as her selection of her bus-band's letters (Mitchell himself edited the English-language translation of that volume, Guslav Mahler: Memories and Letters [London: Murray, 1968]). Only in 1982 would Herta Blaukopf contribute her more comprehensive collection of Briefe (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1982 rev. ed, 1996); in I9S4, an expanded edition of Natalie Bauer-Lechner's reminiscences was published (Herbert Killian, ed. Guslav Mahler in den E.rinnerungen von Natalie Bauer-I.echner [Hamburg: K. D. Wagner, 1984]); and the first installment of the multi-volume biography of Mahler that Henry-Louis de La Orange first saw into print in 1973 (Mahler [Garden City, NY: Doubleday. 1973]), which was subsequently completed in French and published in three volumes (Gustav Mahler; chroniqne d'une vie [Paris: Fayard, 1979-84]). (The dales fox La Grange's work are inaccurate in the list of abbreviations in the front matter of Discovering Mahler.)
An article on the sketches for Mahler's Tenth Symphony from 1955, as found in Mitchell's essay entitled "Some Notes on Mahler's Tenth Symphony," is of historic interest, since the nature of those materials would soon change. Only after 1960 would audiences hear Deryck Cooke's performing version of Mahler's sketches, a score that eventually found its way into some performances of Mahler's works by the late 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s the sketches for the Tenth Symphony could not be discussed adequately in a single article, but would become the subject of an entire symposium dedicated to that work (Stichting Mahler X Symposium, Utrecht, 1986 and the resulting publication of Fragment or complection?; Proceeding:-, of the Mahler X .Symposium,posium, Utrecht. 1986, ed. Paul Op de Coul [The Hague: Nijgh & Van Ditmar; Uni-versitair, 1991]); entire book-length studies (including such a comprehensive investigation as Jorg Rothkamm, Gustav Mahlers 'Zehnte Symphoie: Enstehung, Analyse. Rezeption [New York: Peter Lang, 2003]); and also dissertations including the recent one by Steven D. Coburn ("Mahler's Tenth Symphony: Form and Genesis" [Ph.D. diss., New York University, 2002]). Such is the nature of research on Mahler and his music in thze latter half of the twentieth century, as the composer received the attention and familiarity that previous generations devoted to composers like Bach, Beethoven, and others.
Thus, the provenance of the individual essays in this volume shed light on the author's perspective as understandings of Mahler's music shifted over the decades. While the editor has annotated the sources on the first printed pages of each essay, it would help to have more detailed listings included in the volume or, at least the year of original publication (here found on the first page of each item) included in the table of contents. With a collection that spans so many years, such information is critical for its utility. Perhaps such an apparatus will be part of a later edition of this book, since an annotation in the front mat-ter indicates that a revised edition is possible, should the need for credit lines from some of the publishers of the original versions be needed at a later date (p. xii).
The value of this collection of essays may not reside as much in the specific content of each one, but the aggregate achievement of one individual in his efforts to apprehend Mahler and his music in more depth. Such efforts are evident in the size of the articles, which can be substantial, like the one on the Fifth Symphony, which is over 125 pages in length ("Eternity of Nothingness: Mahler's Fifth Symphony," originally published in The Mulder Companion). This article stands out for the depth with which Mitchell discusses various aspects of the Fifth Symphony, which sets it apart from some of the articles he composed earlier in his career. In terms of length, the coverage of Mahler's Fifth Symphony is comparable to the size of a single volume in the series of "Very Brief Introductions" published by Oxford University Press. In contrast to the previously cited article on Mahler's Tenth Symphony, the differences are extensive and presume an audience that is not only willing to pursue the details of such a discussion, hut. also one that knows the subject matter well enough to follow it. While Mitchell uses the article to explore each movement of the Fifth Symphony, the commentary also involves various biographical details, thus resulting in the kind of approach to Mahler's music that typifies the second and third of his full-length studies, Gustav Mahler: The Wunder-liorn Years and Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death. As such, Mitchell established a style of investigation that brings together biographical details, a knowledge of the music, and an awareness of the composer's milieu that elicit the kinds of research that others have taken up. Through such synthesis the need for editions of music, letters, and other primary sources become apparent, and even now, various lacunae in Mahler research need to be pursued. Yet such work will be left to others, since Mitchell has taken his own "Abschied" from active writing on this subject.
Thus, this volume fills in some gaps about topics that are not covered in Mitchell's other three volumes on Mahler's music, albeit without the same level of integration found in those publications. In the course of assembling this new publication, though, the editors have included some materia] to round out the book, including an overview by Gaston Fournier-Facio (pp. xxi-xxxiii). Yet the inclusion of the lat-ter's piece on the order of the inner movements of the Sixth Symphony (pp. 633-47) seems to stand out in the first appendix, when it would be more effective if such information were integrated into Mitchell's article on the Sixth Symphony.
The editors have refrained from any substantive editing of the contents. The republication of Mitchell's articles is essentially without deviation from the format in which they originally appeared, albeit subject to light editing for consistency (indicated on p. xxiv). While that generally poses no problems, in several instances, internal ret1 erences to articles by other authors published in the same volume would benefit from an editorial hand. A case in point is the article on Mahler and Smetana (pp. 536 - 19) in which the footnote pointing to an article by La Grange should include the full reference to its publication in Mahler Sludies in order to clarify the page references--as it stands, the reader should by rights find the article by La Grange in the present volume, and that is not the case. At the same time some page references have been revised, like footnote 7 in the article entitled " 'Swallowing the Programme': Mahler's Fourth Symphony," but readers will find that the citation is off by two pages in the present volume.
Questions arise about the other elements of this large volume, like the two worklists for Mahler's music, one at the beginning, which includes information about the premieres and first publication of various pieces; the other, at the end, is nominally devoted to critical editions, which includes some scores that do not fit that category, such as Mahler's Bach Suite. Both of the items could have been combined into a single section on Mahler's works in order to give the reader a ready reference on information that is critical to some of the discussions in the volume. In fact, the separate appendix by Fournier-Facio listing completions of the sketches for Mahler's Tenth Symphony could have been incorporated into such a comprehensive worklist.
All in all. Discovering Mahler can be read on different levels, which include making accessible Mitchell's uncollected writing about the composer and his music, and also revealing the author's half century of active writing on the subject. In terms of the latter, it is clear that Mitchell has made a lasting contribution to Mahler research, especially in the early efforts he undertook at a time when such studies were rare. The sheer size of this volume is evidence of the commitment Mitchell made to a subject that few pursued so earnestly over the last five decades.
JAMES L, ZYCHOWICZ Madison, Wisconsin
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|Title Annotation:||COMPOSER STUDIES|
|Author:||Zychowicz, James L.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2008|
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