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Gustav Mahler: New Insights into His Life, Times and Work.

Gustav Mahler: New Insights into His Life, Times and Work. By Alfred Mathis-Rosenzweig. Translation, annotation and commentary by Jeremy Barham. (Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Research Studies, 5.) Burlington, VT: Ashgate. 2007. (vii, 255p. ISBN-10: 0754659536; ISBN-13: 978075465350. $49.95.) Illustrations, index.

The lore surrounding the reception of the music of Gustav Mahler generally places the revival of interest in it around 1960, that is, the Mahler-Renaissance that coincided with the centenary of the composer's birth. While various investigations of the composer's music had appeared in the decades after Mahler's death, including the book-length studies by Paul Stefan (Gustav Mahler: eine Studie uber Personlichkeit und Werk [Munich: R. Piper, 1910, 1912]), Richard Specht (Gustav Mahler [Berlin: Schuster & Loeffler, 1913]), and Paul Bekker (Gustav Mahlers Sinfonien [Berlin: Schuster & Loeffler, 1921]), extended biographical studies were limited to the reminiscences of Mahler's wife Alma and the Eckermann-like conversations that his friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner published in Erinnerungen an Gustav Mahler (Leipzig: E. P. Tal, 1923). It was also rare to find a study that examined both the composer's life and work. In a book intended to be published in July 1945, eighty-five years after Mahler's birth, the Austrian emigre Alfred Mathis-Rosenzweig (1897-1948) conceived a promising two-volume study of the composer's life and work, a project left unfinished at his death and preserved among the papers of his colleague the pianist Edith Vogel (1912-1992). Unfinished, unpublished and, at some point, presumed lost, Mathis-Rosenzweig's study is now available in a critical English-language edition prepared by Jeremy Barham.

More than half a century after Mathis-Rosenzweig's death, the subtitle on the first title page "Neuen Erkenntnise zu seinem Leben, seiner Zeit, seinem Werk" alludes to the innovative nature of the study, a position that differs from the more prosaic description on the second title page, "Sein Leben--Seine Zeit--Sein Werk" and which connotes a more straightforward investigation. Moreover, in the context of the time Mathis-Rosenzweig undertook it, near the end of World War II, the prospect of such an extended study seems novel, since Mahler's works were proscribed in Germany and Austria during the Third Reich but still performed, albeit relatively infrequently, elsewhere. Not only did a scholar like Mathis-Rosenzweig find refuge in England, but Mahler's publisher had also moved to that country. Even after World War II, the musical culture at Nullpunkt in Germany took up serialism instead of reviving interest in the music of Mahler and his generation--the world of yesterday, as Stefan Zweig called it in one of his finest books, had been left to memory and not revival. From a distance, both temporal and psychological, it was possible to gain a perspective on the modernism that influenced the first decades of the twentieth century.

Thus, in taking up Mahler's life and work, Mathis-Rosenzweig placed it within the musical culture in which the composer was trained. While not ignoring the proscription of Mahler and other Jewish composers and the dictates of the Nazi regime (pp. 27-30, 67-68), Mathis-Rosenzweig did not resort to polemics against the Third Reich. Rather, he built his study on the larger perspectives of the musical culture of his day to assess the broader legacy of Mahler's music by acknowledging its connections to that of Arnold Schoenberg and his generation. As Mathis-Rosenzweig states relatively early in the study:
 It will therefore be the task of this biography to highlight the far-
 reaching historical significance of the Mahler-Schoenberg relationship
 and its effects on Viennese musical culture, which attained a new
 universality in the twentieth century through Schoenberg and his
 school. (p. 67)

In the surviving chapters, Mathis-Rosenzweig had yet to explore the profound connections that a scholar like Dika Newlin would take up several years later in her groundbreaking study Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg (New York: King's Crown Press, 1947; 2d ed., New York: W. W. Norton, 1978). Yet in the extant chapters, Mathis-Rosenzweig laid the groundwork for establishing those links with contemporary composers by establishing the context of Mahler's own musical training and early music making. The Wagnerism that dominated the music culture of central Europe during the last decades of the nineteenth century is inescapable, and as much as it is possible to find the ways in which Mahler diverged, the affinities help to explain the tonal grounding endemic in Mahler's musical style. Moreover, Mathis-Rosenzweig devoted sufficient space to the music of Mahler's older contemporary, Anton Bruckner, whose musical style was influenced by his own devotion to Wagner's music.

The tangible link with Bruckner may be found in the piano-reduction of the earlier composer's Third Symphony that Mahler prepared with his colleague Rudolph Krzyzanowski. This defining work established Bruckner in what Mathis-Rosenzweig describes as the Austrian symphonic tradition, a concept that is significant for the present text. While it is out of the scope of this review to deal at length with the larger implications of this distinction, the idea is important for the approach the author took. In exploring Mahler's early years, Mathis-Rosenzweig demonstrates the connections with Bruckner and his music. Without venturing into the simplistic Bruckner and Mahler association that had been expressed generations ago when music historians attempted to pigeonhole the so-called post-Romantic era succinctly, Mathis-Rosenzweig probed more deeply into other kinds of relationships. For him, the deeper significance is in the symphonic tradition found with Austrian or Viennese composers that may be regarded in the lineage that connects Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, and Mahler, with the latter three labeled as "Austrian-finale symphonists" (pp. 125-28). Mathis-Rosenzweig points to Paul Bekker (1882-1937), whose history of the symphony (Die Sinfonie von Beethoven bis Mahler [Berlin: Schuster & Loeffler, 1918]) remains a significant work in the literature on the genre. In fact, Bekker's study Gustav Mahlers Sinfonien still deserves consideration for the perspectives it offers on his music. With regard to the present book, Mathis-Rosenzweig has built on Bekker's framework that involves three groups of symphonists between Beethoven and Mahler: the middle-German composers Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, the program-symphonists who took their cue from Liszt, and the Austrian lineage cited above.

By using this frame of reference to explore Mahler and his music, Mathis-Rosenzweig found a way to value his subject through association with other figures. At the same time, such a foundation provided a springboard for demonstrating the ways in which the elements of Mahler's individual style similarly served as a reference point for a composer like Schoenberg to pursue his own musical language. In this way Rosenzweig's fragmentary study of Mahler's music merits the attention it has been given in this edition. Incomplete as it is and dated in terms of modern research on various aspects of the composer's work, Mathis-Rosenzweig's efforts may be seen to anticipate the later studies that soon followed, including Newlin's Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg and Hans Ferdinand Redlich's dual-study of Bruckner and Mahler (London: J. M. Dent, 1955), as well as the various investigations that treated the composer after the so-called Mahler Renaissance around 1960.

Barham's efforts in this volume serve Mathis-Rosenzweig well in what will probably be the only edition of the torso. While the introductory matter contributes some important background on the manuscript and its author, Barham's annotations are also helpful in clarifying some aspects of the text, Given the relatively large format of the book, it is unfortunate that the notes are consigned to the end without headers or other orthography to assist the reader in finding the references. Also, some of the information needs correction: the multivolume biography of Mahler by Henry-Louis de La Grange is not ongoing, but complete in French (Gustav Mahler: Chronique d'une vie, 3 vols. [Paris: Fayard, 1979-1984]), and planned for four volumes in English by Oxford University Press (the last apparently scheduled for late 2007 at the time of writing), with the revision of the first volume (first published in 1973 by Doubleday), presumably to follow. Moreover, the references to both German-language editions of Natalie Bauer-Lechner's reminiscences (the first edition cited above, and the 2d ed., Gustav Mahler in den Erinnerungen von Natalie Bauer-Lechner [Hamburg: K. D. Wagner, 1984]) suggest the need for a comprehensive critical edition based on the extant Mahleriana manuscript (Paris, Mediatheque Gustav Mahler). Most important, the annotations for Mahler's letters show a variety of sources, including Herta Blaukopf's revised edition of Mahler Briefe (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1982), Knud Martner's earlier English-language translation of the composer's letters (Gustav Mahler, Selected Letters [New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1970]), and the fine collection of Mahler's letters edited by Mathias Hansen and published by Reclam (Gustav Mahler, Briefe [Leipzig: Reclam, 1981]). The use of these sources could be assisted by a select bibliography, but on a larger scale they reflect the need for a single, uniform edition--either in print or available digitally--that would bring together in one place the extant letters that are currently available in several different volumes and under varying editorial leadership.

In terms of the reception of Mahler's music, the completion and publication of Mathis-Rosenzweig's study would have been a laudable accomplishment, but it is impossible to determine whether the planned book would have spurred the kind of Mahler Renaissance that took place fifteen years later. Yet to find such serious interest in the music of a banned composer certainly reflects the passion that Mathis-Rosenzweig felt, and it is indeed the kind of response to Mahler that continues to attract audiences to the composer's works. In pursuing the sources of Mahler's style in these extant chapters, he places it in a context that would have been comprehensible to a musician of Mathis-Rosenzweig's generation.


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Author:Zychowicz, James L.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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