Saturday’s Wall Street Journal featured a lengthy appreciation of the work of Gustav Mahler, tied to a new book by Norman Lebrecht, Why Mahler?. In the article, Leon Botstein points out that this year and next offer two Mahler anniversaries, first of his birth and then of his death,
But even without an anniversary to celebrate, Mahler’s music dominates the symphonic repertoire all over the world. Indeed, we have been experiencing Mahler mania for almost four decades now.
Fortunately for Mahler fans, Mahler mania extends to books as well, and Botstein’s article comes with a useful sidebar listing of key works on Mahler’s life and music.
One of those is our own Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, by Theodor Adorno, which Botstein calls “the most challenging interpretation of the music.” Given the depth of Adorno’s engagement with music throughout his career, it’s no surprise that his writings on Mahler are challenging—nor that they’re insightful enough to be worth the trouble. For Adorno, writes Botstein, “Mahler’s music was unsentimental: a reaction against Romanticism and a harbinger of Modernism. . . an exercise in the use of art as an instrument of ethics.”
For more information about Adorno’s book, go here. And if all this has whetted your appetite for Mahler’s music, well, you can easily while away your evening at YouTube.