Not unlike his grand and idiosyncratic musical oeuvre, Gustav Mahlers marriage to Alma Mahler straddled the border between the Romantic 19th and the Modern 20th centuries. Even as they shared a mutual ambition to realize their full potential as artists, Alma soon fell into the traditional role of dutiful wife to her genius husband. Ultimately, their relationship was far more complicated than this single dynamic, but a year before they married, the 22-year-old Alma already sensed the ambiguous influence the much older and fiercely self-dedicated Gustav would have on her. "Already I am aware of changes in myself, due to him," she confided to her diary. "He is taking much away from me and giving me much in return. If this process continues, he will make a new person of me." As Gustavs letters suggest, Alma produced her own equal and opposite effect, intimate vibrations that were registered in Mahlers massive structures of sound. Her famous liaisons with other prominent artists of her timeincluding painter Oskar Kokoschka and architect Walter Gropiusalmost seem prefigured here as well, as a vicarious outlet to her own stifled artistic agency. Collectors of Mahleriana will find this expertly compiled volume indispensable. More than half of its 350 letters and postcards are published for the first time, and many of the old letters, which were once heavily emended by the distorting hands of Alma herself, are restored to their original form. Accompanying editorial notesand generous excerpts from Almas diaries and memoirshelp bridge the chronological gaps between letters and provide further context for the Mahlers relationship. But its the novel-like intensity of the pairs complex and tempestuous love affair that will really broaden the audience for this book beyond its sure-fire appeal to students of modern art and feminism.
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"Gustav Mahler's letters to his wife have two distinct kinds of interest: as evidence in the story of a difficult and often unhappy marriage, and as a detailed, hour-by-hour account of the professional life of a great musician. . . . Mahler wrote nothing but music and letters: no essay, memoir, treatise or manifesto. From the music itself we can deduce much about his feelings for Beethoven or Wagner or Bach; but the letters, and the memoirs of others, are all we have to turn to for his explicit opinions on music. . . . The material in this book gives a large and deep picture of Mahler's personality. Just as his music is marked by shifts of register and scale, so his letters to Alma are engagingly many-voiced. . . . The fervent letters of the last year, many of them containing poems, are a record of the emotional distress bordering on madness that led Mahler to his consultation with Freud in August 1910. They are almost too painful and private to read."—Alan Hollinghurst, The Guardian, October 30, 2004
"The Mahler literature is huge, and many of Mahler's letters have already appeared in print. But what has come fully to light during the last decade adds greatly to our understanding of Mahler and his marriage. . . . This book allows us not only to fill in some gaps but to gain a vivid and telling portrayal of Mahler's personality in his voice."—Hugh Wood, Times Literary Supplement, November 12, 2004
"If you listen to Mahler's nine symphonies it is obvious the man was an artist in touch with oceans of raw emotion. It is enlightening, however, to square these tracts of musical genius with the fragile 'Gustl' revealed in these letters"Tired, loving, ill, worried, romantic, neurotic, petty, angry, disenchanted: all the signs of a functional human being. . . . He is frequently witty, sometimes scathing, but more often sad, lonesome, and vulnerable. . . . This is a fine, if weighty and demanding, book that will help the casual reader more fully understand the personality of one of the great modern composers. . . . Devotees of the great man, however, will be equally saddened, moved, and transfixed by these letters, which at their most vivid are written with a quill dipped in the well of his agonized soul."—Phil Miller, The Herald
"The letters . . . offer correctives to Alma's distortions and a fascinating glimpse into the grueling life of a renowned guest conductor, regularly subjected to overnight train rides, second-rate hotels, and exhausting rehearsals. The letters also reveal Mahler's complex character. He was impatient and arrogant but also generous, forgiving, and solicitous of his friends and colleagues."—Tess Lewis, The Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2004
"Not unlike his grand and idiosyncratic musical oeuvre, Gustav Mahler's marriage to Alma Mahler straddled the border between the Romantic nineteenth and the Modern twentieth centuries. . . . Collectors of Mahleriana will find this expertly compiled volume indispensable. More than half of its 350 letters and postcards are published for the first time, and many of the old letters, which were once heavily emended by the distorting hands of Alma herself, are restored to their original form. . . . It's the novel-like intensity of the pair's complex and tempestuous love affair that will really broaden the audience for this book beyond its surefire appeal to students of modern art and feminism."—Publishers Weekly, 13 December 2004
"At first a little formal, Mahler's writing loosens up after a few months of marriage; soon he leavens his language with witticisms, clever quotes, double entendres, and slang. One hears the same tone in his later correspondence for example, as he writes in 1910 about his session with Freud. By contrast, Alma, always aware of posterity looking over her shoulder, seems eager to appear the consort of a demigod. Generously illustrated, well indexed, and conscientiously translated, this long-awaited volume will be devoured by Mahlerites and will be a valuable reader for others. Highly recommended."—M. Meckna, Texas Christian University, Choice, April 2005