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Gustav Mahler: Letters to His Wife Hardcover – October 20, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not unlike his grand and idiosyncratic musical oeuvre, Gustav Mahler’s 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 Gustav’s letters suggest, Alma produced her own equal and opposite effect, intimate vibrations that were registered in Mahler’s massive structures of sound. Her famous liaisons with other prominent artists of her time—including painter Oskar Kokoschka and architect Walter Gropius—almost 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 notes—and generous excerpts from Alma’s diaries and memoirs—help bridge the chronological gaps between letters and provide further context for the Mahlers’ relationship. But 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 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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (October 20, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801443407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801443404
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #778,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Melanie Gilbert VINE VOICE on March 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In "Letters to his Wife," the reader is privy to the intensely private and somewhat ordinary reflections of the extraordinary composer/conductor, Gustav Mahler.

But that very ordinariness is what makes this book so fascinating: that alongside genius lies its twin of conventionality expressed in those unguarded moments between intimates. The collection of letters span just over a decade: From Mahler's courtship of Alma Mahler in 1900 until his tragically early death at age 50 in 1911.

You get the sense that Mahler felt he had nothing to prove to his wife as the correspondence deals with everyday issues and concerns such as eating and sleeping habits, bowel troubles and the loneliness of life on the road. The letters also convey a deeply confident and uncompromising man who takes immense joy in writing his wife about his personal world while at the same time dismissing her from his professional one.

The power in this collection comes from the slowly but steadily growing tension that the reader senses from Alma Mahler (whose letters are not included but whose feelings can be discerned through Mahler's) against her clueless husband which culminates in her betrayal through infidelity. With his emotional sense of security violently violated, Mahler's letters completely unravel and come across as hesitant and pandering. Within the year, he was dead.

Mahler's musical genius has already been well-documented. What this book documents - in Mahler's own hand - is the important role Alma's unconditional love and emotional support played in his life and work, too. He underestimated her to his ultimate peril.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a marvelous book, especially when heavily discounted as was mine. Fascinating read provides insight into the mind of the great genius. Too bad his wife destroyed her letters in response. Listen to his music while you read and it gets even better.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the Classic Mahler biography by the major Mahler scholar, Henry ouis de La Grange. Though this only covers the middle years, de La Grange's excellent use of primary sources let us learn first hand what Mahler was like as a musician, conductor, and human being. No other Mahler biography is so erudite and completely non-judgemental
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This collection of 350 letters and telegrams from composer Gustav Mahler to his wife, Alma, illustrates the good and bad points of a fortunate and unfortunate marriage.

It is a very fortunate marriage for lovers of Mahler's unique and beautiful music. The music might never have been written had he not married his idealized image of a one true love. Alma was not his inspiration--it was his idealized view of her that, despite her behavior, kept him going. She did not understand, or even enjoy his music, but she did enjoy the celebrity position of being married to the greatest conductor in a world that worshipped music. Fortunately, Mahler was never able to bring himself to see her shortcomings. He had made up his mind that superficial beauty (at least in Alma's case) equaled virtue, and he projected virtue onto everything that Alma did.

It was an unfortunate marriage in that, at the age of 22, marrying a man nearly twice her age, Alma had not had a chance to develop character and direction for her own life. She very much enjoyed being in the spotlight of fame, yet she had never earned any of it for herself. After Mahler's death, Alma continued this pattern of getting into the limelight by "hooking-up" with famous people. She married, or had affairs with architect Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, novelist Franz Werfel, composer Alexander Zemlinsky, and various others.

While this behavior kept her in the top circles of Viennese society, it simultaneously prevented her from ever doing anything notable on her own. It was an unfortunate marriage for Alma. It was what she wanted, but with it, she ceased all personal growth. It was "A Fortunate and Unfortunate Marriage."
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