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Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World
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Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World

3.45  ·  Rating Details ·  190 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
Although Gustav Mahler was a famous conductor in Vienna and New York, the music that he wrote was condemned during his lifetime and for many years after his death in 1911. “Pages of dreary emptiness,” sniffed a leading American conductor. Yet today, almost one hundred years later, Mahler has displaced Beethoven as a box-office draw and exerts a unique influence on both pop ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 12th 2010 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Mike
Jul 16, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it
Overall I enjoyed this book: it gives some insight into Mahler the man as well as into the symphonies in particular. But it's all very much the author's viewpoint, his bias.
We have a radio programme here in New Zealand in which the compiler presents a bunch of alternative type music each week. He hypes up each track to such a degree that you think, 'This must be superb'. Almost invariably it's tosh, with occasional interesting things done at a less than top level.
Lebrecht is a bit like this, tho
...more
Aeron
Mar 17, 2011 Aeron rated it did not like it
It's funny. At one point towards the end of this book, Lebrecht criticizes previous biographies of Mahler for being too pro-Alma (Mahler's wife). This book errs in the opposite direction. It's clear that the author can't stand Alma, and perhaps it was justified, but just based on this narrative, I'm not convinced. For example, he describes how men were attracted to her using words like, "they could sense her sexual availability." What? So the fact that men find her attractive is her fault? She m ...more
Jorge
Aug 14, 2014 Jorge rated it liked it
Después de la muerte de Gustav Mahler su obra pareció ir cayendo gradualmente en un proceso de desinterés y olvido. Sin embargo a partir de los años sesentas del siglo XX, su obra nuevamente volvió a emerger desde las profundidades de la música hasta convertirla en una obra recurrente y amadísima por muchos.

A partir de entonces se empezó a crear una especie de frenesí entre los conocedores de la música clásica hasta elevarla en uno de los más grandes altares que la música les haya erigido a los
...more
Philippe
Jan 07, 2017 Philippe rated it did not like it
One of the few books in my library I am tempted to throw in the bin. It's a totally superfluous addition to an already vast Mahler bibliography. Lebrecht's account is mawkish, tasteless, unscholarly and self-aggrandizing. Take this passage, in which the author unfolds a theory of why the final chords in Mahler's Song of the Earth ("ewig") make such an impact:

"How does Mahler pack so much emotion into so trite a word? The 'Ewig' enigma resisted me for years until a chance sighting at a 1988 exhi
...more
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
This is a non-fiction book about the great composer, Gustav Mahler, written by Norman Lebrecht. When I read somewhere that the music of Mahler was performed more often than Beethoven, I had to find out more about this man, and this seemed as good a place as any to begin.

Mahler was born in 1860 and died in 1911, and was a conductor as well as composing music. This book covers Mahler's personal life and music, much of which is very interesting. However; the reader quickly learns that Lebrecht hims
...more
Michael
Jan 09, 2015 Michael rated it did not like it
Shelves: music, bio, non-fiction
I suppose it does my heart good to see that some people liked this book. Diversity, difference of opinion, different perspectives, they are all good things; it's just unfortunate these ideals are wrapped around such an awful, awful book.

Lebrecht is so pompous, self-serving and downright wrong I feel like spiking my hair and putting on a Clash record.

I don't know where to begin, do I surface the ridiculous conclusions the author draws with regard to Mahler's religious conversion. Perhaps the mis
...more
Hana Cai
Apr 18, 2017 Hana Cai rated it liked it
An entertaining read and a good introduction to Mahler, especially if you are not a musician. Some of what Lebrecht writes needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but the bones of the book are based in fact. Most valuable is probably the overview of the recordings of Mahler in the latter third of the book. If you're looking to get into Mahler but are having trouble sorting through the hundreds of recordings out there, Lebrecht's overview of recordings is a good place to start.
Kurtbg
Jun 08, 2013 Kurtbg rated it liked it
To really get something out of this book you should have some exposure to Gustav Mahler's music. Most likely you wouldn't read this unless you did, but sometimes I pick up books for the heck of it, so no judgements.

The book covers a history of Mahler to help the reader better understand the period Gustav grew up in and participated in as an adult in the mid 1800's to 1911. This is done to enhance the understanding of how Mahler approached writing his symphonies. The book breaks down each of the
...more
Tony Gleeson
Feb 27, 2011 Tony Gleeson rated it really liked it
This book wound up on my to-read shelf not because I'm any kind of a huge Mahlerian (I'm not) but because it was written by Norman Lebrecht, who has always shown himself to be an informative, insightful, and highly entertaining writer on the subject of music. He does not disappoint me here, spinning a lively overview of the life of Gustav Mahler and interspersing history and gossip of the day, personal observations and modern-day anecdotes. He's not so high-minded as to skimp on tales of Alma Ma ...more
Brian Robbins
Jan 07, 2012 Brian Robbins rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Normally I view reading in the same way that some people view food, the kind who insist on finishing everything on their plate, or I view it in the same way that the Mastermind questioner views his questions - "I've started so I'll finish". However, in this book's case, I'm prepared to make an exception.

It had all the traits I hate most in modern TV documentaries - bitty, skimming & skipping across disciplines, shallow and full of talking-head type generalizations. It did not give a clear, i
...more
Greg Z
Sep 21, 2015 Greg Z rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
I like Mahler's music. I also like Mozart, Bach, Beatles, Lady Gaga, Miles Davis, Enigma, Moby, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. I think any one of us could make an argument as to how a certain musician changed his or her world. Does Lebrecht make a convincing argument that Mahler changed our world? Vienna in 1900, with Klimt and Freud and Mahler and others, certainly had an overall impact on a changing world. But for me, this author doesn't meet his own ambitious challenge. Mahler certainly had an impact ...more
David Sweeney
Mar 01, 2012 David Sweeney rated it it was ok
I love Mahler and was looking for an easy to read biography. This is book is hopelessly flawed as Lebrecht is simply not objective and his analysis is from the perspective of a love sick admirer. This also effects his style of writing. That said if you want to know the bare outline of Mahler's life it is a quick and easy read. The other positive is that your knowledge of music need only be minimal but you must be familiar with all of Mahler's music.
Steve
Sep 22, 2016 Steve rated it it was amazing
Highly readable, witty, a bit chatty, and breezy, but also quite thoughtful and literate. Covers lots of details that were new to me, and I've been listening to Mahler for over 30 years.
Not daunting, like the famous Mahler biography can seem
If you're interested in Mahler, start here!
Hadrian
Biography heavily tilted by author's obsession. Musical analysis was fun, though, so that balanced it out.
Scott
Jan 16, 2016 Scott rated it liked it
Learned some stuff about Mahler.
Adam
Dec 26, 2010 Adam rated it it was ok
Recommended to Adam by: Cinchel
I began excitedly devouring this book as I am quite a huge fan of the music of Gustav Mahler. I have been known to listen to his complete works in the course of 4 or 5 days. I never get sick of his music. There is just so much to grab onto and so much to delve into. After all these years of listening to his music I have managed to, somehow, avoided learning very much more than cursory details about his life.

This book delivered in that fashion, providing me with a good biography of the man and h
...more
Owen Goldin
Feb 19, 2017 Owen Goldin rated it really liked it
A breezy idiosyncratic biography, along with meditations on the title question -- why is Mahler so important, so valuable now?

Mahler fans will enjoy the book, but will find much with which to take issue -- on details and general line of the life narrative NL tells, and especially on the capsule reviews of recordings, with which the volume ends.

His main conclusions:

Mahler is a man of our times, as the world is fragmented, at tension with itself, and Mahler depicts worlds that are fragmented, and
...more
Alan
Feb 11, 2017 Alan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book about Mahler's life and how it relates to his music. I don't know that he changed our world, but he is important in the development of western classical music in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. It was not very nice to his wife Alma, but he probably was no treat to live with either.
Patrick
May 15, 2012 Patrick rated it did not like it
The question really should be: Why this book? This volume is nothing more than a rehashing of what has already been said about Mahler, as well as a generous helping of the author's own personal bias, not to mention venom.

Please do not waste your time or money on this book, it is not worth the paper it is printed on. Reading this book reminds me once again of Jean Sibelius statement, "No one has ever erected a statue in honour of a critic."
Marie Hew
Oct 24, 2010 Marie Hew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music


The author really loves Mahler and it comes through in his joyous voice. Lebrecht does a wonderful job blending, history, biography, music theory and period dish that easily held my attention. There is also an annotated listing of Mahler recordings from the banal to must-listen. The best thing about this book is that it inspires you to seek out more about Mahler and his music. Needless to say, Mahler is now frequently on my playlist.
Raymonds009
Jan 17, 2016 Raymonds009 rated it really liked it
The title captured my attention. It is a little over the top and perhaps should have said "changed the music world". Still great.

If he was not a genuis he was a near one. The trials and tribultions of getting the support he needed just to have his symphonies listened to is hair raising.

I really enjoyed this book because it blended biography with his development as an artist.
Johanna Botman
Nov 18, 2011 Johanna Botman rated it did not like it
I don't know much about classical music nor about Mahler. I like Mahler's music and wanted to know more about the man and his times.
But this is not the introductory tome that I was looking for. I am finding it tedious and - dare I say it? - boring. Three chapters is enough to make that judgement. I don't think I can read any more of it. I'll just listen to the music instead.
Charles
Being a big fan of Mahler's music I wanted to read Lebrecht's view on why Mahler is so popular. He referred to the once popular idea of the "Mozart effect" and in this book he postulates the "Mahler Effect".

Interesting reading with snippets of information about Mahler's life, music, and conductors such as Leonard Bernstein who the author keeps calling Lenny.
Thomas Walsh
I heard my first Mahler Symphony in 1976. It was his 8th "The Symphony of a Thousand." I have never been the same person since that event. It completely changed my life and perspective of the world. That's the theory behind this work: Mahler's music is a catharsis.
Steven Shalansky
Jul 13, 2016 Steven Shalansky rated it did not like it
This book represents the author's biased ramblings about why he feels Mahler has been so celebrated in modern times. Fischer's biography, which I am rereading, is infinitely more informative -- and enjoyable.
Vicky
Jan 07, 2013 Vicky rated it liked it
Here is a very intense biography about a genius who is still an enigma for many. His short life was filled with tremendous pressure, he accomplished an amazing amount of work and his music confronted and inspired generations.
Louise Armstrong
Jan 25, 2017 Louise Armstrong rated it did not like it
I couldn't get on with this - it seemed to be more about the author than Mahler - if you don't count too intimate details about Mahler like his sex life. It made me feel a bit grubby to be reading such things about a person who is dead and presumably wouldn't want me to be know such things.
Robert-Jan Van Amstel
Mar 18, 2014 Robert-Jan Van Amstel rated it really liked it
Shelves: classical-music
A good read to get involved in the complex life of Gustav Mahler. I really liked the personal thoughts of Norman Lebrecht about why he likes the music of Mahler so much. Because of this book I'm more attached to the excellent and deep touching music of Mahler.
Scott
Jan 24, 2015 Scott rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
I love Mahler. After Dvořák, he's my favorite composer. I loved about 90% of this book. What I didn't love was Lebrecht's pre-occupation with cutting down Alma Mahler. The section outlining the recordings could've been cut. So much of that is personal opinion.
Ernest
Sep 12, 2012 Ernest rated it liked it
Written not as a biography but as a personalized and selective view of Mahler's life and works. This makes the book interesting, but also somehow less authoritative. But that's ok, since you know that this is from a Mahler fanboy.
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103074
Norman Lebrecht (born 11 July 1948 in London) is a British commentator on music and cultural affairs and a novelist. He was a columnist for The Daily Telegraph from 1994 until 2002 and assistant editor of the Evening Standard from 2002 until 2009. On BBC Radio 3, he has presented lebrecht.live from 2000 and The Lebrecht Interview from 2006.

He has written twelve books about music, which have been t
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