“How Mahler Changed My Life”

Ionarts’ Charles Downey reminds his readers of one of the more interesting historical events being commemorated today:

One hundred fifty years ago today — July 7, 1860 — Gustav Mahler was born in Kaliště, a Bohemian village in what is now the Czech Republic. Today we begin the projected Mahler anniversary year, which will extend until the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death (May 18, 1911) next year.

The post is a veritable treasure trove of Mahler-themed material, including a fantastic YouTube recording of his Fourth Symphony, interpreted by Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic. (In one of the more charmingly idiosyncratic bits of musical writing I’ve seen recently, Downey justifies his selection by saying: “I chose the fourth symphony because of its earthy, beatific vision of paradise.” I must admit to stumbling a bit over the unusual juxtaposition of “earthy,” “beatific” and “paradise” in such close proximity to one another — yet another instance of the “Xtreme Thesauric Writing” that is one of the chief reasons I love reading music reviews.)

As one whose familiarity with Mahler is still woefully underdeveloped, the swarm of musical material cropping up as a result of this “Anniversary Year” celebration is the perfect opportunity to become more fully developed, as well as quite a bit less woeful. Downey’s post is the perfect starting place.

OpenCulture’s post featuring Michael Tilson Thomas’ reflections on his first experience with the Austrian composer is a close second, however. I’m still trying to digest the notion that someone would willingly listen to (and be powerfully moved by) Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde at the age of 13. Of course, MTT went on to become a world-famous conductor, suggesting that there may have been a fairly unusual affinity there in the first place. But these sorts of stories always make me feel so benighted. (Universal Edition’s fascinating collection of interviews featuring famous performers speaking of their extraordinary love for Mahler’s music isn’t helping in this department, either.)

A flurry of interesting articles reveal just how significant Mahler’s musical influence has been in the lives of many listeners. Flautist Gareth Davies, for example, recounts how Mahler’s 10th rekindled his “essential passion for music” — a passion lost during months of of operations and chemotherapy undergone during his battle with testicular cancer. And Tim Smith, author of The Baltimore Sun’s “Clef Notes” blog, recounts (only somewhat melodramatically) How Gustav Mahler Saved My Life.

Time to get listenin’!


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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