Mysterious Mahler

Prospect Magazine

Mysterious Mahler

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What do we really know about Mahler? He has been painted as the sickly, neurotic “victim,” obsessed by early death. Not so. Mahler suffered many blows, but he was a musician of great energy and resilience. If his later works seem death-ridden, we should not blame his life

It was like a nightmare. One moment Gustav Mahler was composing peacefully in his hut high in the Dolomites. The next moment, two birds-an eagle in pursuit of a crow-had burst in, shattering a window pane. According to the conductor Bruno Walter, Mahler sprang to his feet in horror at the intrusion and later felt deeply depressed about it. “His musical heaven had been turned into a battlefield for one of the endless fights of all against all,” Walter wrote in his memoir of the composer. Although he fell short of calling the incident a portent, Walter went on to describe how Mahler fell ill not long afterwards and died in Vienna on 18th May 1911, aged only 50.

I came across this story in 1961; I had just discovered Mahler’s music and was starting to read everything I could find about his life. In those days that was not

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Author

Jonathan Carr

Jonathan Carr is Bonn correspondent for The Economist. 


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