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Why Mahler?

Norman Lebrecht

A fascinating celebration of one of the most important classical composers, and one of the most enduringly popular.

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A century after his death, Gustav Mahler is the most important composer of modern times. Displacing Beethoven as a box-office draw, his music offers more than the usual listening satisfactions. Many believe it has the power to heal emotional wounds and ease the pain of death. Others struggle with the intellectual fascination of its contradictory meanings. Long, loud and seldom easy, his symphonies are used to accompany acts of mourning and Hollywood melodramas. Sometimes dismissed as death-obsessed, Mahler is more alive in the 21st century than ever before.

Why Mahler? Why does a Jewish musician from a land without a name capture the yearnings and anxieties of post-industrial society? Is it the music, it is the man, or is it the affinity we feel with his productive peak – a decade when Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Joyce and Mahler reconfigured the ways we understand life on earth?

In this highly original account of Mahler’s life and work, Norman Lebrecht – renowned writer, critic and cultural commentator – explores the Mahler Effect, a phenomenon that reaches deep into unsuspecting lives, altering the self-perceptions of world leaders, finance chiefs and working musicians. Why Mahler? is a multi-layered exploration of the role that music plays as a soundtrack to our lives.

Critic Reviews

Norman Lebrecht's characteristically turbo-charged account of the Mahler phenomenon seeks answers to the question of precisely what it is about Mahler that so transfixes the modern psyche ... Weaving in personal reminiscence and anecdote, he creates a highly unconventional but richly detailed collage that draws deeply on his own experience as an editor, researcher and Jew. Indeed, some of the most valuable insights stem from Lebrecht's identification with Mahler's Jewish identity.

Barry Millington, The Scotsman
Critic Reviews

Part biography, part critical appreciation, part highly personal tribute, there's a degree of structural eccentricity to Why Mahler? that, like one of the legend's symphonies, keeps you on your toes ... Though gushing, even hyperbolic, at times, this is a book of enormous passion and persuasive power.

Editor's Choice, Classic FM Magazine
Critic Reviews

Norman Lebrecht has written a magnificent centenary tribute, worthy of our leading music critic's uncanny empathy with his subject. This, his second book on Mahler, is as much about the author's personal quest as it is about the composer, and it includes an entertainingly idiosyncratic but impressively authoritative discography.
Lebrecht has overlooked nothing, however trivial, that might serve to illuminate Mahler's life and legacy. With forensic skill, he deconstructs the composer's wife Alma's entertaining but mendacious memoirs, trawls though contemporary newspapers, hacks through the undergrowth of myth.

Daniel Johnson, Standpoint
Critic Reviews

His book is very enjoyable to read, gossipy as well as learned, and it makes the man come to life. It provides an idiosyncratic but useful review of the main recordings. It even offers advice to newcomers on getting into Mahler's music (go and hear the second symphony on your own).

The Economist

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely read commentators on music and cultural affairs. Based in London, his columns appear in many languages, including Chinese, and he is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3, Bloomberg and New York’s WNYC. He has written twelve books about music, among which The Maestro Myth (1991) and Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness (2007)…

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