Philip Hale's Boston Symphony Programme Notes: Historical, Critical, and Descriptive Comment on Music and Composers

By John N. Burk; Philip Hale | Go to book overview

GUSTAV
MAHLER

(Born at Kalischt in Bohemia, on July 7, 1860;
died at Vienna on May 18, 1911)

THOSE WHO without undue prejudice discuss Mahler the composer, admitting his faults, discussing them at length, dwelling on undeniable fine qualities, assert that his artistic life was greater than his own musical works, which, greatly planned, did not attain fulfillment and were often imitative. The sincerity of the composer was never doubted; the failure to secure that for which he strove is therefore the more pathetic.

He was of an intensely nervous nature. His life as a conductor— and he was a great conductor—the feverish atmosphere of the opera house, his going from city to city until his ability was recognized in Vienna and later at the Metropolitan, the death of a dearly loved child, the fact that he was a Jew, who had turned Catholic: these, with musical intrigues and controversies from which he suffered, gave him no mental or esthetic poise. It was his ambition to continue the work of men he revered, Beethoven and Wagner. In spite of his indisputable talent he was not the man to do this. In the nearer approaches to the ideal that was in his mind he was simply an imitator; not a convincing, not even a plausible one.

One has found through his symphonies restlessness that at times becomes hysterical; reminders of Wagner, Berlioz, Strauss; melodies in folk-song vein, often naive, at times beautiful, but introduced as at random and quickly thrown aside; an overemployment

-[189]-

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