Mahler & Strauss: In Dialogue

Mahler & Strauss: In Dialogue

Mahler & Strauss: In Dialogue

Mahler & Strauss: In Dialogue


A rare case among history's great music contemporaries, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949) enjoyed a close friendship until Mahler's death in 1911. Unlike similar musical pairs (Bach and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, Schoenberg and Stravinsky), these two composers may have disagreed on the matters of musical taste and social comportment, but deeply respected one another's artistic talents, freely exchanging advice from the earliest days of professional apprenticeship through the security and aggravations of artistic fame.

Using a wealth of documentary material, this book reconstructs the 24-year relationship between Mahler and Strauss through collage--"a meaning that arises from fragments," to borrow Adorno's characterization of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. Fourteen different topics, all of central importance to the life and work of the two composers, provide distinct vantage points from which to view both the professional and personal relationships. Some address musical concerns: Wagnerism, program music, intertextuality, and the craft of conducting. Others treat the connection of music to related disciplines (philosophy, literature), or to matters relevant to artists in general (autobiography, irony). And the most intimate dimensions of life--childhood, marriage, personal character--are the most extensively and colorfully documented, offering an abundance of comparative material. This integrated look at Mahler and Strauss discloses provocative revelations about the two greatest western composers at the turn of the 20th century.


Fifteen years ago, chatting with colleagues in the dependably fruitful setting of a hotel bar, I floated the idea of a conference on Mahler and Strauss. My youthful tenure-track self considered this a sure winner, an idea long overdue. “Forget it,” came the instant response of a senior scholar who belonged neither to the Straussians nor the Mahlerians but knew both sides well. “It’ll never work.”

There was wisdom in this pronouncement. Polite intercourse notwithstanding, the scholars effectively belong to camps, more so than the general enthusiasts. a joint gathering has yet to be seen on either side of the Atlantic, despite growing scholarly interest in both figures. and yet, for a lone wolf the topic holds an irresistible attraction.

Anyone who flips through the correspondence—carefully edited in 1980 by Herta Blaukopf, who wrote what remains the definitive treatment of the topic—can see that these composers got along far better than have their devotees. Strauss, the self-styled “first Mahlerian,” was already called an “old friend” by Mahler in 1897, ten years after their introduction in Leipzig. the substantial historical record includes meetings, conversations, study and performance of one another’s works—and, yes, sharp, interesting disagreements. There is good reason for someone to forge ahead . . .

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