Magazine article Gramophone

Mahler & Strauss: In Dialogue

Magazine article Gramophone

Mahler & Strauss: In Dialogue

Article excerpt

Mahler & Strauss: In Dialogue

By Charles Youmans

Indiana University Press, 310pp, HB, 28.99 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-0-25302-159-5

One of the most fascinating questions regarding AustroGerman music in the post-Wagnerian era is how--and why--it could produce two composers as different as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. But Charles Youmans's new book digs down to the roots of this apparent incompatibility to present a joint portrait that manages, paradoxically, both to draw out their many similarities and to emphasise those differences.

He starts off by elucidating the challenges that faced him in writing such a book, not least the traditional mutual suspicion, in musicological if not music-loving circles, of adherents of one composer for those of the other. Another challenge is how to weave two subjects together while avoiding constant comparisons back and forth.

Rather than seeking to present an overarching narrative, biographical or otherwise, Youmans therefore opts to break his study into 12 themed chapters with titles such as 'Conductors', 'Husbands', 'Wagnerians', 'Literati', 'Metaphysicians' and 'Ironists'. This keeps the structure tidy and manageable. Don't think, however, that it means he attempts to neatly pigeonhole these various elements. There's plenty of interflow between the chapters, which makes for a certain amount of unavoidable repetition--I wondered if the book is best dipped into a chapter here or there at a time--but also serves to emphasise quite how interlinked such themes became for these two artists at the fin de siecle.

The family lives of each composer, for example, were of course very different, but the extent to which (and manner in which) they allowed those relationships into their work goes right to the heart of their attitudes towards their art. For Strauss, such elements, though heartfelt, were employed with a certain objectivity. Mahler, by contrast, wove his life deep into the very fabric of his music. For Strauss, the way he presented his own life--or a carefully edited version of it--was all part of his way of dealing with the doubts inherent to modernity, of the way he negotiated with Wagner and managed to separate that composer's musical means from his philosophical baggage and recouple it to the modern everyday. …

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