Posts Tagged ‘Gustav Mahler’


Posted in General on October 18th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 9 Comments

After a wonderful concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I was left with a remarkable insight:  Gustav Mahler is the Philip Roth of music.  Of course, there is the obvious and essential similarity: they are both brilliant, nasty Jewish boys.  But couldn’t the same be said of Karl Marx and St. Paul?  Perhaps, but unlike Gus and Phil, no one would say that Charlie or Saul were funny.  (And whatever Saul’s neuroses, none was caused by women.)

However, the works of Roth and Mahler are amazingly parallel.  Mahler’s First Symphony, with its cruel parody of Klezmer music, is the equivalent of “Goodbye Columbus.”  Gustav was proclaiming that there was more to him than being Jewish.  No, he was a child of nature and a man of the world.  However, by his Seventh Symphony, the world had convinced him that he was still just a Jew.  That, and the adulteries of his young, attractive shiksa wife, goaded him to compose a portrait of a dystopic world.

Yes, he still has evocations of nature but they seem desperate respites between shrill waltzes and sinister Germanic marches.  In his misery, Mahler created a brilliant satire of Austria-Hungary, a requiem kaddish.  His friend Dr. Freud might have reassured Mahler, “Yes, life is meshuggah, your marriage is a humiliation, and your career a torture, but that’s no reason to think that the Empire is about to collapse and disintegrate.”

The symphony premiered in 1908.  In this case, Mahler made a better diagnosis than Freud.