Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed the World
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For a more personal homage, however, I decided to bypass the sites of his trials and triumphs as a world-renowned musical star. Instead, I followed the footsteps of his early youth in today's Czech Republic, visiting the places where he first immersed himself in music and driving through the lovely landscapes from which he drew inspiration throughout his life.
Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World
My route meandered through the lovely Vysocina upland region of Bohemia and Moravia, one of my favorite parts of the Czech Republic. Along the way I stayed the little village of Kaliste, where Mahler was born, and found the gravestones of his maternal grandparents in the Jewish cemetery in Ledec nad Sazavou. I visited Mahler haunts including Zeliv, the village where his first love lived and committed suicide , and the town of Jihlava, where the composer lived until the age of 15 and where the family home is now a Mahler museum.
I also spent hours simply driving through the rolling hills, fields and forests of the Vysocina, listening all the while to Mahler symphonies played loud on the car stereo That's a symphony for you!
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It's entirely immaterial whether it is heard from this din or from the birds' singing, from the roar of a storm, the splash of waves or the crackle of a fire I only spent a weekend following the Mahler trail. But it would be easy -- and rewarding -- to spend much more time exploring the region, using the composer's early life as a means of discovering some of the many remaining treasures here of local Jewish heritage. Mahler's birthplace makes a good base, particularly as a pleasant and inexpensive little family-run guest house -- the Penzion Mahler -- now occupies the site of the house where Mahler was born on July 7, His parents ran a shop and tavern here, and the sleepy little hamlet, centered on a church and large grassy common, looks much the same as it did in the 19th century.
Mahler only spent the first few months of his life in Kaliste, before the family moved to Jihlava, a regional center about 30 km away. But the Penzion Mahler bears a monument to the composer on its wall, and its amenities include a modern little concert hall as well as a cozy, wood-paneled pub.
When he was a student, Mahler used to come here to visit his friend Emil Freund. Young Mahler's first romantic involvement, in fact, was with a cousin of Emil's named Marie Freund, who, tragically, committed suicide in Kaliste is just eight km from the quaint market town of Humpolec.
Mahler's paternal grandparents and other Mahler relatives are buried here in the walled and tree-shaded Jewish cemetery located just outside town beneath the hilltop ruins of the medieval Orlik castle. Here is also found the grave of Mahler's early love, Marie Freund, and members of her family. The synagogue still stands near the center of Humpolec, but it now serves as a church.
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And the town museum off the main square includes a permanent little exhibition of photographs, documents and other material on Mahler that was opened in Humpolec was the birthplace of the influential Czech-American anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka, and the town museum bears his name. Humpolec is also home to the brewery that produces one of the Czech Republic's best beers -- Bernard.
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A soaring castle dominates this picturesque little town on the Sazava river where Mahler's mother Marie was born. Some accounts say that Mahler's bris, or ritual circumcision, took place in the synagogue here. Built in , the synagogue, with a tall peaked roof and arched windows still stands amid the old Jewish quarter near the main square.
Restored a decade or so ago, it is used now as a concert and exhibition hall. As a child, Mahler often visited his relatives in Ledec, including his grandfather, Abraham Hermann, a wealthy soap manufacturer. The story goes that Hermann introduced Gustav to music when the child was just four years old by allowing him to play an old piano stored in his attic. Abraham and his wife Teresie are buried side by side in the Ledec Jewish cemetery, an evocative graveyard founded in the 17th century that is reached from within the municipal cemetery at the edge of town.
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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 Mahlers 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.