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Notes and Editorial Reviews
A film by Andy Sommer
written with Catherine Sauvat
Henry-Louis de La Grange, Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Philippe de Chalendar, Daniele Gatti, Thomas Hampson, Daniel Harding, Jonathan Nott, Leslie Dragan, Michael Compitello
This documentary tells Mahler’s real story, going against any romanticised images we may have of the subject. The film has a visual sensuality, placing the spectator in Mahler’s shoes, and, using documented evidence (drawing on the latest research), it shows the sounds, colours, trends, successes, fanaticism and hostilities, as Mahler felt and experienced them himself. Mahler’s portrait comes to life through the places and objects of which he took possession: his
conductor’s podium, his summer home where he composed, his glasses, baton, musical score and manuscripts. The film attempts to recreate the soul of a man, rather than of an idol.
With excerpts from all 10 Mahler symphonies; Das Lied von der Erde, with Kathleen Ferrier, conducted by Bruno Walter and many more excerpts.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Audio language: French
Subtitles: English, German, French
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 88 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
R E V I E W:
GUSTAV MAHLER: Autopsy of a Genius
EUROARTS 2058838 (DVD: 88: 00)
The somewhat morbid title of this film might tend to obscure its nature; it’s really a fairly straightforward video biography of Gustav Mahler. It has two things going for it, besides the location filming in Vienna, New York, and Mahler’s breathtaking summer retreats in the Austrian (and Italian) mountains: the participation, as consultant and on screen, of Henry-Louis de La Grange and musical extracts drawn from Mahler concert videos; there are so many of these, principally Claudio Abbado’s series with his Lucerne Festival Orchestra, that it sometimes seems more like a very long trailer for the EuroArts video catalog than a film. The soundtrack is available only in PCM stereo.
Besides the concert extracts (which include several with Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic), there are short comments about Mahler from Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Danielle Gatti, Thomas Hampson, Daniel Harding, and Jonathan Nott; these appear in the introductory portion of the film, and they all then provide commentary on aspects of the music at various points during the film. The film is narrated in French with subtitles, though the various commentators are heard in their own languages (Abbado in Italian and French). In addition to the clips from various videos, Boulez is seen directing the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, and Harding the Swedish Radio Symphony, in parts of the Sixth Symphony. De La Grange provides biographical details of Mahler’s life (in French), and there are a few narrated excerpts from Gustav’s and Alma’s letters, as well as from Alma’s reminiscences.
The film follows the chronology of Mahler’s life, but it skips from his youth in Bohemia (accompanied by music from the First Symphony) to his appointment in Vienna, and explores the revolution in the arts that occurred in and around that year of 1897. We then follow Mahler through the tragedy of 1907, the farewell to Vienna, the tragically short “new beginning” in New York, and his final illness. As de La Grange recounts the details of Alma’s affair with Walter Gropius, and the subsequent crisis in the Mahler marriage, he is driven to the location of Alma’s apartment in New York, and reminisces about his own relationship with this formidable woman. He met her in 1952 when she was in her 70s, and the photo that accompanies this commentary depicts a very striking woman.
There is one glaringly obvious mistake in chronology in this otherwise well-researched film. We have witnessed the loss of Mahler’s eldest daughter, and the subsequent sale of the house that had provided Mahler with the space to compose for five summers. The film then takes us to Toblach and the location of Mahler’s last summer composing “hut.” We are told that the majestic Dolomites were the inspiration for one of Mahler’s most important works, the Sixth Symphony. That is unfortunately not the case, since the Sixth had been completed in Maiernigg in 1904, just after the
of Mahler’s eldest daughter. Another much less egregious error identifies Kathleen Ferrier as the soloist in “Urlicht” as part of the soundtrack, when the soloist is Hilde Rössl-Majdan from Klemperer’s EMI recording of the Second Symphony.
An epilogue gives us Abbado’s comments on the final Adagio of the Ninth Symphony, wherein Mahler “wrote his death,” and then the last few measures from that symphony are shown, courtesy of the Lucerne video. That fairly standard belief is contradicted by de La Grange’s comment a bit earlier about the burst of creative energy after the resolution of the crisis of 1910 that resulted in the 10th Symphony; de La Grange has been an iconoclastic voice against the conventional wisdom that sees Mahler moribund and morbid in the last few years of his life, and this epilogue, while providing a suitably emotional ending to the film, is, at the very least, inconsistent.
Mistakes notwithstanding, though, this is a fine and fitting tribute to Mahler’s life and works, and it would make a suitable addition to any Mahlerite’s video collection.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Work(s) by Gustav Mahler
Leslie Dragan (Alto)
Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Master Entertainer June 20, 2013
By Ronald Polimeni (Bellmawr, NJ) See All My Reviews
"An insightful and fascinating look into the man and his music. A wonderful addition for any Mahlerian.I almost feel that I knew this man. A must have."