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The Eighth: Mahler and the World in 1910

The Eighth: Mahler and the World in 1910

By Stephen Johnson

"There have been many books on [Mahler] but Stephen Johnson's new volume is unique, concentrating on the composer's mighty Eighth Symphony (the 'Symphony of a Thousand'), setting the piece and Mahler's work in general within the context of the world and society he lived in. This is a book written with both passion and scholarship that will send listeners to the composer afresh."―Barry Forshaw, Classical CD Choice

“In a new book, The Eighth: Mahler and the World in 1910, the British composer and critic Stephen Johnson frames the symphony around the relationship between Mahler and his amorous wife, Alma, whom he feared losing. Much of Mahler’s music is death haunted. The Eighth stands out for its utter excess of love, the force beyond comprehension."―Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

"[A] thrilling study of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 8. . . . Johnson makes a strong case for its quality, musically and philosophically, in this magnificent, strongly argued and yet wonderfully subtle study. Whatever our final judgment may be on the Eighth, having read Johnson, we shall never listen to it in the same way again."―John Banville, Guardian

September 12, 1910: The world premiere of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and the artistic breakthrough for which the composer had yearned all his life. Munich’s new Musik Festhalle was filled to capacity on two successive evenings for the performances, which were received with rapturous applause. Representatives of many European royal houses were in attendance, along with an array of stars from the musical and literary world, including Thomas Mann and the young Arnold Schoenberg. Also present were Alma Mahler, the composer’s wife, and Alma’s longtime lover, the architect Walter Gropius. Knowledge of their relationship would precipitate an emotional crisis in Mahler that, compounded with his heart condition and the loss of his young daughter Maria, would lead to his premature death the next year.

In The Eighth, Stephen Johnson provides a masterful account of the symphony’s far-reaching consequences and its effect on composers, conductors, and writers of the time. The Eighth looks behind the scenes at the demanding one-week rehearsal period leading up to the premiere—something unheard of at the time—and provides fascinating insight into Mahler’s compositional habits, his busy life as a conductor, his philosophical and literary interests, and his personal and professional relationships. Johnson expertly contextualizes Mahler’s work among the prevailing attitudes and political climate of his age, considering the art, science, technology, and mass entertainment that informed the world in 1910. The Eighth is an absorbing history of a musical masterpiece and the troubled man who created it.

Hardcover
320 pages
University of Chicago Press, 2020
5.5 x 8.5 inches
ISBN 9780226740829
Biography, Music, History

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