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Reviewed by:
  • The Mahler Family Letters
  • Mary H. Wagner
The Mahler Family Letters. Edited and translated by Stephen McClatchie. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. [xiii, 418 p. ISBN 0-195-14065-6. $65.00] Illustrations, bibliographic references, index.

Stephen McClatchie's The Mahler Family Letters examines hundreds of pieces of correspondence between Mahler and his immediate family. Compared to other sources that include letters between Mahler and Richard Strauss or Alma Schindler, this book translates 568 letters from German into English. While a number of these documents are from various sources, most of these items are housed in the Mahler-Rosé Collection at the University of Western Ontario, and until now many of the letters were difficult to access, especially in English.

The introduction provides the details of Mahler's family tree and traces how the letters ended up in Canada. McClatchie describes how the Mahler-Rosé Collection is organized and some challenges in determining dates on various letters. Although Mahler corresponded with his parents and four younger siblings, Alois, Justine, Otto, and Emma, the majority of the letters focus on the relationship Mahler had with his younger sister Justine. When Justine married violinist Arnold Rosé, she continued to save the letters. After her daughter Maria Rosé inherited them, she finally donated the collection to the University of Western Ontario in 1983. The letters themselves span from Mahler's teenage years (1876) to his final year in America (1911), with the majority of letters from Hamburg (1891–97).

Having a general knowledge of Mahler's career as a conductor will provide readers a greater insight into his offstage life, thus creating a more complete understanding of the composer. In many of these letters Mahler reports on his rehearsals, working conditions, and his impressions of the press. Readers will gain a greater understanding of the responsibilities of a European conductor during the late nineteenth century. The value of these letters is increased by McClatchie's attention to detail in the footnotes along with an index that documents events and individuals such as Alma's half sister Margarethe Legler-Schindler and conductor Josef Stransky, who became director of the New York Philharmonic after Mahler's death.

McClatchie organizes the book into an introduction followed by five chapters based on Mahler's career. The chapters include: 1) The Early Years (Vienna, Kassel, Prague, Leipzig); 2) Budapest (September 1888–1891); 3) Hamburg (March 1891– April 1897); 4) Vienna (April 1897– November 1907); and 5) The Last Years (New York, Toblach, Vienna).

For readers less familiar with Mahler's career each chapter begins with a chronology of relevant events and accomplishments. McClatchie then presents the letters from the period in chronological order and places letters without documented dates at the end of the chapter.

Compared with other Mahler resources these translations create a true picture of Mahler's life. In several hundred letters to his sister Justine, Mahler speaks frankly about his challenges, family dynamics, health, and welfare. Although sometimes noted as controlling, Mahler supported his siblings as his parents' health deteriorated. After the death of his parents, Mahler assumed a more parental role and Justine took on a more maternal role. Throughout the years Mahler shared his earning with his family and contributed toward the living expenses and the education of his siblings. As with many families, rivalry also surfaced in the letters as Mahler reminded Justine to make sure that his younger brother Otto followed through in his studies. His frustration with Otto remained a constant subject in the letters.

Mahler's concern for others quickly appears in the chapter "The Early Years." Mahler routinely reports his progress to the family and always inquires about their well [End Page 611] being and his desire to visit them. The tone of the letters to Justine reveals her to be a confidant and best friend, who is only replaced with his wife Alma in the final chapters. Although Alma purposely disregarded some vital Mahler letters, those in Justine's possession reveal Mahler's hesitation about being significantly older than his future bride. Justine also expresses her uncertainty in Mahler's capacity to properly mold Alma (pp. 364–65). Documents that discuss...


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