Mahler’s Heaven and Mahler’s Earth

Gustav Mahler: the face of a man wearing glasses. The face attracts the attention of the viewer: there is something very expressive about it. It is a strong and open face, we are willing to trust it right away. Nothing theatrical about it, nothing presumptuous. This man wears no silks. He is not someone who tells us: I am a genius, be careful with me. There is something energetic, vivid, and “modern” about the man. He gives an impression of alacrity: he could enter the room any second. Many portraits from the same period display men, Germanic and not only Germanic men, politicians, professors, and writers, whose faces disappear stodgily into the thicket of a huge voluptuous beard, as if hiding in it, disallowing any close inspection. But the composer’s visage is naked, trans-parent, immediate. It is there to speak to us, to sing, to tell us something. I bought my first recording of Gustav Mahler many decades ago. At the time his name was almost unknown to me. I only had a vague idea of what it represented. The recording I settled on was produced by a Soviet company called Melodiya — a large state-owned (of course) company which sometimes produced great recordings. There was no trade in the Soviet Union and yet the trademark Melodya did exist. It was the Fifth Symphony, I think — I’ve lost the vinyl disc in my many voyages and moves — and the conductor was Yevgeny Svetlanov. For some reason the cover was displayed in the store window for a long time; it was a modest store in Gliwice, in Silesia. Why the display of Mahler’s name in this provincial city which generally cared little for music?  It took me several days before I decided to buy the record. And then, very soon, when

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