Monthly Archives: February 2014

Keith James Clarke, Mahler’s Heavenly Retreats

These ‘encounters with the master’s Composing Houses’ are written by an architect and Mahler enthusiast. Our copy was given to some family members while they were standing in a Prom queue.

It’s a popular cliché now that men like sheds, and Gustav Mahler was fortunate enough to have isolated single-roomed buildings constructed near his summer places of residence, in which he could compose at peace. Clarke has examined these three buildings, considering their materials, construction, location and fittings, and relating them to Mahler’s needs and the music that was composed in them.

The most illuminating part of this analysis is that which is informed by an architect’s knowledge and way of thinking (but not too technical), which finds points of interest the casual visitor would miss. The descriptions of the surroundings of the composing houses tend to get bogged down in detail such as the colour of birds’ beaks. And the opening chapter on ‘Genius Loci’ doesn’t really go very deeply into the question of the relationship between a creative artist and a place, but just piles up a list of examples. There has been a lot of work on this relationship recently, and the book might have benefited by collaboration with someone who had studied it closely. Clarke knows Mahler’s works well, but wisely does not try to suggest many precise connexions between details of the music and landscape or events.

The book is illustrated with careful line drawings of the buildings and their details (sometimes with Mahler drawn in too!) and some slightly blurred photographs. There is a rather amusing table at the end, rating each composing house from 1 to 5 according to various criteria such as ‘Light Intensity Inside’, ‘Proximity to Biting Insects during Summers’ (more of a concern for Berg than Mahler, I’d have thought), ‘View of Sky’, ‘Thermal Mass’, ‘User Satisfaction for Mahler’ and so on.

Not having been to any of these houses, I can’t comment on accuracy of detail, though the low-lying mist 15 m above a lake (p. 36) is presumably a misprint.

I’m not a Mahlerian, but if you are interested in his life and work, it’s worth getting hold of this; it’s an easy and short read. There are an accompanying DVD and CD; I don’t have these, but I notice there is a YouTube lecture by the author.

  • 60 pages
  • Publisher: Oblique Angle Publishing (1 Nov 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 0955408008
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