Idealistic, fantastic, grotesque, violent, tender, sarcastic, confrontational, confessional, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) are among the most profoundly autobiographical of all composed music. “I have written into them, in my own blood, everything that I have experienced and endured,” he confided to a friend after finishing the Second Symphony. For all its professional, emotional and physical crises, Mahler’s life was exemplary for an artist who, no matter how loud the outside world might pound on the walls of his concentration, vigilantly maintained an unobstructed direct line to his creative self, keeping it uncorrupted and unblocked to the end. He was the living embodiment of “the world as will and idea.” The composer Hans Pfitzner said Mahler was “one of the most strong-willed men I have known.” Romain Rolland, novelist and creator of the fictional genius composer Jean-Christophe, saw in the “extraordinarily high-strung” Mahler “something of the schoolmaster and something of the clergyman,” with a “long, clean-shaven face, hair tousled over a pointed skull and receding from a high forehead, eyes constantly blinking behind his glasses, a strong nose, a large mouth with narrow lips, sunken cheeks, and an ascetic, ironic and desolate air.”
more from John Adams at the NYT here.