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Gillespie, W. (1978). Gustav Mahler and the Courage to be: By David Holbrook. London: Vision Press Ltd. 1975. Pp. 270. 135 musical examples.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 59:540-541.

(1978). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 59:540-541

Gustav Mahler and the Courage to be: By David Holbrook. London: Vision Press Ltd. 1975. Pp. 270. 135 musical examples.

Review by:
William Gillespie

This is no ordinary biography, nor is it primarily a work of musical criticism; indeed David Holbrook describes himself as 'a literary rather than a musical person'. The book gives abundant evidence, however, of his technical expertise in the latter area. It is, as he says, 'an attempt to apply certain insights from recent psychoanalytical theory and existentialism to the criticism of a work of music'. Holbrook believes that 'from [object-relations] psychology there has emerged a "philosophical anthropology" which confirms a great deal of what existentialist philosophers from Martin Buber to Ludwig Binswanger have told us… Mahler's achievement was to find a sense of being confirmed in an invulnerable sense of meaningful existence in a Godless universe'. The central issue that Holbrook identifies in Mahler's life and work is already stated in the Programme of Mahler's Second Symphony: 'Have we any continuing existence? Is it all an empty dream, or has this life of ours, and our death, a meaning? If we are to go on living, we must answer this question.' Thus we can perceive both the existential problem and that of object relationship.

Although Holbrook devotes much attention to the existentialist approach, quoting from Buber, Rollo May and Binswanger among others, his main emphasis is psychoanalytic; he refers to the writings of at least 20 psychoanalysts, especially Melanie Klein (37 references), Sigmund Freud (28), and Donald Winnicott (20). As is well known, Mahler had one long consultation with Freud, less than a year before Mahler's death; its effects seem to have been salutary even if inevitably less than profound.

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