Just in: Mahler’s biographer has died, aged 92

We share with sorrow news of the death this morning of Henry-Louis de LaGrange, a man who did more than any other to unearth the facts of Gustav Mahler’s life, which he published in four massive volumes.

The son of an American heiress and a French aviator, Henry-Louis was transfixed by a Bruno Walter performance of Mahler’s ninth symphony with the New York Philharmonic in 1945 and never looked back.

He studied with Nadia Boulanger and worked for a while as a music critic but, with private means at his disposal, he was able to travel in search of Mahler or, behind the Iron Curtain, pay others to travel on his behalf.

Every Mahlerian owes him an immense debt.

We were friends for a decade, before he took exception to some of my ideas and cut off our contact. But I will always be grateful for the time he let me spend in his Paris archives, the symposia we shared and the long walks we took together in London, Stockholm, New York and at Mahler’s retreat at Toblach.

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  • We’re lucky that he happened along and had the means and desire to uncover so much about Mahler. I’ve read all four a few times; maybe 2017 will be another (and last) read. Does anyone know what the status of Vol.1 is? Wasn’t there supposed to be a revision coming at some time? Thank you Henry-Louis for setting me down my Mahler path so long ago, and inspiring me to travel to Europe to walk where the master did.

    • SUPPOSEDLY, the revised volume 1 was completed, though formal/official announcement of that fact has never been made, from past comment activity at the Facebook Mahler forum.

    • The indefatigable Sybille Werner, who is de La Grange’s successor in the field of Mahler research and contributed a great deal of content for Volume 4, is in the process of completing the editing of Mahler Volume 1 for Oxford University Press.

    • La Grange has done a priceless service to Mahler’s cause with this amazingly detailed chronicle of the composer’s life. I have all four volumes. The original book from 1973 (which is essentially Volume 1) was published by Doubleday whereas the subsequent volumes were published by Oxford. Is it possible that it’s a question of rights that could be part of what’s keeping Oxford from releasing a presumably revised and updated version of this 1973 volume?

      • Although I greatly admire and enjoyed reading De La Grange’s tomes, some details seemed to me rather superfluous and disturbing, like the analyses of Mahler’s bowel movements in his composing hut in Toblach. Every time I hear the scherzo from the fifth, associations with those passages spontaneously bubble to the surface and that is quite distracting, however apt they may be.

  • Great, great man. I hope someone publish all the volumes of the biography again – in a not-so-heavily-expensive edition. Rest in peace, monsieur.

    • Agree on the need for a more reasonably priced edition! While there are some relatively reasonable used copies (under $30, though I don’t know the quality) of volumes 1, 2, and 3 available on Amazon, new copies are all well over $100, and there is no copy of volume 4 available for less than $225! Crazy prices.

        • I wouldn’t pay $225 for any book. Maybe you are wealthy enough to splurge on such expensive books. I have a 2 volume Robert Musil “Man Without Qualities” about 1770 pages also. I paid $50. De La Grange’s books are vastly overpriced.

  • Interesting that it should need a rich man outside the musicological profession to do research on a musicological subject that apparently professionals had not done, or did not have the means to do, or did not have the time to do, on that scale.

    • Yes, it is interesting – and love live the amateur dillettante! Reading the in-depth analysis of Mahler’s works at the end of each volume, I would have thought he had some pretty solid musical training. Gilbert Kaplan is another amateur who great contributed to our knowledge of Mahler, and his recordings of the Resurrection are no mean feat, however one feels about them. Physicist William Carragan has done remarkable work editing and completing Bruckner’s 2nd and 9th – were all of the completers of Mahler’s 10th professionals?

      BTW: I am camping in Tombstone. Last night turned on the radio and picked up the classical station from Tucson. The Dallas Symphony was playing your Solemn Night Music. It was beautiful – fit the mood of watching the brilliant stars perfectly. I was impressed.

      • That’s quite a surprise to read that….. good for you! and thanks for the reaction.

        And yes, the completers of the 10th were professionals, and one of them was British composer David Matthews. I believe he worked on it together with his brother, also composer, Colin Matthews.

  • This is super sad. He met Alma too! This is a person I would have loved to meet. He lived in Toblach, did he not?

    Perhaps we can imagine, in a fantastical way, he is asking Mahler all those questions, now and Mahler is discussing counterpoint with JS Bach.

  • I’m grateful for everything that de LaGrange has done for Mahler. It certainly has served as a guiding ship for me.

  • In the fall of 1973 it was my great fortune to meet and play along with pianist Garrick Ohlsson for Henry Louis de la Grange at the home of Janie Schang in New York City. In 2004 I was privileged to interview him.

  • Sadness. I did meet the the great music lover in Toblach, discussing projects with him. As stated by others, I can confirm his kindness and humanity. He came to pick me up at the train station in his Volvo, and we immediately began to chat. I was in awe, and will remain so forever. Sweet repose, strolling the Mahlerian fields near Toblach.

  • Look for secondhand in Amazon, or Abe Books.
    I had the great priviledge as a younger man to correespond with Henri Louis, when he was writing the first voume, on the island of Corsica, as I remeber, and met him personally at the Mahler syposium in London, with my partner. I connected him to a distant relation, a Herr Mahler (Patent Lawyer) in Frauenfeld Switzerland. Then later about a theory I have about some use of Folkmusic, which may have been used in Symphony No 5.
    He was a kind person, and not above writing to an ordinary person like me.
    He will be missed, whatever people think, of the length, or ‘superfluous’ things he added to the later volumes. ‘Will he ever be surpassed? Never!’
    I salute his memory. Sincerely Peter

  • Happily the revised version of the first volume has now been published under the title of The Arduous Road to Vienna.

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