B0458. (MAHLER) Henry-Louis de La Grange. Mahler, Vol.I. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1973. 982pp. Index; Catalogue and History of Unfinished, Destroyed, or Lost Works; Detailed History and Analysis of These Works; Bibliography; Photos; DJ. [Vol. II continues to be in preparation] - 0-385-00524-5
“Henry-Louis de La Grange was so captivated by a Mahler symphony he heard at Carnegie Hall in 1945 he devoted the rest of his life to researching the tempestuous Viennese composer’s biography.
Professor de La Grange, the son of a French politician who was once held prisoner by the Nazis and an American heiress to a furniture-store fortune, inherited the title of baron on his 21st birthday but dispensed with it. ‘I did not earn it’, he said in 1989. ‘I was simply born to it. I use the title of Professor because the Austrian government has given me that title. I feel that I have earned it’.
Professor de La Grange began earning his scholarly credentials in 1973 when, after 15 years of research, he published Volume I of his biography, simply titled GUSTAV MAHLER. It became a heroic 3,600-page saga, still being revised, that distinguished him as the dean of Mahler biographers. He also went on to direct or collaborate on concerts, exhibitions, festivals, and film and television documentaries - including one in 2015 on his own obsession with Mahler - that prompted a critical rediscovery of the composer and a popular appreciation of his music by contemporary audiences.
He was in New York when he heard the symphony that piqued his infatuation with Mahler, an encounter that was completely by chance. He had decided to attend the Carnegie Hall concert - on 20 Dec., 1945, the day after he returned from France with his family following World War II - only because Bruno Walter, his favorite, was conducting. He was unaware that Walter, a Mahler disciple, would open the New York Philharmonic’s program that evening with the composer’s Ninth Symphony in D Major, which Mahler wrote after the death of his daughter and after he had learned that he had fatal cardiac disease. He later wrote: ‘I believed in Mahler from the moment I heard his music. Something in me happened, and it made clear the fact that I work for him’.
Henry-Louis de La Grange was born in Paris in 1924. His father was Amaury de La Grange, a French nobleman, military aviation pioneer, senator and, in 1940, an under secretary in Premier Paul Reynaud’s cabinet. The Nazis held him prisoner for five years during World War II. His mother was the former Emily Sloane, whose grandfather, William, founded W. & J. Sloane, the high-end Fifth Avenue household furnishings store, in the 1840s. (He had a box at the old Metropolitan Opera House, for which he had supplied the upholstery.) He graduated from the University of Provence in Aix-en-Provence and the Yale School of Music and studied piano in Paris under Nadia Boulanger and Yvonne Lefébure. Before embarking on his Mahler opus, he was a music critic for THE TIMES and other publications in the early 1950s. Delving into Mahler’s final years in New York, after the composer had left Vienna, where his daughter died and where anti-Semitism was growing, Professor de La Grange was more forgiving than other Mahler authorities.
Reviewing Volume IV of the biography in The Journal of the Society for American Music in 2009, Joseph Horowitz wrote, ‘The net effect is a vigorously positive assessment of what Mahler achieved in New York, and of what he might have further achieved had he not died at the age of 50’.
“Ultimately, I found the job of reconstructing the life of a man more interesting than reconstructing a dead civilization.”
- Sam Roberts, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 Feb, 2017