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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 13, 1995|Kenneth Turan

THE MAHLER ALBUM edited by Gilbert E. Kaplan (The Kaplan Foundation/Harry N. Abrams: $75; 310 pp.). Given that he was notoriously camera-shy, composer and conductor Gustav Mahler would probably be astonished to know that five years of effort were expended in gathering this definitive collection of all known photographs in which he appears, including such casual snapshots as the great man strolling in Central Park and asking for directions in Rome. Even more surprising is that, against considerable odds, it is an exceptionally beautiful albeit quirky collection. Among the obstacles overcome are Mahler's reluctance to vary his expression, his absolute refusal to out-and-out smile, and his tendency to be photographed with the face he wore when, in a friend's words, he was "preoccupied with unpleasant thoughts." But breaking through the clouds are numerous notable illustrations, including photos of the man's vivid death mask, two Rodin-sculpted busts, numerous hostile caricatures, a friendly one by Caruso and even a relatively kindly photo his daughter Anna favored (above). Not to mention pictures of many generations of descendants and almost every building Mahler either lived or worked in. Equally eccentric is a 1921 personal memoir by friend Alfred Roller, who informs us that he could never look at the composer's "superbly modeled, sun-tanned back without being reminded of a racehorse in peak condition." Also included is the prescription for Mahler's signature eyeglasses, just the thing for those who want to see the world just as the composer did.

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