It’s a positive review, and I have to agree that the “what's happening?” approach works very well for Mahler. Any book on music that stimulates the reader to get in there and listen (and enjoy!) has to be a good thing, and Hurwitz does that. It’s useful.
Unfortunately, when I first happened on this book in the library about a year ago, Hurwitz managed to rub me up the wrong way with his very first par on the First Symphony – not an auspicious start!
It’s not that I disagree with what he has to say about the “Titan” nickname. Hurwitz is right, it’s misleading and especially unhelpful to English speakers who are likely to think of Greek mythology before they think of Jean Paul. I personally would never use the nickname to publicise the symphony or in the heading/listing in a program book or on a CD, unless the conductor were making a very special case by attempting to reconstruct the symphony as it was for the brief period when it did actually sport this nickname.)
But I totally disagree with this opening bit of smugness, offered all too early and before Hurwitz has earned the reader’s trust:
“And it will really make you feel better to learn that 99.9% of all of those very smart musical scholars who point out this nickname in their program and booklet notes so as to imply that they actually have read [Jean Paul's novel Titan] (and therefore intimidatingly let you assuming that they know something important that you don't) actually haven't bothered either.”
In writing something like this Hurwitz is proving that he’s just as bad as the writers he’s criticising, just on different terms.
First, maybe Jean Paul isn’t terribly popular even in Germany today, but you can be sure that German-speaking scholars studying Mahler would have made themselves familiar with this novel.
Second, for a program or liner note writer (who is most likely *not* carrying out original research as a scholar in that particular field of enquiry) the reference to secondary sources and the work of specialist scholars is perfectly acceptable. It is absolutely possible to refer to and explain the “Titan” nickname and its significance (or not!) without disingenuously implying you’ve read the novel and that’s exactly what the good writers do.
Third, and in any case, a writer who ignores the nickname altogether (not referring to it even briefly) is doing the reader/listener a disservice. This isn’t about intimidation but information. Even Hurwitz himself cannot ignore it, although the way in which he introduces it does him no credit.
(He goes on to say “why read a tedious early nineteenth-century German novel” – so should I assume he belongs to the 0.1 per cent and has actually read it?)
The problem isn’t that Hurwitz’s point is wrong – the nickname is indeed not something you want to dwell on in relation to Mahler 1; it is remarkable as a first symphony; and the music has proven to be of more lasting interest than the novel – but its expression is wrongheaded.
What makes me cross is his flippant dismissal of the value of musical scholarship, with a cheap shot that panders to the worst kind of attitude. After all, we all, Mr Hurwitz included, stand on the shoulders of the scholars: musicologists and historians. We may write in a very different style (thank God, I would often say) and for a different audience and for a very particular function, but their authority underpins our own, and to sneer at them just isn’t cricket.