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Announcing My First Novel: The Mahlers in New York

My first novel, The Marriage: The Mahlers in New York, will be published in April 2023 by Blackwater Press (a young and enterprising outfit that cares about classical music). It’s already in the hands of prospective reviewers and other interested parties. It’s also announced on my website.  

So far as I am aware, this is the first account of Gustav Mahler’s years with the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic (1907-1911) that does not recapitulate his own ignorance of the New World. In fact, so far as I know it’s the first book-length treatment of this topic.

I also, in a Foreword, present The Marriage as an argument for historical fiction as a vital tool for the cultural historian.

In an Afterword, I write: “Mahler was a great personality and, when circumstances permitted, a great man. He arrived in America weakened and fatigued. His energy and idealism were aroused by the New World, but fitfully . . . he remained a chronic outsider. Gustav Mahler was not really cut out to be music director of an American orchestra, sensitive to the needs of a cultural community, its scribes, audiences, and benefactors. He had bigger things to do.”

I append below five blurbs (“Advance Praise”). But first, as a teaser, here’s one of my favorite passages. It’s April 1909, and Mahler is sailing back to Austria following concerts with his New York Philharmonic:

Vita fugax. This fleeting life. My work unfinished.

And yet: How beautiful the world is! How can any clod claim indifference? How detestable is a “worldly” cynicism! Man is such a marvelous machine. When we see a complex mechanism – a motor car – do we assume that no means of propulsion is present merely because none is visible? So it is with Nature.

He was leaning on the railing, facing sky and water. The great ship was asleep. The enveloping blackness signified the hidden presence both of stars and clouds – and also no doubt of an impregnating deity. Left behind was the concrete of the city, its rackets of noise and miniature facsimiles of lake and forest. Soon he would return to the wooded seclusion of his composing hut the thought of which caused him to sink far into himself, a narcotic sensation laced with the sublime privacies of creative introspection. Lost to the world.

Gradually a half- moon appeared, its outline diffused by drifting wisps of colored air made visible by the pale yellowish light. Directly underneath, darting specks, also yellow, lit the Atlantic: Kantian ephemera, a flickering, fickle world of appearances masking the elusive profundities of existence itself.

The opening pages of the new symphony – his Ninth: dangerous epochal number – had for some time congealed in his ear: a cradle song for violins, harp, and quivering violas – a waterscape, clear or turbid, light or dark in hue, whose tolling brass and timpani intimated shoals of foreboding. A symphonic life stream whose tidal depths controlled a surface multiplicity of incident and allusion, whose deep eruptions shaped the ebb and flow of a restless Life Force in flux, in quest. An oscillation of past and future; of siren songs of memory tugging backward at head and heart; of prophecies of calamity hurtling forward toward a ruthless existential yaw.

Busoni had an inspired term for the sonic noumenal: “Ur-Musik,” underlying imposed symmetries of structure. He discovered its purest, loftiest form in the organ fantasies of Bach and in certain transitional synapses in Beethoven, in the pages of the Hammerklavier in which premonitions of the fugue materialize like atoms flying in a void, limning the elemental. Composers drawing free breath, seeking originality of form, are accused of “formlessness,” Busoni writes. Precisely. To lead music back to its absolute self. That must be the goal.

Mahler attended to the gentle bobbing motion of the Kronprinzessin Cecilie: a buoyant object atop a universe of water. He listened to the lapping of the waves upon the coursing hull beneath, to the faint hum of the engines, whose tremor he could also sense underfoot. But seeking the unknowable – ever pursuing Goethe’s unbeschreibliches – he mainly heard the unhearable: the quivering metaphysic of the dark starless night.


Horowitz is a master of what I would call “passionate scholarship.” He has a stake in what he writes. There is a lot of very sensitive skin in his game. As a literary writer he is at heart the free-spirited scholar he has been for decades; his prose frames in precise words the psychological ambiguities of personalities no less than the nu- ances of musical compositions or performances. His deep historical knowledge blends with his narrative imagination to bring to life the sounds, the smells, the physical textures, the very air his characters breathed: Gustav and Alma Mahler are, at the same time, accurate historical portraits and haunting literary presences.

–Antonio Muñoz Molina, Winner of the Jerusalem Prize

Despite his emotions having so often been on show, there has always been something enigmatic and unknowable about Gustav Mahler. But where biographers and other musicologists have struggled, Joseph Horowitz succeeds brilliantly in revealing the inner Mahler in this powerful and moving novel. It is a triumph of historical imagination

–Richard Aldous, author of Tunes of Glory: The Life of Malcolm Sargent; Eugene Meyer Professor of History and Culture, Bard College

If we want to get closer to the “truth” of Mahler and his music, if we hope to improve our understanding of the person and his crea- tions, we need to acknowledge the role our imagination must play in the learning process. In the case of Mahler, the essential facts have long been known. What we need now are fresh attempts to conceive what further truths they might contain. Joseph Horowitz’s brilliant novel reveals much to us about who Mahler was, what he accomplished, and how he related to his world. Readers will be as eager to study it as they would any biography, and they can expect to learn as much.

–Charles Youmans, Author of Mahler and Strauss: In Dialogue (2016); editor of Mahler in Context (2021); Professor of Musicology, Penn State University

Joe Horowitz’s The Marriage portrays Mahler with more power and poignancy than anyone else ever has. Set in a spider web of New York City wealth, power, and intrigue, the writing is so profoundly personal, so searingly intimate, that it is sometimes painful to read – to get that close to Mahler and his wife Alma – “the most beautiful woman in Vienna.” I found myself unable to resist reading passages several times. This is a book for people who love Mahler and long to know him intimately (and there are millions) – a truer, more human Mahler than we have ever before encountered. Alma is also fabulously drawn, with all her love and antipathy towards her husband.

–JoAnn Falletta, Music Director, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Persuasive and fair. It is refreshing to see this chapter of Gustav Mahler’s biography from an American perspective, written by someone not automatically biased in favor of Europe.

–Karol Berger, Author of Beyond Reason: Wagner contra Nietzsche; Osgood Hooker Professor in Fine Arts, Stanford University

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