May 2011 Archives

Gustav Mahler 1860-1911

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MA047.jpgThis day 100 years ago, on May 18th, 1911, the Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler died at age 50 of heart disease.

During his lifetime, Mahler was both famous and infamous as one of the most meticulous and demanding conductors of his time; when he received the prestigious post as musical director of the Vienna Opera house in 1897, he set about to turn it into one of the leading opera houses in the world; in fact, much of the reputation it has today still goes back to Mahler. His performances of Wagner, Mozart and Beethoven's Fidelio were considered revolutionary at the time. When an anti-Semitic press campaign (Mahler was born a Jew, but converted to Catholicism early on) led to his resignation in 1907, Mahler took on posts at the Met and with the New York Philharmonic.

As a composer, Mahler continued the symphonic tradition of Brahms and Bruckner, paving the way for the musical modernism of Shostakovich, Webern, or Schönberg. However, during his lifetime his symphonies were met with little acclaim, and after his death they all but disappeared from the repertoire, until their grandeur was rediscovered in the 1960s. Today, his symphonies are considered milestones of early 20th century music.

Something of an interesting sidenote, which I noticed some time back, is that Mahler's symphonic music also seems to have had quite an influence on film scores. Take for example the opening to his first symphony, which seems rather close to the original "Star Trek" theme. Or the beginning of the sixth symphony, which appears to have been an inspiration to the "Star Wars" Darth Vader theme. And there's this section, also from the sixth, which a friend of mine noticed was uncannily similar to the "Indiana Jones" theme.

Whether the influence is actually true or merely imagined, there is no doubt that Mahler's expansive soundscapes with their intense emotionality have inspired countless composers and listeners since his death and that he remains one of the most important composers of the 20th century.

Recommended listening:

Song clusters

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A team of scientists tried to figure out if the perception that certain countries vote for each other at the Eurovision Song Contest is actually true. They fed all available voting data into a computer, and it turned out that there are indeed six clusters of countries with similar musical tastes or other kinds of allegiances.

The results also proved once and for all what we always kind of suspected: that Austria is really located in the Balkans.

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Find Osama!

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American soldiers have recently found Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. In 1971, the bin Laden family took a trip to Sweden, where this picture (source: Die Zeit) was taken.

Now here's the real mindboggler: Who on this picture is Osama bin Laden? (Click on the picture to enlarge it.) And, most importantly: can you solve this mystery without consulting Google?

Mobile Services at VU Library

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At somewhat short (but manageable) notice, I received an invitation to speak at the Verbundtag 2011, a convention of Austrian librarians, where the plenary session of the first day was to be on mobile services for libraries. As I recently coordinated (and to some degree also programmed) a mobile version of Vienna University Library's website, they thought that I could add a local perspective to Patrick Hochstenbach's (excellent) presentation on "Mobilising Ghent University".

My presentation went well. It took a little longer than I had expected, but the audience remained surprisingly attentive throughout, despite the prospect of the free lunch buffet that was waiting outside.

I made a few slides to go with my presentation, and this video, which demonstrates the mobile website and catalogue:



"Ihr Auto"

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Summary for English readers: Somehow this used car business never seemed to be totally legal.
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Irgendwie hatte dieser Gebrauchtwagenhändler den Eindruck erweckt, seine Geschäfte nicht 100%ig legal abzuwickeln.