Gustav Mahler died, one hundred years ago

On May 18, 1911, the world lamented the death of Gustav Mahler.

The New York Times reported, in a special cable next day, with the heading “Gustav Mahler dies in Vienna. Conductor of New York Philharmonic succumbs in his native land, as he desired.”

It also reads “[Mahler] is praised as one of the towering musical figures of his day.”

The internet world wide has been commemorating the anniversary with live webcasts, special programmes and exhibition.

There is also a series of Remembering Mahler emails going on the Mahler-List which include some (translated) immediate responses from Mahler’s contemporaries, remembering the man and the musician. The following is written by Edgar Istel, a Munich composer and musicologist :-

One day a very powerful member of the Court appeared with the ‘request’ that an opera by a composer with connections at the very highest places be produced. Mahler promised to examine the opera scrupulously and then present his eventual decision. The opera proved to be an incompetent and sorry product, and Mahler did not hesitate to let the patron of the composer know, through roundabout means, that he would not perform the work.

The patron now hinted that Mahler’s position with those higher up could be firmly strengthened; that people in the very highest circles wished to hear the opera. Mahler replied coolly: “I report only to the Kaiser. If his Majesty so ‘commands’ it [befiehlt], then I will produce the work, otherwise never.” Obviously – and Mahler sensed this – the high ranking men and women did not dare to elucidate such a matter directly to the Kaiser; and if someone had actually succeeded, there would have still been one weapon remaining: “I would have simply written the following on the theater notices: “At Royal Command [Auf allerhöchsten Befehl]” – added Mahler maliciously, as he smiled below the lenses of his spectacles.

Conductor Kenneth Wood is running a series of “Mahler meditations” in his blog.

Photo © The New York Times
Quotation cited and translated by Michael Bosworth

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