The Indomitable Will of Gustav Mahler
NY Times, Sept. 30, 2011Idealistic, fantastic, grotesque, violent, tender, sarcastic, confrontational, confessional, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) are among the most profoundly autobiographical of all composed music. “I have written into them, in my own blood, everything that I have experienced and endured,” he confided to a friend after finishing the Second Symphony. For all its professional, emotional and physical crises, Mahler’s life was exemplary for an artist who, no matter how loud the outside world might pound on the walls of his concentration, vigilantly maintained an unobstructed direct line to his creative self, keeping it uncorrupted and unblocked to the end.He was the living embodiment of “the world as will and idea.” The composer Hans Pfitzner said Mahler was “one of the most strong-willed men I have known.” Romain Rolland, novelist and creator of the fictional genius composer Jean-Christophe, saw in the “extraordinarily high-strung” Mahler “something of the schoolmaster and something of the clergyman,” with a “long, clean-shaven face, hair tousled over a pointed skull and receding from a high forehead, eyes constantly blinking behind his glasses, a strong nose, a large mouth with narrow lips, sunken cheeks, and an ascetic, ironic and desolate air.”High-strung he may have been, but Mahler was also just plain tough, able to conduct four or five performances a week, many of them four-or five-hour operas like “Tristan” and “Don Giovanni”; rise early the next morning to orchestrate his own music; and then walk to the opera house to deal with the myriad complications and headaches that came with his position as music director of a major opera house. He conducted with raging fevers, sore throats or, his particular curse, painful hemorrhoids. As an ambitious young conductor in Budapest and Hamburg, he was aerobically demonstrative on the podium, flailing his arms, urging, coaxing, shaping and giving fiery impulse to the music. In his later years, especially after the diagnosis of a perilous heart ailment at the age of 47, he became economical in gesture but no less intense in mood. A spartan in his dress and daily habits, he disliked showy display on and off the stage and was historically unpleasant at the kind of obligatory social gatherings and dinners required of cultural leaders. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Gustav Mahler and the Crisis of Jewish Identity
Francesca Droughton and Raymond Knapp
ECHO: a music-centered journal, Volume 3 Issue 2 (Fall 2001)
The “crisis of Jewish identity” that will concern us here has two somewhat distinct frames of reference, involving musical enactments and rationales on the one hand, and a set of issues revolving around reception and interpretation on the other. The crisis in question, whose working out we will attempt to trace in Mahler’s music, is at once Mahler’s crisis and the more broadly experienced crisis of Jewish identity that his struggle has come, through historical circumstances, to represent in part and in nuce. If our topic is thus as broadly conceived as our title indicates, our discussion will eventually be brought to a much narrower focus through close readings of pivotal movements from his first two symphonies.
2. The case of Gustav Mahler has always held great interest for those seeking to delineate the troubled relationships between Jews and the anti-Semitic cultures—particularly Germanic cultures—within which they have lived and worked; this interest has, if anything, become more intense in recent years. The turn of the century in Vienna—Mahler’s Vienna—was especially fraught, marked by the precipitous decline of Austrian liberalism and the emergence of many Jews to cultural prominence against an anti-Semitic background that was becoming increasingly virulent. Among the most important of these was Mahler’s contemporary Freud, who became prominent in Vienna around the same time and, like Mahler, made substantial and lasting contributions to Austro-Germanic culture; the many striking parallels between the two go to the heart of the issues involved with Jewish representation within that culture more broadly. Like Freud, Mahler tended to extrapolate from his own complex experiences—of self, of family, of society—to project a vision of what it means to be human that has sometimes seemed to be more idiosyncratic than universal, offering an easy target to anyone who wanted to argue for his essential foreignness. And, like Freud, in contributing so forcefully to Germanic culture, Mahler became in turn a significant part of what that culture offered the world at large, attaining a position sufficiently eminent that attack was virtually inevitable.1
3. Mahler famously articulated his own position in the world as “thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, as a Jew throughout the world—always an intruder, never welcomed” (Alma Mahler, Memories and Letters 109). We might suppose this statement to be somewhat exaggerated, since it functions both as a complaint and as a claim of authenticity for someone aspiring to be a Romantic Artist, but when we consider the reality of Mahler’s historical situation, it seems almost mild. Mahler was throughout his adult life indeed regarded as an intruding outsider, and precisely along the lines he indicates. Within Germanic culture, he was but an Austrian, and being an Austrian in Germany was not exactly an honor in the decades following their humiliating defeat by the Prussians in 1866.… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
On Gustav Mahler’s Reception in Israel: The Fourth Homeland?
Israel Studies in Musicology Online, Vol. 16, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2019
For more than one hundred years, both Mahler’s music and his Weltanschauung have remained subjects of intensive debates. Irrespective of the time and place of his music’s performances, Mahler never enjoyed a unanimous response from the audiences: either acclaim or dismay, but never indifference. The persistence of intense discussions about Mahler’s music suggests that we cannot evaluate the responses as a series of separate events, each having its own specific reason; instead, the controversy about Mahler in the outside world can be seen as a mirror of his highly ambivalent inner world, giving rise to a diversity of interpretations.
Among other issues, one of controversial points has for a long time been Mahler’s ambivalent attitude toward the spiritual Israel, id est, his Jewish heritage. Mahler’s connection (or lack thereof) with his Jewish spiritual roots remains a thorny issue, despite much interest in the subject and the many publications that have focused on the topic.2 When we examine the question of Mahler’s national and cultural identity, however, we must distinguish between his self-identity and his reception by various audiences, both Jewish and Gentile.
The attitude of non-Jewish audiences varied widely, from racist anti-Semitism to enthusiastic delight and admiration (“the man who, as I believe, expresses the art of our time in its profoundest and most sacred form” – Thomas Mann, after the premiere of the Eighth Symphony in Munich, 19103 ). Jewish audiences also reacted to Mahler’s personality and work in different ways. Their most common attitude was a dual one of love and antipathy: partly due to Mahler’s conversion to Christianity, partly to his seemingly exclusive affinity with Christian culture. Naturally, therefore, performances of Mahler’s music in Israel generated ideological strife and were the subject of animated discussions.4 To gain a picture of the historical background for these discussions, we have to take into consideration the historical facts connected with the performance of Mahler’s works in Israel.
The Newly-Created Palestine Orchestra Performs Mahler
The initiative for Mahler’s performances came from the Jewish violinist and conductor Bronisław Huberman (1882–1947), who founded the Palestine Orchestra in 1936.5 Huberman’s ideological beliefs did not remain static during his lifetime. In the 1920s, before he became involved in the Palestine orchestra project, he was one of the adherents of the pan-European movement and “went so far as to define himself as a European in his national affiliation.”6 Nevertheless, during three touring visits to Eretz Israel (“Land of Israel – Heb.) from 1929 to 1934, he was greatly inspired by the warm reception given to him by the local audiences, as well as by his observation of the egalitarian nature of culture in the Zionist project for the entire community. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Gustav Mahler and the Next Generation
Forbidden Music, Oct. 24, 2017
This is a talk I gave as part of Oxford’s 2017 Lieder Festival on October 20th. Originally, I was asked to speak on Mahler’s Vienna, but somewhere along the line the request changed into how Mahler may, or may not have influenced the next generation of Viennese progressive composers. To understand what this influence was and how central it became, it’s important to understand the political and social nature of Mahlerian Vienna itself so in fact, the two subjects complement each other. It’s now 120 years since the 37-year-old Gustav Mahler arrived in Vienna in 1897 as Director of the Imperial Court Opera, or Hofoper as it was called. The general view has always been that he arrived in one of Europe’s great bastions of not just musical, but political and social conservativism. Certainly the Empire was wracked with what today we might call nativists’ movements. The Prime Minister of Austria, Kasimir Felix Badeni decreed that all official documents in Bohemia and Moravia were to be in both Czech and German. It resulted in protests that were so disruptive as to lead to his downfall.
A further 1897 development was a surprising move from Georg von Schönerer’s Pan-German party to the equally anti-Semitic Christian Socialists (Christlichsoziale), represented by the election of Karl Lueger as Mayor of Vienna. The Emperor Franz Joseph who despaired of Lueger’s anti-Semitism refused to confirm him as Mayor of Vienna until advised by Pope Leo XIII of the futility of his stand. Schönerer, no less of an anti-Semite than Lueger, had lost all credibility with his denouncement of Austrian Catholicism and his 1888 occupation of the editorial offices of Moritz Szeps’s newspaper Das Neue Wiener Tagblatt, which he had proclaimed “an evil instrument of Jewish propaganda”. His occupation of the editorial offices along with ensuing fisticuffs are considered by some as the first act of right-wing terrorism. As a result, he spent four months in jail leaving the political field open for Karl Lueger’s Christian Socialists.
But in addition to the fall of the Badeni government, the arrival of Mahler and the election of Karl Lueger, 1897 was also the year when Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Joseph Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbricht along with a host of others founded the Secessionist Movement in the Salon of Berta Zuckerkandl, who also happened to be the daughter of the press baron, the aforementioned Moritz Szeps. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:
Keeping Score | Gustav Mahler: Origins (Full Documentary and Concert): San Francisco Symphony, YouTube, Mar. 28, 2020 — The first of two episodes explores the roots of Gustav Mahler’s music. SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas journeys to rural Bohemia to rediscover the inspirations of Mahler’s music, and traces Mahler’s life through the premiere of his first symphony in 1888.
Gustav Mahler: A Life: Classic FM — Mahler’s lifetime spanned the most crucial period in musical history. Behind him lay the rich, Romantic pastures of Bruckner and Brahms, and ahead the “alien” musical landscapes of Schoenberg and Boulez and the harrowing emotional terrain of Shostakovich and Britten. Includes samples of his music.
A Detailed Explanation of How Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is a Heart-Shattering Work of Genius: Classic FM, July 7, 2017 — When Gustav Mahler, the speccy oddball with the huge ambitions and the knack for bluster and religious confusion, wrote his second symphony, it was clear that its popularity was going to last well beyond his lifetime. There are multitudinous reasons for this, but chief among them is that it is BIG. Very big indeed.
Gustav Mahler and Viennese Identity in his Music: Rachel Flamm Anne Ulmer German 346- Vienna: Dream and Reality, Carlton. edu, Feb. 22, 2006 — The history of western music is deeply embedded in the Austro-Germanic line of composers. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, and Wagner were unquestionably part of this succession of composers, even if some of these men were influenced by outside sources such as Italian, French, or Eastern European music.
Gustav Mahler: Leon Botstein, Transforum — Why Gustav Mahler? When Gustav Mahler died in 1911, at the age of 51, few would have predicted that 100 years later his music—nine completed symphonies, the fragment and posthumously completed version of the Tenth, and the many songs, individually and in cycles, particularly the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer), Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth), and Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children)— would occupy a place in the world of classical music and the symphonic repertory equal to, if not larger than that of Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. Writing just two years after Mahler’s death, the widely read and respected critic Walter Niemann concluded that it was Mahler’s fate to have never achieved true greatness. Niemann’s colleague Karl Storck defined Mahler as a “problem.” Despite Mahler’s ambitions, his music would never last. Leon Botstein (b. 1946 in Switzerland) is an American conductor and the President of Bard College (since 1975). Botstein currently serves as the music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He is also co-Artistic Director of the Bard Music Festival. He also serves as the Board Chairman of the Central European University.
This week’s Communiqué Isranet is: Communiqué: Amour, quand tu nous tiens ! Émiratis et Israéliens