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Title:      Gustav Mahler, Song Symphonist
Author:     Gabriel Engel (1892-1952)
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Gustav Mahler, Song Symphonist
Author:     Gabriel Engel


This biography is not an unqualified eulogy. It is the first life of
Gustav Mahler written by one who cannot boast a more or less intimate
personal acquaintance with him. It is, nevertheless, the first account
of his life based on his collected letters, [Gustav Mahler Briefe.
Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna.] the recent publication of which has at
last made available material proving him to have been a far more human
and fascinating figure than the haloes of sentiment cast over him by
German biographies will admit. Therefore, the author of this book, the
first on the subject conceived and written in English, believes he is
justified in having made frequent and generous quotations from these
letters, and acknowledges gratefully the kindness of the publisher,
Paul Zsolnay of Vienna, in permitting him to make them.

Mahler's compositions receive much the same treatment in these pages
as other incidents in his life; for he lived his works, and nothing
was more abhorrent to him than the guide-book explanations and
programmatic rhapsodies which constitute the rather rambling method of
the biographies by his countrymen.

The book is necessarily short; for it is a first word from a new
point-of-view. Yet it is no mere chronicle of dates and facts intended
to preface an esthetic discussion of the thousand and one details of
nine colossal symphonies. It is primarily and almost entirely a


The utmost efforts of the studious countryman, Bernhard Mahler
of Kalischt, Bohemia, to better himself had net him after many
discouraging years only the modest dignity of a rustic private-tutor.
The hopelessly cramped environment of the sleepy village mocked his
futile bookishness, and calmly watched him waste the best years of his
early manhood getting a bare living by driving a wagon or slaving in a
factory. To those about him the development of his stern character
meant nothing, but as a man destined to become the father of a genius
he assumes definite significance in the eyes of a world convinced of
the tremendous importance of heredity.

There was no sentiment in the man's emotional make-up. Purely out of
an inculcated sense of duty he turned his attention at the age of
thirty to the problem of establishing a household of his own. He
looked about him shrewdly for an ideal helpmate in this undertaking
and decided upon the gentle and obedient Marie Hermann, daughter of a
neighboring soap-boiler. There was no question of a love-match, but by
sheer strength of will he won the girl's consent. Of the twelve
children that issued from this marriage the first, a boy, died in
earliest infancy. The second, Gustav, joined the childless couple on
July 7, 1860. [Biographers are agreed upon July 7. Unfortunately, the
written record has disappeared, and since the composer always regarded
July 1 as his birthday, this chronological riddle will perhaps never
be solved.]

The house of Gustav Mahler's birth was the typical little
peasant-shack, a dwelling so poor that its windows could not even
boast panes. The composer related in later years that this detail and
a large puddle of water before the door were for him the unforgettable
features of the place. However, Bernhard Mahler had no intention of
subjecting his son to the educational disadvantages that had
frustrated his own ambition, and the very same year, with baby Gustav
only five months old, the little family migrated to the not distant
provincial town of Iglau.

The influence of these new, highly picturesque surroundings upon the
nature of the growing child was, no doubt, tremendous. The vital
atmosphere of the high valley in which the town lay and the deep,
hilly woods ranging on every side so rich in mysterious folk-lore
surely lent their essence to the colorful music Mahler composed in
later years. Besides, Iglau, at that time still untouched by the
modernizing railroad, was utterly free from the political excitement
racking the outer world. For many generations the townspeople had
lived peacefully side by side unswayed by creed differences. The
significance of this circumstance must not be overlooked, for although
Gustav Mahler was of Jewish extraction, throughout his arduous, yet
meteoric rise to the throne of music he never complained of religious
discrimination. [Alfred Roller relates that in those last sad days
preceding Mahler's resignation from the Viennese Opera House, he said
bitterly, "Is it not strange that the anti-semitic papers are the only
ones that still seem to have some respect left for me?"]

The early childhood of great men is handed down to posterity in the
shape of a few anecdotes chosen to show the first promise of their
genius. Of such stock stories there are several revealing the
phenomenal musical endowment of little Gustav. One tells how at the
age of two he could sing hundreds of folk-songs and already exhibited
a preference for music of a military nature. More credible, perhaps,
is the claim of another that he could at four play correctly on an
accordian all the march tunes used in the neighboring barracks.
Certainly the Mahler symphonies, with their great wealth of rhythmic
material in strikingly martial settings, are eloquent corroboration of
the story of the extraordinary little boy who surrendered his soul to
the brazen spell of signalling trumpets, and was compelled by some
mysterious power to haunt the vicinity of the barracks lest he miss
the strange voice of beauty lurking deep beneath this music's stern,
drab medley.

The occasion that inaugurated his real musical training occurred upon
a visit to the home of his grandparents. The four-year-old child
[According to Mrs. Mahler's preface to the "Briefe."] was suddenly
nowhere to be seen. Anxious search finally located him in the attic
engrossed with an old piano upon which he was picking out well-known
tunes with the greatest ease.

An anecdote of unusual psychological interest is the following: One
day father Mahler took little Gustav with him to the woods, but
suddenly reminded of some forgotten chore he decided to hurry back
home. Seating the child on a tree-stump, he said, "Stay here and wait.
I'll be back very soon." In the meanwhile visitors had arrived at the
house, and in the excitement he completely forgot about Gustav until
it was almost sunset. Apprehensive, he now ran back to the woods only
to find the boy still sitting just as he had been left before, but as
though in a trance, with eyes full of wonder, fixed upon some
marvelous fancied vision.

Of all the stories of his childhood this one throws most light upon
Mahler the creator. There is an uncanny magnificence about this child
which is the very soul of all the man's symphonies. Mahler has always
been described as merely a seeker, but in reality he is, like all
great creative artists, one who has come to us as a revealer. The
truth and beauty constituting the soul of each artist's revelation
the world has never failed eventually to fathom. The child who found
Nirvana in the heart of the woods grew up to endow the world with
that incomparable "Song of the Earth," [Das Lied von der Erde.] the
cradle-song of evolution sung to all life by Nature.

In the light of his lifetime of conflict with environment the
following anecdote stands out with keynote significance. Upon being
asked by someone what he would like to be when he grew up, little
Gustav gave the amazing answer, "A martyr."

Iglau boasted the typical little theatre of the provincial town.
Mahler's first activities as conductor were at theatres of similarly
limited possibilities. The leader of this theatre, a man named
Viktorin, became the child's first music-teacher. He was succeeded by
a pianist named Brosch, under whom Gustav's progress was so rapid that
he was at the age of seven delegated to teach an older boy. For this
service the little pedagogue received five kreutzer (about two cents)
an hour. This early affluence was, however, short-lived, for the
unhappy pupil was soon unable to meet the exacting demands of the
young tyrant and tearfully refused to go on with his studies.

Gustav's parents were naturally very proud of his promise and did
everything that could be done by people in humble circumstances to
hasten his musical development. They nourished in him a sense of
responsibility and he grew up with a devotion to home and family that
never abated. He understood perfectly that with so many children in
the house (he was the oldest of seven) he would be compelled to make
his own way as soon as possible.

He was always very fond of books; but in school he was considered
inattentive. Now and then a whistled note suddenly invading the
academic quiet of the class-room would testify that Gustav was far
away in his own musical world, and the teacher would have to drag him
back to earth with a shouted warning.

However small from a scholarly viewpoint may have been the face value
of his musical education in Iglau, for Mahler its comparative freedom
from the letter of the law seems to have been little short of
ideal. His mind had the lightning-like grasp and analytic power
characteristic of the boy Richard Wagner. Thus a mere hint was
sufficient to whirl him unerringly through a whole chapter of
complicated musical theory. Unfortunately, the mature Mahler destroyed
every bit of his work which struck him as unworthy, leaving posterity
no definite idea of the quality of his efforts during these early
years. Yet many traits which later found full utterance in his
symphonies doubtless took root in these Iglau days. The startling
fantasy that caused him to clothe apparent trivialities with mystic,
symbolic raiment sought spiritual nourishment through the omnivorous
reading of poetic and romantic works. His early inclination towards
the weird and abnormal is attested by the famous musicologist, Guido
Adler, his boyhood companion, who says Mahler read with especial
avidity the gruesome tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann, our Edgar Allan Poe's
great forerunner.


In the minds of his parents there was never any doubt that Gustav
possessed gifts and traits predicting artistic greatness. The boy must
merely be given his chance at any cost; for the musical and general
cultural limitations of Iglau had early become obvious hindrances to
his further progress. The solution was simple enough, requiring only
added self-sacrifice on the part of the father and mother already
heavily burdened with economic responsibilities. Fabulous, golden
Vienna, the musical capital of the world, with its famous conservatory
beckoned temptingly from a distance of only a few hours. Thither, they
decided, must Gustav go.

In the year, 1875, music in Vienna, long a prey to musicians' personal
dissensions, practically assumed the character of a political issue.
All eyes were riveted on the preparations for the great Ring premiere
at Bayreuth, when a startling event suddenly sent Viennese musical
interest to fever-pitch. Wagner himself was announced as being once
more on his way to the hostile capital, in a final drive for much
needed devotees and shekels. Sounding the battle-hymn of "Brahms ueber
Alles" the horde of anti-Wagnerites, led by the arch-critic Hanslick,
redoubled their efforts to discredit "Richard the Great," the
best-hated man of his time.

The younger generation, however, fascinated by the heroic appeal of
the music-dramatist, was not to be taken in by an army of critics and
pedants masquerading as guardians of outraged musical art.

Consequently, when that much-scorned Wagnerite, the shy and patient
professor of counterpoint, Anton Bruckner, ascended the platform of a
university lecture-hall to deliver his opening address, he beheld to
his amazement a far greater and more enthusiastic audience than had
ever invaded the peaceful precincts of any course in musical theory.
He realized instinctively that his actual significance for these young
enthusiasts was not that of a contrapuntal pedagogue, but rather that
of a standard-bearer in the exploration of a new, broader world of
musical art.

Out of the obscurity of the Austrian provincial districts two boys of
fifteen were thrust by Fate into this dramatic setting--Hugo Wolf,
fiery fanatic, with his dream of symphonizing the song, and Gustav
Mahler, naive seeker, hungry for the experience he still lacked
towards adequate self-expression.

Hugo, conscious of his genius and mission, would be guided by none but
the supreme opinion and at once sought to win his way to the presence
of Wagner, the "Master of Masters." Gustav, far less sophisticated,
but patiently analytic, proceeded in solitary silence to weave his own
art-creed with the aid of the most vital threads of the old and the
new. From the outset the attitude of Wolf spelled rebellion to the
Conservatory faculty. His disdainful, uncompromising personality
created discomfort in that sturdy bulwark of conservatism, made him
exceedingly unpopular, and finally brought about his expulsion from
the institution. The germ of a similar spirit at first dormant in
Mahler soon began to exhibit itself, but never during his three-year
course did it bring him into open conflict with the authorities. He
did, however, earn at their hands the descriptive slur, "arrogant."

Among the professors entrusted with the shaping of his musicianship
there is one who for his sympathetic and understanding nature deserves
a particular place of honor among the potent influences in Mahler's
life. Julius Epstein, renowned master of piano virtuosi, purposely
overlooked in this youth the possibilities of a world-stirring
pianist, lest the exacting drudgery of scales and etudes take too
great a toll of precious time that should be devoted to higher
artistic purposes. In spite of his desultory application to technical
details, the quality of Gustav's performance on the piano was excelled
by none in the Conservatory. The orchestral power of his playing
attained an almost legendary fame among the reminiscences of his
fellow-students. It is said that he took particular delight in
performing colossal arrangements from scores, like the "Meistersinger
Prelude." Misled by this practice he even fell victim to the
lamentable habit of composing at the piano, the resulting defective
orchestral scoring proving later the chief reason for his relentless
suppression of all his juvenile efforts. A partial register of these
ill-starred pieces comprises, in addition to a violin sonata (composed
in a single day!), and a piano quartet and quintet, both awarded
prizes by the faculty, at least two symphonic works, one on Nordic
themes, and fragments of two operas, The Argonauts and Ernest, Duke of

Perhaps the earliest personal Mahler document in existence is the
following bubbling letter of thanks written by the youth to his
piano-teacher at the Conservatory. Gustav had just returned to Iglau
to take his final academic (Gymnasium) examination.

"My Dear and Honored Teacher,

"You cannot imagine what joy your letter brought me. I really do not
know how to thank you for such kindness. Were I to write whole pages
about it I could accomplish no more than to say 'It is just like you'.
And you may be sure this is not mere talk but an expression of
genuine, true feeling.

"Your Well-tempered Majesty must pardon me for suddenly modulating by
angry dissonances from this expressive Adagio to a savage Finale that
calls for your unusually indulgent (rubato) interpretation. The fact
is I have made my entrance a few bars too late at this Final-exam
Concert in Iglau, or rather, I have arrived a few days too late to
take the examination and must now wait two months to do so. I hope
nevertheless to be able to finish to your total satisfaction the
vacation-task you have set me.

"With sincere assurance of my respect and gratitude, I remain

Your humble pupil,

Gustav Mahler."

[Gustav Mahler Briefe, Vienna, Paul Zsolnay Verlag; unless otherwise
indicated all letters quoted in this book are taken from the above
named work.]

The sum of his debt to his two other professors, Robert Fuchs,
theory, and Theodor Krenn, composition, is more problematical. The
conservatory records show that owing to the great knowledge displayed
in his compositions Mahler was excused from the further study of
counterpoint after his first season. However, he is said to have
regretted this lapse of training in after years, leading us to suspect
that the release took place perhaps at his own request. How different
in this respect was the thorough Bruckner, to whom not even the
contrapuntal slavery of a score of years brought a spirit of

Here again the analogy between Wagner and Mahler in youth is
suggestive. It is general knowledge that the former was at the end of
six months' study dubbed a master of counterpoint; but it is equally
clear that the composer who undertook the sublime task of setting the
Meistersinger text to music entered there and then upon a fresh and
all-embracing study of the subject. Prof. Weinlig, young Wagner's
teacher, may have been the wisest contrapuntal scientist of his time
and yet perfectly powerless to fathom the most expressive depths
of that art. What a yawning chasm lies between the insignificant
perfection of a work by Prof. Sechter and that rugged Everest of
inspired counterpoint, his pupil's (Bruckner's) Fifth Symphony! In
short Mahler, the creative artist, had need of but little academic
apprenticeship; for like all great composers he approached each new
symphonic labor with that naivete of genius that creates almost
instinctively an indissoluble union of context, art, and science.

The value of the instructions concerning musical form dispensed by
Prof. Fuchs must not be overrated in Mahler's case; for Gustav, as
composition student, seems to have led a double life. When his
professors thought he was concentrating upon the production of
conventional, "prize-winning" chamber-music he was already wrestling
in private with the highest forms, symphony and opera. While he was
shamming interest in the delicately constructed serenades of Prof.
Fuchs, his fine piano-version of Bruckner's "Wagner" Symphony
appeared and bore eloquent witness of the long and passionate study
he had devoted to a symphonic work till then perhaps unequalled
in its gigantic proportions and freedom of expression. One is here
involuntarily reminded of the youthful Wagner's piano arrangement of
Beethoven's Ninth, a work regarded in 1830 as an ugly, misshapen
giant of music.

Only once, for a brief, disappointing moment, did the real artist
Mahler in embryo threaten to win immortality in the conservatory
annals. For weeks Gustav had been sitting up nights writing out
careful copies of the score and instrumental parts of a symphony
(perhaps the ill-fated Nordic). This drudge work should, of course,
have been done by a professional copyist. But that would have required
a considerable outlay of money; and Mahler's finances were always at
low ebb. At last, however, the trying task was done. With trembling
fingers the boy handed the manuscript to Director Hellmesberger, head
of the Conservatory, then conducting the orchestra. The parts were
quickly distributed, the baton rose and the symphony began. A few bars
went smoothly by, but suddenly there arose a discordant muddle of
notes, and poor Mahler's heart almost stopped beating. Tap, tap, tap,
went the stick. Again the symphony began. But once more the same
unfortunate spot brought it up short. Scowling, Hellmesberger turned
fiercely upon the unhappy composer, and shouting, "How dare you ask me
to conduct a score so full of mistakes!", flung the offending book at
the boy's feet. Mahler corrected the score, but nothing could move the
stubborn director to grant it another hearing.

The finest feature--one might say, the spiritual crown of Mahler's
conservatory days was the remarkable friendship between him and Anton
Bruckner. Many anecdotes, some related by Mahler himself, reveal the
affection and respect the elder genius had for the younger. On the
other hand young Mahler's feeling for Bruckner was nothing short of
hero-worship. He attended religiously Bruckner's lectures at the
university. In fact the two would usually be seen entering and leaving
the building together. A frequent visitor at the master's home, Mahler
was one of the privileged few to whom Bruckner would play passages
from a symphony in the making. And highest distinction of all,
Bruckner would always escort him down the four flights of stairs and
extend his parting greeting at the street-door.

The categorical yes or no to the question whether Mahler was
Bruckner's pupil is of no importance in the face of the
incontrovertible evidence of this deeper community of feeling; but
fortunately the following recently uncovered Mahler letter seems to
place the matter beyond further argument:--

"I was never a pupil of Bruckner. The world thinks I studied with him
because in my student days in Vienna I was so often in his company
and was reckoned among his first disciples. In fact, I believe, that
at one time my friend Krzyzanowski and I were his sole followers.
In spite of the great difference in age between us, Bruckner's
happy disposition and his childlike, trusting nature rendered our
relationship one of open friendship. Naturally the realization and
understanding of his ideals which I then arrived at cannot have been
without influence upon my course as artist and man. Hence I believe
I am perhaps more justified than most others in calling myself his
pupil and I shall always do so with deep gratitude." [Bruckner
Blaetter--III. Jahrgang 1931, Nummer 2-3.]


Crowned with highest honors Mahler left the scene of his three years'
student-triumphs to spend the summer (1878) as usual at home in Iglau.
There with his parents he discussed plans for his future--proud plans
born of a provincial naivete; for these people knew little of the
scepticism of the world and could not realize that their anticipation
of immediate recognition for the gifted conservatory graduate had no
more foundation than an air-castle. They believed Gustav had but to
return to Vienna in the fall and through the prestige of his academic
laurels command the attention of the world of music; that then an
opportunity worthy of his extraordinary ability would at once present

Thus the ensuing musical season found an ingenuously hopeful Mahler
settled again midst the scenes of his recent student glories. Actual
contact with the problem his parents had deemed so easily solved
brought him the disillusionment necessary for a more accurate
perspective of things as they really were. For a year his sole
earnings were gained from one or two piano-pupils--in short,
pocket-money. The eighteen year old aspirant never heard even a
whispered offer of an appointment as conductor in any theatre. These
bitter conditions increased his innate melancholy but did not crush
his fervent spirit. The wonders of life and art still held much to
fascinate him and dispel the monotony of empty hours. He applied
himself whole-heartedly to the study of philosophy and history at
the university. He read the deepest masterpieces of continental
literature, and at the susceptible age when most analytic minds fall
prey to the scepticism and pessimism of immaturity his romantic nature
developed to a degree of ecstasy met with only in the most impassioned
of lyric poets.

The brilliant career of Wagner had made him the idol of German youth.
Mahler's hero-worship of the great man, however, took the form of
actual attempts to follow in his footsteps. Wagner had always been his
own poet. Mahler who had just given up trying to set to music a text
by a friend, Steiner, suddenly resolved to write his own libretto. The
result a long, rhymed affair in ancient ballad style, was perhaps not
inferior to Wagner's juvenile attempts; but the world does not know it
in its original operatic form, Das klagende Lied having in the course
of the twenty years preceding its publication undergone many drastic
changes, both literary and musical. Its initial setting was completed
before Mahler had reached his twentieth birthday, and the work, with
its unnatural, almost gory symbolism, derives its chief importance
from having been the abstract battlefield upon which the artificial
operatic leanings of its young composer were decisively routed by more
genuine forces calling for extra-theatrical expression. Its final
state reveals the earnest struggle of young genius to adapt its
message to some accepted form; but it is nevertheless something
unique, a cantata with chorus, but with an orchestral background as
rich and complicated as that of a real music-drama.

The choice of theme is reminiscent of the manner of Grimm's fairy
tales. A flute fashioned from a human bone by a wandering musician
sings a gruesome story of fratricide committed by a jealous man in
love with his brother's betrothed. Grim justice is done when the
musician arrives at the murderer's castle and plays the accusing song
of the flute just in time to stop the wedding.

As effective as this tale is in cantata form it would have been
regarded as little short of romantic burlesque if actually staged in
Wagnerian 1880. It was the last attempt Mahler ever made to enrich
the world's operatic repertoire through his own composition. A decade
later he undertook to finish and whip into shape the posthumous
fragments of Weber's Three Pintos but this was far less a feat of
operatic composition then a self-imposed test of the practical value
of his experience in the theatrical field.

As the summer of 1879 approached without the coveted engagement, in
order to be spared the humiliation of further dependence upon home he
accepted the offer of a wealthy Hungarian to spend the season on a
puszta estate. There he was to teach the proprietor's son how to play
the piano. Subject to frequent depressing fits of homesickness he
sought consolation in writing long letters to his friend, the poet
Steiner. Some of these letters have survived and constitute the
earliest and in a way the most important documents of Mahler's life.
They furnish a vivid, unrestrained portrayal of the struggles of his
inmost soul, and seem in relation to the great symphonic chain he
later forged almost possessed of the pertinence of a foreword. Their
fantastic sentiments make the impression of futile ravings rather than
of emotion really felt; but Mahler deprived of the aid of musical
notation was generally a sorry poet. His inclination to prophetic
apostrophe authentically shown for the first time in these letters is
a characteristic met with at the most eloquent moments of many of his
symphonies, when it seems that only the human voice singing flaming
words can utter the deep message transcending the powers of mere

A representative excerpt is here quoted:

"O, that some divine power might tear the veil from before my eyes,
that they might pierce the very marrow of the world! O, for just one
real glimpse of it, this earth, in its primeval nakedness, undecked,
and unadorned, as it appears to its Maker! I might then confront its
demon-spirit and say, 'I know you now, liar! Your hypocrisy can fool
me no more! Your sham sorcery dazzles me not! Behold! He, who once
bewitched by the golden glitter of your deceptions fell victim to the
fearful lashing of your scorn, faces you now, still unbroken, strong!
Cower in your hiding-place! From the Valley of Life I fling this
accusation up to you in your cold, lonely citadel! Do you realize how
much misery you have heaped upon us here below through aeons of time?
Upon this mountain of suffering have you reared your fortress--and
laugh! How will you answer the Avenging Judge on that final day, you,
who have not stilled the agony of a single tortured soul?'"

The day after this passionate outburst a much calmer and more sincere
Mahler wrote:

"I was too exhausted to write further yesterday. I feel like one who
after a great fit of rage experiences the consolation of tears. Dear
Steiner! You ask me what I do with my time. I'll tell you in a word. I
eat and drink, sleep and wake, cry and laugh. I climb hills caressed
by the breath of God. I go to the meadow where the tinkling of the
herd-bells lulls me to dreaming. But alas! I cannot escape myself!
Doubt pursues me everywhere. For me there can be no real joy. Sorrow
poisons my happiest moments.

"I am living on the Hungarian puszta with a family that has hired me
for the summer. I have to teach the son piano and occasionally lure
the family into a condition of musical appreciation. Thus I'm caught
here like a fly in a spider's web. However, 'the Moor pays his debt.'
But when I go out to the meadow in the evening and climb the
linden-tree that stands solitary there and I gaze out from the top
of 'my favorite' [Mahler was passionately fond of nature and called
the tree his "Liebling."] upon the world, I see before me the Danube
winding along on its timeworn way, and in its waves smolders the fire
of the setting sun. Behind me in the village the evening bells chime
and their chorus is borne across to me by a kind breeze while the
branches of the trees sway to and fro in the wind, lulling me like the
daughters of the Erlking, and the leaves and blossoms of 'my favorite'
caress my cheeks tenderly. Everywhere peace! Holiest peace! Only from
afar sounds the melancholy call of the toad sitting sadly among the

"Then shadowy memories of my life pass before me like long forgotten
ghosts of departed happiness. The song of yearning sounds again in my
ears and we wander together once more over the old paths. There stands
a hurdy-gurdy man extending his hat with his withered hand and in his
discordant music I hear the greeting of 'Ernst of Suabia'. [The title
of the opera text by Steiner.] Now Ernst appears suddenly in person
stretching his arms out to me and when I look closer it is my poor
brother; [Mahler's brother Ernst, a year younger, died 1874, aged 13.]
the veil drops; the visions and sounds grow dim and disappear.

"O my beloved Earth, when, O when will you take the abandoned one into
your lap! See, mankind has driven him forth and he flees from its
cold, heartless bosom to you, to you! Receive the lonely, restless
one, O eternal Mother!

"It is the story of my life that is written on these leaves.
Extraordinary fate that tosses me about, now in the grip of sad, vain
longing, now in the carefree laughing sunshine. I fear that some day
I shall be shattered in the tempest that has so often dealt me cruel

"It is six in the morning. I've just come from the meadow where I was
sitting by the hut of Farkas the shepherd, listening to the music of
his shalm. Ah, how sadly it sounded, and so passionately ecstatic,
the folksong he played! The wildflower that grew at his feet trembled
beneath the dreamy fire of his dark eyes and his brown hair waved
about his sun-tanned cheeks. Ah, Steiner! You are still asleep in
your bed and I have already seen the dew on the grass. I am now so
peacefully content and quiet happiness steals into my heart as the
spring sun into wintry fields. Will it now be spring in my heart?"

The following season proved a very gloomy one for Mahler. Once more
the "city of music" could furnish him no greater material consolation
than that of a few piano-pupils. Evenings he would attach himself to
a group of young, poverty-stricken Wagnerian enthusiasts and over a
cup of coffee help wage the abstract battles of the music-dramatist's
political and ethical doctrines. Of these sage utterances one the
young musicians adopted unanimously was the proposal to regenerate
mankind through strict, vegetarian diet. Perhaps the cost of
meat-dishes had as much to do with this resolution as the realization
that carnivorous humanity was going to the dogs. Meanwhile, only a
stone's throw away, in the famous Viennese Opera House a fine
performance of Tristan or Meistersinger might be going on, but the
vegetarian society of embryo conductors would try to forget in the
heat of argument the stark fact that the real Wagner, he of music, was
denied to such as could not afford the price of admission.

For several successive weeks Mahler worked day and night to finish Das
klagende Lied. The enthusiasm of youth and the spell of inspiration
rendered him oblivious of the drain excessive labor was making on his
constitution and nerves already weakened by inadequate diet. But one
night, exhausted by many hours of concentration upon highly dramatic
moments in the work he arrived at a passage in the text calling for
the most subtle musical allusion to the thoughts of trees and flowers.
A feeling of extreme uneasiness suddenly took possession of him. Some
secret force compelled him to keep raising his tired eyes from the
paper to watch a certain shadowy comer of the room. In vain he tried
to focus his attention on the musical problem at hand. The weird
opposing force was too strong, and at last he surrendered completely.
All at once it seemed to him that the wall was coming to life. Someone
was struggling furiously to come through it into the room. Now he
could see the apparition's face contorted with the agony of hopeless
struggle. Suddenly he knew it was his own face! Terror-stricken Mahler
rushed from the room. Next day he attempted to continue his work at
the point where it had been interrupted by the grim hallucination, but
with his very first approach toward the mood which interpreted trees
and flowers in terms of music that uncanny sense of hopeless, agonized
striving returned to oppress him, and he was again compelled to
abandon the composition. Many days of compulsory rest passed by before
he could cope successfully with this abnormal mental state.

At last the gigantic cantata was finished, leaving Mahler happy though
on the verge of nervous prostration. More than ever he was now
convinced that his life-work lay not in conducting but in composition.
If only something would happen to provide him with the means necessary
for one who should devote himself exclusively to creative work!

With perhaps more hope than confidence he entered Das klagende Lied
for the "Beethoven Prize Competition" (600 Gulden). The jury, a stone
wall of musical classicism presided over by Brahms and Hanslick, had
no sympathy for revolutionary tonal utterance. Did those two require
more than a single glance at an apparently incoherent score abounding
in unprecedented fantastic touches and actually calling for the
presence of a second orchestra outside the concert-hall? However,
Mahler awaited a favorable verdict with almost pitiful confidence.

The summer of 1880 had arrived when Prof. Epstein who had long been
watching his young protege with some concern suddenly decided he must
take a hand in getting him started. Hall, an Upper-Austrian summer
resort whose esthetic hunger was satisfied mostly with miserable
performances of low farces and other stage monstrosities requiring
incidental music, was asking for a conductor, salary 30 Gulden a
month. The kind piano professor said to Mahler, "You know I wish you
only good. Take this chance."

Mahler did; and closing his ears to the horrified remonstrances of
relatives and friends he set out for this first engagement of his
career as conductor. The idealist in him condemned to the dung-heap
of sham art that was the theatre at Hall suffered tremendously, but
there was some comfort in the thought that the period of trial was
very limited and experience could not begin too low. The world-famous
operatic conductor of later years really had nothing to be ashamed of
in this sad, obscure debut the very memory of which he sought to blot
out of his life.

The summer over he returned penniless to Vienna to face again the
disheartening conditions of his city existence. Almost at once the
hope of solving his difficulties through the "cantata" was dispelled
by the unfavorable verdict of the judges. However, it developed that
the success of Herzfeld, the now forgotten winning candidate, spared
Mahler the torturing qualms victory would inevitably have involved;
for one of his friends, competing (without his knowledge) went insane
from the shock of failure, and another was almost as unfortunate.
Mahler's own discouragement at the time is clearly revealed in a
letter to a friend:

"So poor Rott has gone mad; and I fear Krisper is threatened with the
same horrible fate. Everywhere stalks Misery, taking most unexpected
shapes, as if to mock us poor mortals. If you know of a single happy
creature on this earth tell me his name lest I lose the little desire
I still have for life. One who has seen so great and noble a nature
shattered in this low struggle cannot refrain from horror at the
contemplation of his own miserable chances."

The season of misfortune finally came to a close. Suddenly the future,
bringing Mahler an engagement of which he need not be ashamed, took
on a brighter aspect. Laibach, with a theatre in which real operas
were given, was the new scene of his musical activity. Here the young
conductor whom extreme poverty had almost banned from attending
the Viennese Opera was to experience for the first time the thrill
of interpreting serious scores for the stage. Of course no great
master-works were given in the small town; but this was a fortunate
circumstance for Mahler whose fanatic idealism later caused him to
strike from the repertoire of even larger provincial theatres the
outraged works of Mozart and Wagner. Each different opera he conducted
at Laibach held for him the fascination of a premiere. Unhampered by
tradition and prejudice he set out to frame the individual operatic
creed which was soon to win for him the respect of musical Europe. Yet
the limitations of this particular theatre were very sad--so sad that
at a performance of Martha the amazed conductor once found himself
compelled by the sudden absence of a singer to render the Last Rose of
Summer himself. This he did good-humoredly, being a very tuneful

The new world of possibilities Laibach had opened before him assumed
more solid form when he accepted the post of conductor at the theatre
of Olmuetz for the following season. This, a large town, was a
definite mile-post in the early career of operatic conductors.
Mahler's decision to continue in this arduous line of work which
seemed to spell death to his real mission as composer caused him to
spend his short vacation in Vienna in gloomy contemplation. In the
company of a trusted friend he would take his customary long walks in
the beautiful woods around the city, but hour after hour would pass
in depressing silence, though Mahler had the reputation of being a
brilliant and eager conversationalist. The friends who heard him
play the piano during those days (for he was then still a willing
performer) report that he poured a magnificent despair into his
interpretation of Beethoven sonatas and Bach fugues, as though he were
about to take leave of them forever. He already imagined himself the
unhappy one condemned to a life of wandering.

Physically, he could not at this time have been without charm. The
grim determination that later almost distorted his face, lending it
that deceptively hard appearance which earned him the nickname of "the
ugly Mahler," was as yet totally absent from his features. The great
nervous energy which called for constant play in some form of work
was still tempered by the air of the dreamer characteristic of his
childhood days. He was a little below average height, but a wiry,
slender figure of perfect proportions obviated any impression of
shortness. He had flowing black hair and dark brown eyes which under
the stress of great emotion would take on an almost fanatic gleam.

The company of the fair sex was very agreeable to him but his extreme
idealism in those early years caused him to maintain a strictly
platonic attitude towards women. When a girl friend might have been
led to believe that some tenderer sign of affection was at last
imminent, he would suddenly draw back and burst forth into warning and
preaching. At eighteen he had fallen in love with a girl, but when
she could move him to no more promising a display of affection than
the utterance of some very sound but disappointing advice she sought
friendship elsewhere. The shocking news of her suicide not long
afterwards could not have been without tremendous influence upon young
Mahler's perplexed cogitation of the problems of sex.

Irresistibly drawn to women he would show them an attentiveness beyond
the demands of ordinary courtesy. Often he would confide to a friend
that he expected soon to succumb to the charms of "the inevitable
one." Just before the post of conductor at Olmuetz fell vacant giving
him his chance to advance he spent a few days at home in Iglau. The
following letter he wrote there is perhaps not without psychological

"The other day I was crossing the Square when suddenly a voice called
from above, 'Herr Mahler, Herr Mahler.'

"I looked up and saw in a third story window Miss Morawetz (the
youngest, whom I met at your house) who in her naivete and perhaps
also her joy at seeing me, could not refrain from calling out.

"I have taken her completely into my care in Iglau, and shown her
about everywhere; and she cannot thank me enough. As I write these
lines she is sitting in the next room with my sister. And as she is
growing quite impatient for me I must close with hearty greetings."

Arrived in Olmuetz towards the end of 1882 his first reaction was one
of extreme disappointment; for here too the limited possibilities of
the theatre presented disadvantages and humiliations hard for his
sensitive nature to tolerate. Besides, he had been led to expect a
decided improvement over the conditions at Laibach.

"When the noblest steed," wrote he to a friend, "is hitched to a cart
with oxen it cannot do otherwise than sweat and pull along with them.
I shrink at the very thought of coming near you--so defiled do I now
feel. Thank God, I conduct only Meyerbeer and Verdi here."

Nevertheless he admitted that the staging of Mehul's Joseph in Egypt
was a real joy. Generally, both musicians and singers were inclined to
regard him as a freak; for they could not understand why he tried so
hard to infuse enthusiasm into the stereotyped drudgery of rehearsals.
Occasionally a spark of his fire would touch them and the resulting
rare moment of cooperative sympathy was sufficient balm for Mahler who
vowed he was happy to endure "being called a lunatic because of his
devotion to the Masters." Usually his frantic efforts to rouse the
performers' enthusiasm met with hostile stolidity and then furious and
baffled he felt tempted to fling the baton aside and run away.

Although two years had passed since those unforgettable meatless
meetings of the young Wagnerians in Vienna, Mahler was in Olmuetz
still a vegetarian, claiming bitterly that he went to the restaurant
to starve. His income was a little more than it had been at Laibach,
but he had set his heart on an unusual extravagance, having made up
his mind to attend the next summer festival at Bayreuth.

His conducting at Olmuetz, revealing an intention far beyond his
limited material, attracted the notice of the music-director of
Kassel, who happened to be present at one of Mahler's performances of
Carmen. The important man congratulated the young conductor heartily
and promised to watch his career with interest. Shortly thereafter a
rumor arose that the assistant-conductorship at Kassel was about to
be vacated. Without a moment's hesitation Mahler drew enough money
to make the expensive trip thither and succeeded in securing the


Bayreuth in 1883 was looked upon by Wagnerians much as a holy shrine,
a Mecca of the Faithful, the sole true lovers of musical art. Early
that year Wagner, having almost reached the allotted three score and
ten, had breathed his last. Thus the performance of Parsifal that
summer bore somewhat the air of a formal canonization of the almost
deified master. The work itself, Wagner's pious farewell from an all
but pious life, was actually a magnificent, universal setting of the
Holy Mass.

Among the hundreds of notable literary and musical figures thronging
the neighborhood of Wahnfried, the Wagner villa, the modest small-town
fame of Mahler naturally went unnoticed. However, he had already begun
to regard solitude as a most advantageous condition, and in these
surroundings packed with distinguished people he had the advantage of
remaining obscure and alone and gave himself up wholly to the artistic
grandeur of the occasion.

The testimony of the overwhelming impression Parsifal made upon Mahler
is contained in a few words extracted from one of his letters written
immediately after. This has become a significant quotation in the
annals of modern music, because while still under the confessed spell
of the sacred music-drama Mahler actually conceived and planned his
great Resurrection Symphony.

"As I emerged from the Festspielhaus," he wrote, "too moved to utter
a word I knew that the loftiest and most agonizing of revelations had
just come to me and that it would remain with me throughout my life."

Filled with artistic dreams and longings higher than ever before he
entered upon his duties at the theatre in Kassel. As before at
Olmuetz, the hopes he had placed in the qualities of the institution
immediately proved unfounded. The marvels of stage achievement he had
witnessed at Bayreuth rendered him more dissatisfied than ever with
the faulty accomplishment of a provincial theatre. Only a few days
after his arrival he was again in black despair, complaining--

"It is the same old story; everything has fallen into the usual rut. I
must conform. I have borne the humiliation of accepting stupid orders,
and bound with one chain after another I am once more in a state of
abject dependence."

By December he had reconciled himself somewhat to these disadvantages
when the celebrated Buelow arrived in town to conduct a symphony
concert. The soul-stirring effect of this performance upon Mahler is
revealed by the tone of utter worship swaying his letter to the master
conductor the following day. This amazing letter, clearly penned in
the strictest confidence, has been recently unearthed and illuminates
as does perhaps no other document the tragic inner struggles of the
younger Mahler.

"Revered Master!

Pardon the brazen persistence with which I appeal for your attention
after having been turned away by the porter of your hotel. I realize
only too well that you may consider my conduct beneath contempt. When
I first sought an interview of you I had no notion of the blaze your
incomparable artistry was to kindle in me. In a word--I am an errant
musician groping about in the intense night of our modern music-world.
I have no guiding-star and am the helpless prey to doubts and
mistakes. Your concert yesterday was the fulfilment of my highest
dreams and hopes of artistic perfection. Listening I felt at once:
This is your goal! Here is your master! Your wanderings must end now
or never! So I turn to you and implore you! Take me with you--whatever
your conditions may be! Let me be your pupil, even though it cost
my blood. What I can do--or could do--I do not know, but you can
soon find that out. I am twenty-three years old, a student of the
University of Vienna and the conservatory of the same city, where I
studied composition and piano, and now, after much tossing about, I
have been engaged as second conductor at the theatre here. You are
well able to judge for yourself how disappointing such a post may be
for one who loves and yearns for true art with all his being, and must
stand by and see its every holy tenet most shamefully violated. I give
myself up completely to you and if you would only accept this gift I
should be happy beyond description. Only favor me with an answer and
I am ready to pursue any course you advise. O--give me some answer,
at least! In suspense,

Gustav Mahler."

Not only did Buelow refuse to answer, but he abused contemptibly the
sacred confidence of those fervently sincere lines written him by the
unhappy young genius who so naively believed that innate kindness and
artistic greatness were inseparable. In the records of the Kassel
theatre, among which the letter was found, there is a telling entry:--

"January 25, 1884;--Received from Conductor Treiber this letter
written to Dr. Hans v. Buelow by Music-director Mahler; with
explanation that it had been turned over to him by Dr. v. Buelow in

Though nothing was said to the unsuspecting Mahler concerning the
letter it certainly did not enhance his popularity with the

His immediate superior instilled the venom of his displeasure into a
contemptuously uttered "Stubborn puppy!" Mahler had repeatedly dared
to request that more attention be paid "at least the elementary
requisites of the art." His unpopularity so swiftly initiated was
much intensified in the hearts of orchestra and chorus when they
found themselves for the first time compelled to engage in exhausting
rehearsals of interminable length. Accustomed to the easy-going
carelessness of every-day provincial conductors they now suspected the
over-zealous Mahler of malicious intent. So fanatic a devotion to art
as his exactions flaunted was far beyond their broadest conception of
sincerity. Increasing rage brought them the courage to rebel. They
decided to teach the offending upstart a much-needed lesson.

Early one morning a friendly musician burst into Mahler's room in
great excitement and implored him to remain away from the theatre that
day. Chorus and orchestra had pledged themselves to welcome with
sticks and clubs the incorrigible nuisance who inflicted upon them
such nerve-racking rehearsals. With a smile of disdain Mahler donned
his coat and went at once to the theatre. He entered boldly and walked
swiftly to the piano. Then with the energy of a demon he began a
rehearsal more exacting than ever. Only after eight hours of merciless
driving during which his unerring musicianship converted animosity
into wondering admiration, he shut the piano with a bang, rose, looked
about him furiously midst awed silence, and, without so much as a
single parting syllable, left the hall.

Parsifal had brought Mahler added confirmation that his own creative
talent lay not in the operatic but symphonic field. Just as he had
abandoned the original operatic version of Das klagende Lied he now
sacrificed the fragments of another legend-opera Ruebezahl upon which
he had for some time been working with great enthusiasm. These sudden
changes of attitude were characteristic of his pre-symphonic years and
eloquent of the rapid and violent spiritual evolution through which he
was passing.

A tour de force rather than an artistic contribution was the
incidental music he composed for the Trompeter von Saekkingen in two
days at Kassel. The amazingly facile flow of ideas thus evoked, added
to the conviction that the resultant score was far too good for the
"living pictures" it accompanied, was at first a source of pride
to Mahler; but the inexorable critic in him, soon branding this
complacence as plain vanity, led him to regard with little pleasure
the publicity this music was getting through performances in many
German cities.

He was secretly happy that the real masterpieces of the musical stage
did not form a part of the Kassel repertoire. Remembering the artistic
horrors of Laibach, where he luckily had the authority to ban the
works of Mozart and Wagner, he shuddered as he thought of the injury
the incompetent performers of Kassel might inflict upon that music now
grown dearer to him than ever. In the fall of 1884, hungry for a taste
of real music-drama, he visited Dresden in order to hear Tristan.
Although the high musical quality of both principals and orchestra
delighted him, the interpretation of the conductor, Schuch, left
him cold. Condemned on account of his youth to beat time for such
grandiloquent banalities as Robert the Devil, Mahler was looking
forward to the day when as absolute ruler in a great opera-house he
would be able to give Wagner as he felt the master should be

It was during these days that he confessed himself really in love for
the first time. Blue-eyed, blond-haired Johanne Richter was one of
the singers at the theatre. Torn between the spell she cast over him
and an ambition dictating solitude and celibacy Mahler was at last
face to face with an intense, harrowing experience, the problem of
the "inevitable one" he had jestingly predicted. Johanne, romantic
and sympathetic, saw how distracted and worried he had become in the
course of their few weeks of close friendship. Perhaps she recalled
the tragic married life of Minna and Richard Wagner who had met
under just the same circumstances. At any rate, she decided they
must part. Mahler agreed with her. Thrown together daily by their
theatrical duties they found the resolution to separate far easier
than its accomplishment. Their constant efforts to loosen their
attachment lent the entire love-episode the semi-comical air of an
endless leave-taking. Holidays struck them as best suited to the
accomplishment of a permanent farewell. They parted at Christmas of
that year (1884). New Year's Eve, however, seemed too significant a
date to be neglected. They must meet just once again and sever for all
time the sweet but troublesome bond. Mahler wrote his confidential
friend about the meeting:

"We sat yesterday evening alone at her home and awaited in almost
complete silence the arrival of the New Year. Her thoughts were not
about the present and as the chimes sounded and the tears streamed
down her cheeks the dreadful realization struck me that I was no
longer privileged to dry them for her. She went into the adjoining
room and stood quietly a while by the window. When she returned, still
weeping softly, indescribable pain had set up a barrier between us.
I could only press her hand and go. As I arrived at the outer door
the bells were ringing merrily and from the tower came the glorious
strains of a chorale. Ah, dear friend, it appeared as if the Supreme
Stage-Director wished to give the occasion a truly artistic setting."

Of course, they continued to meet as long as Mahler remained at
Kassel. A letter dated May, 1885, takes up the theme:

"When I wrote you some time ago that our affair had come to an end
it was only the trick of the shrewd theatrical manager who announces
'Last performance!' only to follow it next day with another."

The final date of his contract at Kassel was only a few weeks distant
and once more with no definite prospects in view Mahler fell prey to
gloomy forebodings. His mind's eye pictured a renewal of those lean,
hopeless days in Vienna when piano-lessons were his sole means of

To be sure, the theatre had been a cruel master and had made Mahler a
slave. His longing to compose music in great forms had been compelled
to satisfy itself with stolen moments of leisure hardly sufficient
for the occasional creation of a mere song. Yet even this miserable
condition was preferable to a repetition of those days in Vienna the
memory of which now returned, vivid and hideous as a nightmare.

Thinking of Johanne he pictured himself at last bound to leave her
as one condemned to exile. Unconsciously he had lived himself into
that fine cycle of songs, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, ["Songs
of a Wanderer."] for which he had written several poems under the
inspiration of his love for Johanne. In these poems, four of which he
then set and orchestrated, he himself is the one "driven forth by the
blue-eyes of his love"; and he departs broken-hearted to find his only
consolation in the unchanging beauty and friendliness of nature. The
texts of the songs are couched in the simple romantic language of the
old folksong. The tunes have the air of the simplest folktunes. But in
the orchestration, prodigally rich and delicate, the real Mahler is
evident. The orchestral language is clearly his native tongue. In its
vocabulary, the nuances of which he has mastered as perhaps no man
before him, he can sigh or weep, smile or laugh at will; he can love
or hate profoundly; he can shriek in insane terror or dream as sweetly
as a child; he can sneer at the banalities of life or eulogize the
grandeur of death.

"I have written a song-cycle," he writes, "at present six songs, all
of which are dedicated to her. She does not know them. But they can
tell her only what she already knows. Their burden is, a man who has
found only sadness in love goes forth into the world a wanderer."

Had not the demands of the theatre consumed practically every bit of
his leisure time he would have now devoted himself to the composition
of his first real symphony. The experience of Parsifal had suggested
to him the outlines of a great symphonic work; but these early
sketches for it were suddenly supplanted by new, far clearer ideas
born of a thrilling emotional adventure that Mahler had lived as a
man. Out of the music and plot of the songs he had made "for Johanne"
he now determined to fashion his first symphony. Accordingly, he
sketched it in detail hoping the near future would bring him the
leisure necessary for its completion.

One of the poems not incorporated in the cycle is of unusual interest
because he turned back to it more than twenty years later when
preparing the text for the symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde.

  "The night looks softly down from distances
   Eternal with her thousand golden eyes.
   And weary mortals shut their eyes in sleep
   To know once more some happiness forgotten.

   See you the silent, gloomy wanderer?
   Abandoned is the path he takes and lonely,
   Unmarked for distance or direction;
   And oh! no star illuminates his way,

   A way so long, so far from guardian spirits,
   And voices versed in soft deceit sound, luring,
   'When will this long and futile journey end?
   Will not the wanderer rest from all his suffering?'

   The Sphinx stares grimly, ominous with question,
   Her stony, blank gray eyes tell nothing,--nothing.
   No single, saving sign, no ray of light,--
   And if I solve it not--my life must pay."

Though personally rather unpopular Mahler, as musician, was looked
upon by music-lovers of Kassel with a respect bordering on awe.
Shortly before the summer (1885) people of influence who had been
watching his work at the theatre were so convinced of his outstanding
ability that they decided for the good of the big annual music
festival to engage him rather than his "superior" as conductor. This
unusual stroke of luck with its promise of fame set Mahler to dreaming
once more of the higher plane of music whose center was Vienna. Here
at last was something of which he might be proud! Vienna too should
hear of it!

From a letter to his old friend and teacher Prof. Epstein:

"As you may read in the enclosed clipping, there will take place here
in June under my direction a great music festival during which among
other things the Ninth Symphony is to be given. Since this is for a
young man an extraordinary mark of confidence that places a whole
country, so to speak, at his disposal (for all the great musical
societies of Hesse and Hanover will participate) perhaps it is
pardonable for me to wish that the Viennese also hear something about
it. Would you be so kind? Isn't it true, I'm still as 'arrogant' as

The announcement of the committee's unexpected choice naturally fell
like a bomb-shell upon the theatre already extremely hostile to
Mahler. Enraged and jealous the "first conductor" warned him to refuse
the offer. Mahler, who loved a fight, laughed at him. Then open war
was declared. At once rival factions were formed and their heated
arguments often culminated in blows.

In order to rehearse each singing society separately, a practice upon
which the thorough Mahler insisted, he was compelled to make frequent
trips by train to the different towns taking part in the festival.
This he did although the traveling expenses made disheartening
inroads on his all too slender exchequer, and although he suspected
that his enemies might not stop at mere insults should they catch him
out of sight of Kassel.

One day, arriving very early at the railroad station, he boarded the
still empty local train that was to transport him to the place of
rehearsal. Engrossed in the study of the oratorio St. Paul which was
to be the grand choral offering of the festival he sat lost to the
world. Suddenly he looked up from his music, and realizing that
considerable time had passed, he was surprised to find the train still
standing at the Kassel station. Looking at his watch he saw that a
whole hour had gone by and knew that something must be wrong. Not a
soul was to be seen. What was the matter? Getting out of the car,
he saw to his amazement that it stood alone and now bore the sign,
"Waiting Room." The train had left long before. Making the best of an
unpleasant moment he telegraphed that he would be unable to attend
the rehearsal.

As ever, the artist in him could not long be silenced by the
glamorously soothing voice of prestige. The Augean task of fitting a
half-dozen rustic singing societies for the difficult oratorio they
had to perform soon brought disillusionment. Writing to a friend,
Mahler said:

"You would like to know whether the Music Festival is a source of
joy to me. The trouble with it is the same as with all dreams the
fulfilment of which one awaits from others. Do you believe that when
a couple of singing societies get together to create art anything
decent can come of it? It happens to be the fashion just now to be
'festivally' musical--patriotic. My appointment has caused a terrible
political battle and lately the entire project for the festival was
almost abandoned on this account. It seems that no one, particularly
none of the 'trade,' can forgive me my youth. The orchestra is on
strike because the chief conductor considers himself disgraced and
even the general-director has had the impudence to ask me to give up
the festival. Of course, I have refused and now I'm a 'dead man' at
the theatre."

Mahler's extremely independent attitude toward the "impresario"
was perhaps not entirely due to principle, for good fortune had in
the meanwhile come to him in the shape of two flattering offers.
The theatre at Leipzig required an assistant to the noted
resident-conductor, Nikisch, for 1886. Close upon the heels of this
came a call from the Wagnerian "specialist," Angelo Neumann, who had
contracted for the theatre at Prague during the coming season, 1885-6,
and wished to have Mahler as assistant to the great Wagnerian, Anton
Seidl. With unbounded pride and joy the young conductor leaped at both
chances. When preliminary negotiations were satisfactorily concluded
he wrote:

"I have much to tell you to-day. First of all you ought to know that
I've been engaged by Angelo Neumann as first conductor at Prague from
August 1 and that I shall on that day personally conduct Lohengrin for
the first time in my life. In the course of the season I shall give
the Ring, Tristan, Meistersinger! So you see, I'm progressing by
leaps and bounds. Alas, this glory will last only a year because the
director at Leipzig will not even consider releasing me from my
contract for the year following. Well, let the directors fight over
me to their hearts' content.

"The Festival is also making great strides and will be inaugurated in
a few days with colossal pomp. I've really become popular, a sort of
hero of the day. With the exception of my financial troubles,
everything seems very bright."


Such was the fiery enthusiasm with which Mahler conducted the oratorio
St. Paul that the Kassel summer festival of 1885 endowed his name with
lasting admiration among the music-lovers of the whole region. For
Mahler himself it was a particularly significant musical experience;
for with it came a realization of the broader and more grateful
opportunity for artistic interpretation offered by concert-work. As
the last note of the oratorio sounded there was launched a tremendous
ovation which gave way only to a pompous, provincial address of
gratitude extended the young conductor by the head of the festival
committee. Then Mahler was presented with a laurel wreath. But
trophies of another sort, a diamond ring and a gold watch, were
perhaps no less welcome; for his own watch had for some time been
languishing at the pawnbroker's and the forbiddingly expensive outlook
of the approaching days (fare to Iglau, to Leipzig, to Prague) seemed
to appeal eloquently in behalf of another visit to that convenient

Then came a short rest at home preparatory to a qualifying "trial"
month at Leipzig, part of the agreement with the director, Staegemann.
This probation period successfully by, Mahler hastened to Prague where
his distinguished superior, Seidl, was already busy with rehearsals
for the coming season.

Lohengrin was to be the opening opera. With nothing short of blissful
wonder Mahler watched the work of the gifted conductor whose artistic
creed had received the personal blessing of the great Wagner himself.
Seidl's consummate mastery of stage details was a first-hand
contribution from the most intimate workshop of Bayreuth, and proved a
priceless lesson never to be forgotten by his young colleague. Though
Mahler's rare privilege of association with Seidl was soon interrupted
by the latter's emigration to America, the brief apprenticeship was
sufficient to bring him new hope for the attainment of the perfect
stage performance. To be sure, the quality of the Prague orchestra
and performers left much to be desired. In fact, this entire operatic
venture of the nomadic Neumann, a grandeur evoked almost overnight,
exhaled the uncertain atmosphere of a new and speculative affair.
Mahler saw at once that the success of the "season" would depend
chiefly upon the brilliancy and energy of the conductor. The setting,
with its direct challenge to prowess, was the ideal one for his
temperament, providing unlimited opportunities for the display of
resourceful musical generalship.

Seidl gone, Mahler found himself for the first time in his life in
unqualified possession of a major baton. Rising enthusiastically to
this long-coveted independence he electrified critics and audience
with a series of vivid performances bristling with the originality he
had been so long forced to curb. In quick succession there sprang to
life under his eager direction the Meistersinger, the Ring, Don
Giovanni, and other master-works, singing with an eloquence new to the
Bohemian capital of that generation. It seemed at once as if art were
Mahler's religion, the conductor's stand an altar, and the score a
ritual. Here he felt really like a high-priest and offered up with an
ecstasy of abandon all the "sacred fire" with which he was endowed. He
was truly in his element during those first months at Prague.

But the impending shadow of Leipzig, with its threat of compulsory
dependence, was a source of great worry to him. The very thought of
abandoning the glory he had carved out for himself at Prague for the
position as assistant to the formidable and long-established Nikisch
was exceedingly painful. Again and again he appealed to the Leipzig
director, Staegemann, for his release, but in vain. All he succeeded
in getting was a reassurance that he would not be actually
subordinated to Nikisch, and would share equally with him the
responsibility of directing the Ring.

From Mahler, first conductor, to Mahler, tyrant, was, in soul
topography, a short distance. Neumann, in addition to his Wagnerian
predilections, was diplomat enough to see the peril to normal operatic
polity involved in the young man's despotic manner. His sincere
admiration of Mahler led him to hope the dreaded day of discontent
might be staved off until the end of the season. But the growing
unpopularity of the conductor with the cast soon doomed the manager to

The occasion for open war was a performance of Gounod's Faust. This
work owing to its mediocre artistic level and its ballet music was
doubly hateful to Mahler and always put him in bad humor. The
chief dancer, undisputed empress of her realm, had left specific
instructions concerning the interpretation of the ballet. During the
performance, however, Mahler paid little attention to these; for he
chose to perform the music as musically as possible. The dancer's
rage knew no bounds, and rushing in tears to Neumann she demanded the
offender's instant dismissal. To mollify her the perplexed manager
scolded Mahler but, fearing the proud "hotspur" would resign at once
because of the "insult," went on to shout in assumed anger, "My
ballet-mistress has more experience than you! What she orders you to
do you must do--and like it! If she tells you to tear the guts out of
Faust do so and serve them up to her with a smile!"

In spite of the obvious humor of the situation Mahler felt slighted
and demanded that Neumann apologize to him for this "mud-slinging"
that had impaired the dignity of his position as conductor in the eyes
of cast and orchestra. Neumann evaded the issue but at the close of
the season wrote Mahler so warm a testimonial of gratitude for his
services that it was accepted in lieu of the formal apology, and they
parted the best of friends.

One of the most memorable of Mahler's musical experiences at Prague
was his brilliant performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the
opportunity for which the sudden, unavoidable departure of Karl Muck,
the scheduled conductor, threw his way. With time left for only a
single rehearsal, Mahler undertook an almost impossible task, but
conducted with such mastery (and without a score!) that the Bohemian
audience went wild with joy and pride because it was one of their own
countrymen who had performed this remarkable feat.

A far less pretentious concert-program he gave shortly before the
close of the season had greater personal significance for him. On that
occasion three of his more recent songs were sung by one of the ladies
of the theatre, a Miss Frank, who was perhaps identical with the
enamoured "Miss F" mentioned in a letter Mahler wrote a few months
later. Just prior to this concert he had made his modest bow as
composer, a group of early songs having appeared in print under the
title of Lieder und Gesaenge aus der Jugendzeit (1885). On the same
program there appears also a Bruckner Scherzo to witness that Mahler
had joined the slender ranks of Conductors pledged to the spreading of
that neglected genius' fame. Much time had elapsed since those happy
hours in Vienna when the curious pair, student and professor, each
shyly aware of the other's quality, were to be seen entering and
leaving the lecture-hall arm in arm. Remembering this, Mahler wrote

"I know you are angry at me but I have not altogether deserved it, for
tossed about on the tide of life I still regard you with the deep
affection and reverence of old. It is one of the aims of my life to
help your glorious art to the triumph it deserves."

In July, 1886, after the customary few days of rest at Iglau, Mahler
left for Leipzig, the new scene of his operatic servitude. Director
Staegemann realizing that a conductor who had repeatedly appealed
for release from his agreement might not enter upon his labors with
much enthusiasm, tried in every possible way to instill into Mahler
the required optimistic spirit. Socially, he made life at once
very pleasant for the young musician, introducing him into the
distinguished Staegemann family circle; but the real grievance that
affected Mahler, his nominal subordination, did not yield to social
amenity. Nikisch had begun to give much of his time to conducting
symphony concerts. Frequent calls from distant cities played havoc
with his operatic obligations. Thus the schedule of over two hundred
performances, the most strenuous season Mahler had ever faced, might
not fare too well under two reluctant leaders, one of whom was likely
at any moment to take to open rebellion. Besides, Neumann, having
serious trouble with Muck, his new conductor at Prague, was in
constant communication with Mahler who he hoped might be tempted to
rebel and return to his former post.

A Mahler letter hints at the impending trouble:

"The outlook for me here is still dubious. I am dying of longing and
homesickness. I have made some splendid acquaintances and met with a
warm welcome. The Director has received me into his home circle where
I've spent many pleasant hours. Nikisch conducts so efficiently that I
almost feel as if I were conducting myself. But the highest and
deepest things in music are a closed book to him. I have no personal
contact with him whatsoever. He is cold and secretive towards me,
whether because of conceit or mistrust--I cannot tell."

For a few weeks he had no real occasion to protest, but with the
approach of the season's first Ring performance he reminded Staegemann
of the promise to divide equally between the two conductors the
responsibility of that gigantic music-drama. The promise, however, now
proved to have been nothing but a bit of vague diplomacy used as bait
to impress Mahler. At once the latter submitted an ultimatum, and the
affair languished in this sullen condition, Staegemann refusing to
release him, for some time. At length fate solved the situation.
Nikisch became seriously ill and was compelled to take a vacation of
six months leaving the rare joys and abundant worries of first and
only conductorship to his younger colleague.

Naturally, these six months of Mahler's life developed into a period
of utter slavery. Day and night he applied himself like a martyr to
the endless array of details involved in the preparation of the most
difficult operatic works. It seems incredible that he could maintain a
uniformly high level of achievement under so merciless a strain, yet
Steinitzer, the noted "Strauss-biographer" and leading Leipzig critic
of the time, reports that Mahler seemed to create afresh every bar he

Through the now delighted Staegemann he struck up an acquaintance with
Captain Carl von Weber, the grandson of the great composer. This soon
grew into a warm friendship, for the open admiration and sympathy of
Mahler for the music of Weber was a source of great delight to the
military grandson. The home of the Webers came to be the haven to
which the tired conductor would repair after many an exhausting
session at the theatre. Here he who loved children would spend an
occasional hour of relaxation in the company of the charming Webers of
the younger generation. Now and then one of those simple, powerful
poems out of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a famous book of German romantic
poetry which the children owned, would catch him in the mood for
composition, and then he would write down one of those Wunderhorn
songs which have since become world-famous. Each song was to him the
nucleus of a symphonic movement. In the absence of leisure to express
himself in larger forms he sought in a few musical phrases to catch
the essence of a gigantic emotional experience. Perhaps out of these
songs he might make real symphonies some day when he need no longer
slave in a theatre.

Most highly treasured of the Weber possessions was an old sheaf of
music manuscript, posthumous fragments of an opera left unfinished by
the composer of Freischuetz. After the death of Weber his widow had
entrusted them to Meyerbeer who had expressed his desire to prepare
the work for public performance; but many years passed and the
fragments persisted as such. At length Captain Weber inherited them.
He was firmly convinced that if the right composer were found the
project of completing The Three Pintos would prove not only
practicable but even a great, popular success. The charming, racy
old Spanish tale made into a libretto almost a century before needed
but slight revision to fit it for the more sophisticated public of
Leipzig. The city loved Weber's music, so much so that a Weber "cycle"
including all his operas was as much a part of its musical schedule as
a Wagner "cycle." How fine a thing it would be to crown such a series
with the surprising added novelty of a completed Three Pintos!

In Mahler, the captain was certain, lay the correct solution of this
old problem. Here was a musician with superb technical equipment, a
young man and yet a man of great culture, a romanticist who could
flavor with humor the extreme of sentimentality, and a stage-conductor
of wide practical experience,--in short, the right man for the work at
hand. Together the two went carefully over the fragments and with each
examination Mahler's enthusiasm increased. Swiftly the two reshaped
the text and found that, while most of the first two acts had already
been completed by Weber, the whole of the third would have to be
subtly set in the romantic spirit of the old master's music.

The summer arrived and Mahler took the fragments home with him to
Iglau. The inspiration with which he set to work whipping them into
shape is attested by the fact that in two weeks the finished opera lay
on his desk. No forgotten piano piece of Weber, from waltz to canon,
had been neglected by this demon of energy in his search for the
proper genuine material from which the new act must be constructed.

The remainder of his vacation he devoted to elaborating the sketches
he had made several years before for a symphony based on the Lieder
eines fahrenden Gesellen. The contrast between real and sham creative
work now struck him with the force of a revelation, but he once more
suppressed the rebellion in his heart against the conditions that were
taking him further and further away from his true self. The symphony
spread its wings steadily; but so colossal a work could not be
launched after a mere week or two of incessant, clever scribbling.
The vacation days were over and he who had in their short span
turned symphonist was rudely dragged forth again to the hateful,
all-consuming responsibilities of the opera-conductor. This agonizing
experience, recurring every year, was the tragedy of Mahler's life.

Director Staegemann was tremendously pleased at the prospect of being
able to present the smartly finished Three Pintos which Mahler brought
back to Leipzig with him in the fall. At once elaborate plans were
made to give the work an impressive performance. In the excitement of
these, in the pride and joy of his friend, the captain, and in the
daily rehearsal and performance that were part of his regular duties
Mahler forgot his private grievance against fate.

Richard Strauss, aged twenty-three, the brilliant protege of Buelow,
visited him and listened with delight to portions of the Three Pintos.
No doubt the fact that Mahler played them for him in person on the
piano and thus infused into them an individuality perhaps not present
in the score accounts for the rather unfavorable impression the
performance of the complete opera made a few months later upon this
young eagle of program-music. But Mahler, the conductor, at once found
an admirer in Strauss, who in a letter to Buelow after hearing some of
his fine Wagner performances thus paid tribute to Mahler's

"I have made a new, very charming acquaintance in Mr. Mahler, who
strikes me as being an extremely intelligent musician, in fact one of
the few modern conductors who understand variations of tempo. He has
splendid views on music in general, but particularly about Wagner's
tempos, (as opposed to the Mozart-conductors of present-day

Upon reading this glowing account of the qualities of the young
conductor he had (not long before) so utterly scorned, Buelow must
have suffered some qualms of conscience, and yet when Strauss
suggested to him that the Austrian seemed also to be a gifted
composer, the celebrated "Doctor" merely replied, "You are surely
joking." From that moment seems to have dated Buelow's unrelenting
antipathy to Mahler's works, an attitude paralleled only by his
unwavering scorn for Bruckner through almost a whole generation even
in the face of musical Germany's verdict in favor of that symphonist.

The premiere of the Three Pintos took place in January, 1888. Midst a
Weber-loving public, the performance so carefully and well prepared
proved a real triumph. Both Mahler and Captain Weber had to respond to
repeated calls from the delighted audience. Next day the newspapers
showed the occasion to have been an orgy for the display of critical
stupidity. Parts of the opera to which Mahler had not contributed a
single note were attacked by the press on the ground of being
"un-Weberish." Some episodes which were entirely Mahler's work were
hailed as fine samples of the typical Weber genius. However, the
people's verdict was overwhelmingly in favor of the novelty, and
before the summer it had to be given fifteen times in Leipzig alone.
At once theatres in many other German cities also incorporated it in
their repertoires. Even Vienna, sceptical nucleus of conservatism,
produced it; but the performance was cold and disappointing. The
critics of the musical metropolis branded it as a cheap, commercial
attempt of a young unknown musician to climb to fame on the shoulders
of a great name.

But public success or failure had come to mean very little to Mahler,
whose heart was at last deep in the creative delight of his
fast-shaping First Symphony. Though the season was barely half spent
the energetic conductor would now, much to the consternation of
Director Staegemann, be seen going about abstractedly, as if he were
occupied with mysterious, distant thoughts. At social gatherings he
would suddenly rush to the piano in an adjoining room to return elated
with the announcement that he had just jotted down a wonderful idea.
Sometimes, without apology or explanation, he would leave an amazed
group of friends in order to work in uninterrupted solitude at home.

He was aware of the disappointment and pain he was causing the
director, but his long-suppressed genius was no longer to be baffled.
He had slaved day after day, unceasingly, at the theatre. He had given
himself unstintingly to all but himself. Surely he had deserved a
short respite from theatrical responsibilities and social amenities.
He could not face Staegemann with this sudden "flare of temperament"
but he could venture an appeal for indulgence in writing.

"Please do not be angry at me for writing, when you are really so
near-by. I have noticed for some time that owing, perhaps, to a flood
of petty worries and annoyances you are out of sorts; but I cannot
help feeling that I am also somewhat to blame for your condition. I
fear that a misunderstanding between us at present may imperil the
friendship that has been such a source of joy to me and has made my
position here so pleasant. I confess unhesitatingly that you have
sufficient cause to complain about me, for I have long ceased to
attend to my duties in the manner you had come to expect of me. I also
know that I do not have to offer excuses to you, because the reason
for my neglect is sufficiently important to deserve your lenient
indulgence. Only a little more patience! Let another two months go by
and you will see that I am again the one I used to be."

For six weeks he was a recluse, working incessantly. Day and night
were one to him. He lived at the desk alone. Not since that almost
insane fit of inspiration a decade before when he had leashed his
nerve-racked, half-starved body to the labor of the Klagendes Lied,
had he worked with such fervor and abandon. No human physique could
have borne the strain without weakening. One night he was engaged upon
a most delicate, colorful passage in which birds and woods were
voicing the miracle of nature. He was very weary and lifted his eyes
gradually from the intricate web of notes which he had just written.
His tired gaze wandered about the room, finally coming to rest upon
the wreaths of flowers, trophies of the Three Pintos, heaped in
profusion upon the table in the center. A moment later he attempted
once more to concentrate upon the music, but an uncanny feeling had
stolen upon him and again he looked up. Suddenly the appearance of the
table had changed. It seemed to him as if it were now surrounded by
weirdly flickering candles! And on the center, among the wreaths lay a
shape,--a corpse! The features were his own! Horrified he rushed from
the room.

Finally in the middle of March he was able to sit back, exhausted but
happy, and write to a friend:--

"At last my work is finished! Now I wish you were here by my side at
the piano so that I might play it for you. Perhaps you are the only
one to whom nothing in it will seem strange. The others will have
something to wonder about. It has turned out so overwhelming--as if it
issued from my heart like a mountain stream."

Thus ended the "adventure of the soul" leading up to the completion
of Mahler's First Symphony. The youth who had wandered and suffered
in the world for nearly a decade had at length the consoling balm of
living the great experience over in his own heart and, having turned
it into a grand orchestral "Wanderer's Song," now faced the future a


Mahler rose from the finished score of his first symphony to find the
radiant "spring in his heart" met by wintry scowls on the face of
Director Staegemann. The friendship that had depended on Mahler's
slavish devotion to the affairs of the theatre had been strained to
the breaking-point by his dereliction. Of a renewed contract for the
coming season there was now no mention, and faced once more with the
prospect of no engagement, and consequent poverty, Mahler took to
brooding. His financial worries had long ere this been intensified
by the expenses involved in the serious illnesses of both his father
and mother. Their visits to Vienna for consultation with specialists
had become a regular part of the budget the dutiful son had pledged
himself to face. With apprehension not unmixed with a desperate hope
he watched the last weeks of the operatic season slip ominously by.

In the open resentment of the director every vestige of Mahler's
authority at the theatre came to eternal rest. A certain Mr. Goldberg,
the "power behind the scenes," took to haunting the rehearsals the
discredited musician conducted, and the latter now realized that there
was a plot on foot to get rid of him even sooner than the expiration
of his contract. Helpless he awaited the dreaded moment. It arrived
one morning when Mr. Goldberg intruded himself most insultingly upon
some explanations Mahler was making to the singers. Unable to restrain
his anger, the unhappy conductor turned upon the offender. "To-day you
have conducted here for the last time!" shouted the mighty Mr.
Goldberg vindictively. To Mahler's request that Staegemann by some
word reinstate him with unimpaired dignity in the eyes of orchestra
and singers, the director merely shrugged his shoulders, saying
sullenly, "What Mr. Goldberg does I do. I am he." Thereupon Mahler
bowed his head and handed in his resignation.

The summer that was thus ushered in promised to be the darkest of his
career. To cap the gloomy climax his physical condition, run-down by
overwork, suffered the first severe setback it had ever experienced
and he was ordered to go to Munich for treatment. There an operation
was found necessary, and after a few weeks of convalescence he arrived
home in Iglau, weak and sad, to find his father already marked by
swiftly approaching dissolution and his mother so ill that it was
clear she could not long survive her husband.

However, the summer was not far advanced before his financial fears,
at least, proved to have been unfounded. His abilities as conductor
and his high artistic ideals had won him the admiration of many
prominent musicians. When the noted Hungarian cellist, David Popper,
delegated by Commissioner Beniczky of Budapest, asked Guido Adler,
Mahler's boyhood friend, about the young conductor's executive and
artistic qualifications, it became clear that Mahler was being
considered for a very important position. The Budapest Royal Opera,
founded four years before, had through incompetent management and the
extravagant evils of the "star" system fallen victim to an alarming
deficit. An ever sinking quality of schedule and performances had
brought about a wholesale withdrawal of public patronage. The
restoration of this vanishing popular faith was necessary if the
"opera" was to survive; and the solution of this problem obviously
required a strong and able musical hand. Popper, urged by Adler,
recommended Mahler so enthusiastically for the Hungarian post, that
Beniczky's doubts (because of the candidate's youth) were dispelled,
and Mahler was summoned to a preliminary conference in Vienna. There
and then was drawn up a contract the astonishing features of which
have perhaps no parallel in the history of music. A conductor
twenty-eight years old was by its terms appointed absolute director
and given unqualified control of the destiny of a major opera-house
for a whole decade. The salary, 10,000 Gulden per annum, was a fortune
compared to the miserable wage Mahler had hitherto been slaving for.
The only stumbling-block to the agreement was that sudden political
changes in the government might exert a disturbing influence over
operatic polity; but even such a contingency had been deprived of its
threatening shadow by the contract which called for a generous cash
settlement should the period of ten years be curtailed for some
unforeseen reason.

Thus relieved of all material worries by a mere stroke of the pen
Mahler entered upon his duties as director at Budapest in the fall
with new-born enthusiasm and confidence. To the amazed and incredulous
singers and musicians of the "opera" he made this introductory
announcement:--"Let us dedicate ourselves heart and soul to the proud
task that is ours. Unwavering fulfilment of responsibilities by each
individual, and complete subjection of self to the common interest,
let this be the motto we inscribe on our banner. Expect no favoritism
from me. If I may pledge myself to one thing today, it is this, that I
shall endeavor to be an example to you in zeal and devotion to work.
So let us begin,--and do our duty! Success will surely crown our

Since many of the artists understood only Hungarian Mahler had to
employ an interpreter. The disadvantages of this condition at once
showed him that the quickest way to reach the hearts of the people was
through their mother tongue. Before his arrival performances had been
rendered ludicrous by "stars," assembled from all quarters of Europe,
who insisted upon singing in their native language. Thus it was not an
uncommon occurrence for a music-lover of Budapest to hear a text begun
in Italian suddenly turn to French, German, or Hungarian during the
same performance. Immediately Mahler insisted that the "star" system
must go. This drastic demand granted, he found himself left with
third-rate Hungarian material. To whip this into shape he was forced
to resort once more to a tyranny of long, exhausting daily rehearsals.
Gradually the improved quality of the ensemble-work made itself
apparent to the audience, which began to increase steadily. Mahler,
now become Budapest's lion of the hour, was hailed as a patriot for
his diplomatic ruling that Hungarian be the sole language sung at the
opera. He had even gone as far as to have Wagner translated into
Hungarian and before the season was three months old he was conducting
spirited performances of such unheard-of novelties as A Rajna Kincse
(Rheingold) and A Valkuer before an audience of Hungarians the number
and enthusiasm of which were without precedent in the annals of the
Budapest Opera House. The whole first season proved a distinct triumph
for him, although he was able to achieve it only after undergoing
greater trials than ever before. He kept strictly his grim promise of
tyranny to the musicians and singers and these, seeing the wonders his
rigor was bringing to pass, cooperated with him. He in turn displayed
a gratified spirit of friendship towards them after working-hours,
occasionally inviting some of them to his quarters where they would
eat and drink sumptuously at his expense while he told them of his
plans and hopes for the future.

Naturally, such revolutionary changes in artistic policy could not
but meet with some opposition. One or two temperamental gentlemen of
the cast who felt themselves slighted by the "foreigner" demanded
satisfaction of Mahler in the traditional southern manner. He was at
one time actually compelled to announce in the newspapers that he did
not believe in the healing qualities of the duel.

In reality, he now felt himself more the exiled wanderer than ever
before. Hemmed in by a strange language which for reasons of art he
had even accepted as the sole tongue for his own stage, he felt
homesick and lonely, and wrote, "If I could only hear a word sung
in German!"

In February of the following year, 1889, his father died. Mahler had
been long expecting this blow, and arrived home that summer to find
the fast failing condition of his mother hinting grimly the inevitable
dissolution of the parental household in the near future. Mrs. Mahler
died in October, and the three eldest dependent children, Justi, Emma,
and Otto moved to Vienna, where the "successful" Gustav had assumed
the burden of a home for them. He was not of a saving disposition, for
he loved the comforts of life. The friends of his youth who had not
met with such good worldly fortune always found him ready and generous
with his "loans." The termination of the Mahler household at Iglau
meant the inauguration of a new series of large but necessary
expenditures. To meet these he was always compelled to draw upon his
salary before it was due. Finding himself in a state of persistent
financial embarrassment he grew more bitter than ever at the fate that
forced his shoulder to the wheel of a hated drudgery and he would
often exclaim, "That cursed money!" In addition, his brother, Otto,
although possessed of great musical talent, was a pathological case,
refusing stubbornly to attend to both the academic and musical studies
without which he could never amount to anything. His sister, Justi,
weakened by the strain of a long spell of attendance upon her dying
mother, showed alarming signs of a break-down in health and the
distracted, self-styled "head of the family" remarked sadly, "In my
family there is always someone ailing."

On November 20th occurred the most important event of his Budapest
engagement, the first performance of his First Symphony. Tentatively,
he had programmed it after the fashion of the day as "Symphonic Poem,
in Two Parts." It was in reality a symphony in four movements with a
pause of several minutes, (he once personally advised as long as five
minutes!) between the second and third movements. The musicians who
had come to know and admire him did their utmost to make the difficult
work intelligible to the audience; but outside of the small circle of
his personal friends most of the strangely earnest music fell on
unsympathetic ears. The music-lovers, to whom Beethoven and Brahms
were the unalterable symphonic gospel, squirmed about uneasily under
the forked-lightning of dynamic surprises in this new symphony. During
the opening bars of stormy passion in the last movement an elegant
society lady in a box became so excited that her handbag and
opera-glasses fell with a crash to the floor. Of the two critics who
published their opinions on the following day one seemed somewhat
favorably impressed, but the other, a certain von Herzfeld, fell
upon the symphony with a destructive fury which entitles him to the
distinction of having inaugurated a newspaper opposition to Mahler's
works that is still flourishing over forty years later and keeping the
composer's position in musical history problematical.

During the next three years Mahler kept his first symphonic score
hidden away, much as if it had been a secret diary. The wasted
performance at Budapest became for him the sad, unpleasant memory of
an occasion upon which he had confided his inmost secrets to ears of
stone. Meanwhile, he worked steadily to give his sketches for a new
symphony definite, clear form, building for it a far greater structure
than that of its predecessor. The topic he had chosen to succeed the
drama of the "singing wanderer" was "Death and Resurrection," a theme
calling for a truly colossal setting. The first longing to compose
such a symphony had taken hold of him as early as 1883 when the
austerity of Parsifal had left its indelible impression upon his mind.
Strauss' Death and Transfiguration, certainly conceived later and,
happily for the composer, in an idiom and form ideally suited to the
epigram-loving disposition of the intelligentsia of the Nineties, had
already made its mark, almost establishing a canon of one-movement
brevity for the successful symphonic expression of the coming age.
Mahler, however, had unhesitatingly set out at a tangent from the
artistic inclinations of his day and, convinced of the vital
superiority of Beethoven's symphonic creed, felt that a musical
artwork must stand or fall by the power of its direct appeal to the
heart and that programs were at bottom mere "props," a sort of Deus
ex machina.

Curiously it was Strauss himself, master of the "new" key to the
public's musical heart, who first of all prominent musicians realized
the significance of this strange first symphony of Mahler's, written
in an unprecedentedly colorful orchestral language. In 1894 (it had
had a second vain hearing at Hamburg in 1892) Strauss used his
influence so effectively that the work was made the outstanding
feature of an important concert at Weimar. Whether or not the
proverbial, numerical magic of the "third trial" had anything to do
with it, this performance proved at least a partial success, leaving
audience and critics sufficiently puzzled to engage in heated
after-discussions, an attention most gratifying to the composer.

"My symphony", wrote he to a friend, "met on the one side with
unqualified recognition. Opinions were aired on the open street and at
private gatherings in a most edifying manner. 'When the dogs begin to
bark, we know we're on the way!' Of course, I'm the victor (that is,
in my estimation, though the opinion is shared by hardly anyone else).
The performance was extremely imperfect owing to insufficient
rehearsal. The orchestra, yielding to the persuasiveness of a barrel
of beer, proved distinctly in favor of the work and also of the manner
in which I conducted it. My brother (Otto) who was present was highly
pleased with the partial failure of the symphony, and I, ditto, with
its partial success."

Not without misgiving, yet hoping that such a trick could only have a
superficial effect upon the general understanding of the work, while
it would certainly make it seem "up-to-the-minute," Mahler announced
in the program-book of the concert that the symphony was called
"Titan" and followed this with the story of each movement outlined
briefly. This led, of course, to much misunderstanding; for many, too
fondly versed in the manner of that "prodigal son" of Liszt, Strauss'
glittering Symphonic Poem, looked upon these romantic explanations
much as they would have regarded a "bill of fare," and although they
found Mahler's colorful instrumentation highly interesting, protested
that the events heralded in the printed "list" had not come off
satisfactorily. When the work was finally published three years
later, the composer's intentions were revealed as definitely
anti-programmatic, for in the printed score all the earlier
descriptive phrases are missing; and except for a few general hints
to help the conductor's interpretation, the first symphony has been
handed down to posterity as a work conforming to the essential
principles of absolute music.

Much of the interest aroused by the performance at Weimar centered
about the timeworn question whether the relationship between
"symphony" and "program" is a natural one. That more or less definite
intentions or experiences always form the invisible background of
creative work in music has been generally accepted. In this broader
sense all symphonic music is "program" music, the deeper and more
personal its message, the richer and more varied its undescribed
content. However, it was along this wave of futile controversy the
name of Mahler, the composer, was wafted into its first prominence.

Strauss' hearty endorsement of the work added to the fact that the
Weimar program still called it a "symphonic poem in two parts,"
persisted so long as the bone of contention in German musical
discussions that Mahler felt at last obliged to publish his personal
views on the true content of the symphony. The keynote of his
revelation, which he claimed to be the soul of all his symphonic work,
(he had by that time finished his Third Symphony) was the deceptively
simple phrase printed over the opening bar of the First, "Wie Ein
Naturlaut," or freely translated, "as though spoken by Nature."

"That Nature embraces everything that is at once awesome, magnificent,
and lovable, nobody seems to grasp. It seems so strange to me that
most people, when they mention the word Nature in connection with art,
imply only flowers, birds, the fragrance of the woods, etc. No one
seems to think of the mighty underlying mystery, the god Dionysos, the
great Pan; and just that mystery is the burden of my phrase, Wie Ein
Naturlaut. That, if anything, is my program, or the secret of my
composition." (Mahler was writing this to a prominent critic.) "My
music is always the voice of Nature sounding in tone, an idea in
reality synonymous with the concept so aptly described by Buelow as
'the symphonic problem.' The validity of any other sort of 'program' I
do not recognize, at any rate, not for my work. If I have now and then
affixed titles to some movements of my symphonies I intended them only
to assist the listener along some general path of fruitful reaction.
But if the clarity of the impression I desire to create seems
impossible of attainment without the aid of an actual text, I do not
hesitate to use the human voice in my symphonies; for music and poetry
together are a combination capable of realizing the most mystic
conception. Through them the world, Nature as a whole, is released
from its profound silence and opens its lips in song."

There were many in the audience at Weimar who felt that the
"program-book" should have included more detailed explanations of the
work to be performed, with musical illustrations, in the manner of a
"guide." One of these music-lovers wrote to Mahler asking him why this
practice had not been followed at the concert. The composer's answer,
an essential part of his artistic creed, seems to deserve citation.

"I do not believe in misleading the audience at a musical performance
with musico-technical details; for misunderstanding, in my opinion,
is the inevitable result when one is handed a program-book that asks
the audience to see instead of to hear! Of course, I agree that the
thematic web of a work should be clear to every listener. But do you
think that the mere sight of a few themes can bring that condition
about? The understanding of a musical work can be attained only
through an intensive study of it; and the deeper a work the more
difficult and gradual is this process. At a 'first performance' it is
most important for the listener to allow only the general human and
poetic qualities of the work to play freely upon the emotions. If
these qualities seem to make an eloquent appeal then the work deserves
more detailed examination. To draw an analogy, how are we to proceed
in fathoming the true nature of any human being, a mystery certainly
deeper and greater than that of any of man's accomplishments? Where
can we find the 'program-book' to explain him? The solution is
similar--we must study him incessantly, with devoted attention.
Naturally, man is subject to constant development and change, while
a work remains ever the same; but analogies are doomed to lameness
at some point or other!"

With this very first symphony Mahler felt that he was making a real
contribution to music. The manner in which he considered it to be new
is suggested in the confidential letter previously quoted. "You alone
will understand it because you know me; to others it will sound
strange." He realized that the only possible addition of permanent
value to art is the powerful portrait of a personality. When he said
that his work would have to wait long for recognition because there
was nothing to link it to the past, he did not have revolutionary
technical considerations in mind. He did not mean that his music must
be judged by other standards than those of the masters before him. He
was merely aware that his orchestral language would seem strange--so
strange as to put his message hopelessly out of reach of his time,
since only a generation to which the idiom would seem natural and
unaffected could be expected to pierce through it to the deep
underlying meaning. He regarded Strauss as his "great contemporary,"
the fortunate creative artist whose idiom had the same pulse-beat as
the life about him. Mahler's sharp, ascetic orchestral idiom, assumed
the moment he had (in early youth) ceased to compose at the piano,
remained his mode of expression to the end. After those juvenile
futilities of instrumentation, Mahler espoused with the fervor of
faith a purely polyphonic mode of expression, whether a brief song
or a gigantic work was involved. Of course, there was a steady
development in his mastery of orchestral technique during twenty years
of symphonic study and creation, but this development was only in the
direction of increased clarity and intensity of expression. Throughout
all his colossal works there is apparent an unwavering conviction in
the validity of the many-voiced language they speak.

Externally considered this language offers points of contact helpful
to a deeper insight of Mahler's individual message. To begin with,
all the instruments of the orchestra are for him solo-instruments and
hence of equal importance. Each one is exploited not merely for the
clearest musical effect of which it is capable but even more for its
most striking emotional accents. Through this analysis Mahler was
enabled to endow the orchestral idiom with a psychological power it
had never possessed before. The prodigal profusion of his unexpected
usages in instrumentation was the strange feature that accounted (and
still accounts in a great measure) for the conservative music-lover's
misunderstanding of his works.

Perhaps a brief, general catalogue of some of these surprising
orchestral habits may not be out of place at this point. Solo flutes
which the custom of masters had made the vehicles of sweet melodies
were now suddenly heard sounding ethereally, totally bereft of pathos,
as if issuing out of infinite distances. The brilliant little E-flat
Clarinet, a queer foundling abandoned by Berlioz and carefully reared
by Mahler, now invaded the proud precincts of the symphony orchestra
a full-blown soloist, bursting forth in occasional mockery, grotesque
often to the point of scurrility. Owing to the parodistic gifts of
this reclaimed instrument not even the lugubrious atmosphere of a
funeral march beclouding life would be safe from an interruption of
almost ribald merriment tearing our thoughts away from futile gloom;
or the spell of most tenderly sentimental moments might be rudely
broken by an instrumental sneer, a practice the validity of which is
amply reflected in our daily experience. The oboe, no longer the
accustomed high-pitched voice of poignantly sweet pathos, was now
heard singing with unstrained accents, in its natural, middle
register. The bassoon, on the other hand, suddenly become most
eloquent of suppressed pain, would cry out, most convincing in its
highest tones; and the contrabassoon might have a coarse, grotesque
remark to make all alone.

The horn (in the treatment of which authorities agree Mahler was
one of the greatest masters of all time) had never had so important
a role. To the noble level of expressiveness it had attained in
Bruckner's hands Mahler added a new power, enabling it by means of
dying echoes to carry smoothly an idea already exploited into a
changed musical atmosphere. Sometimes a solo horn would issue with
overwhelming effect from a whole chorus of horns among which it had
been concealed, or singing in its deepest tones it would lend a
passage the air of tragic gloom. In Mahler's resourceful use of the
horn every register seemed possessed of a different psychological

Short, sharp, fanfaresque trumpet "motifs" (so effectively used by
Bruckner in his symphonies) attain apotheosis with Mahler, for either
disappearing gently in a soft cadence, or singing bravely on, they
soar with ever increasing intensity and breadth to a powerful dynamic
climax, to be finally crowned with the triumphant din of massed brass
and percussion. Often where usage would recommend the intensification
of a melodic line by the employment of many instruments in unison
Mahler would save the clarity of the line from the blurring effect
of massed voices by having a single trumpet take up the theme with
intense passion. Above a sombre rhythm powerfully marked by a chorus
of trombones over percussion he would set a solitary trombone to pour
out grief in noble, poignant recitative. Never had such significance
been given the percussion group as Mahler gave it. His peculiar
understanding of this family was doubtless a result of the fascination
with which he had in childhood days absorbed the martial strains
issuing from the Iglau barracks. Often he would even combine various
percussion instruments, giving even them a share of his all-embracing
polyphony, much as if drums too were solo instruments.

"Tradition is slovenly!" was his motto. He rejected every stereotyped
means of obtaining a desired effect; and it was often the sheer
originality of his solution to an instrumental problem which (while
carrying richer meaning) was dismissed by the misunderstanding
listener, fed on conventional combinations, as merely grotesque. In
this intensified and clarified musical idiom, however, there was
nothing actually revolutionary. The whole orgy of amazing polyphony
which is Mahler's work, technically considered, signified nothing more
than that the inevitable development of the orchestral language had
been sent forward a whole generation by the genius of one man.

His great mastery of the color possibilities of each instrument kept
Mahler, the absolute symphonist, thoroughly modern in a musical world
gone "program" mad. Owing to this knowledge, in those days still new,
he could afford to stand aside from those who blindly risked the
sacrifice of musical content to the sensational effect of trick
instrumental combinations. There was no emotion he could not give
clear expression without abandoning a pure, many-voiced melodic
method essentially as legitimate as that of Bach. Through orderly
contrapuntal "line," scored in his eloquent idiom, he achieved
"color," and yet retained that transparent clarity of expression which
in the higher orchestral world has become synonymous with the name

So striking and vital was the originality of his method that it
speedily evoked a "school" of emulators but little concerned with
the real content of his symphonies. A generation went by; meanwhile
the latest offspring of major music came into existence, the
"chamber-symphony," over whose many exclusively solo voices the
lineo-coloristic method of Mahler holds paternal sway.

Just turned thirty, he was already a prey to doubts concerning the
revolutionary trend of the coming generation. This is clear from one
of his letters, dated 1891:

"I have done much reading this year and many books have made a deep
impression upon me; indeed, I might say they have caused a complete
'about-face' in my attitude towards the world and life--or perhaps,
merely a further development. Has it not struck you that we have
already seen the younger generation grow up--(the new ideas which we
fought for have become commonplaces) and that we shall have to fight
the new youth to protect from their violence what we have gained?"


The tremendous combined burden of directing, rehearsing, and
conducting at the Budapest Opera House was a greater strain than the
physique of one man could endure. Although Mahler was far stronger
than his over-slender and somewhat diminutive proportions seemed to
indicate, his recent illness necessitating an operation had left him
too weak for the almost superhuman labors involved in his official
position. Perhaps owing to lack of rest, it soon developed that the
operation had not brought the expected relief, and in order to be able
to forget the excruciating pain that often made concentration upon his
responsibilities impossible Mahler was sometimes compelled to resort
to morphine injections.

The condition of his sister Justi failed to improve and the beginning
of the summer vacation of 1890 found them both traveling together
among the beautiful cities of Italy, breathing in the mild, healing
Mediterranean air. Determined to permit no artistic experience to mar
this rare period of complete relaxation Mahler religiously avoided
visiting museums and cathedrals during the entire trip, confining
himself to the enjoyment of the abundant natural beauties about the
famous old Italian towns.

After almost a month of this carefree nomadic life (the Hungarian
government was paying all railroad expenses) he settled down for the
remainder of the summer in the Austrian Alps. Unfortunately frequent
visits of theatrical officials from Budapest together with the problem
of passing on the merits of new operatic scores consumed all the time
he would have otherwise devoted to creative work.

The musical season of 1890 opened ominous with the political shadow
that lurked behind the alleged "absolute powers" conferred upon Mahler
by his Hungarian contract. The air was full of the rumor that his
musical patron, Count Beniczky, was to be transferred to another field
of governmental authority. Untrusting among foreigners and impelled by
self-imposed financial responsibilities to his family (Mahler was once
more in debt) he anticipated the threatened approach of trouble by
communicating secretly with the director of the Hamburg Opera. The
position about which their correspondence bargained meant nominally
a step backward for Mahler, but in reality Hamburg, the city of the
great Buelow, was one of the centers of German music and an operatic
conductor there had opportunities for general recognition far
beyond those offered by Budapest. At any rate, by the time the
transfer of Beniczky became a fact, the agreement with Hamburg was
definite--Mahler's call thither to take effect the day of his release
from Budapest. Count Zichy, the one-armed piano virtuoso, conductor
and poet, who succeeded Beniczky, naturally had opinions and
aspirations of his own concerning the "opera." The fact that the
institution's deficit had been turned into a profit by the shrewd hand
of Mahler did not persuade this new "lord" to leave well enough alone.
His very first decree altered the operatic statutes in such a manner
that the director suddenly found his position divested of all the
authority guaranteed by his contract. Zichy soon began to conduct
rehearsals in person, arranging the repertoire to suit his own
anti-Wagnerian tastes. For a week or two Mahler attempted to adjust
himself to this most unpleasant situation; but at length sure of his
legal ground he tendered his resignation. The contract that called
for a period of ten years' service had been clearly broken by the
Hungarian government after only a little over two years. Mahler
insisted upon a cash settlement and the sum of 25,000 Gulden was
agreed upon.

It was during these last days at Budapest that his musicianship
received the highest tribute it had as yet been paid. The celebrated
Brahms, in the city at the time (January, 1891) could not be induced
to attend the opera. Every attempt to persuade him that this young
conductor was worthy of even his notice failed to arouse his interest.
Finally on the evening of a Don Giovanni performance some influential
Mahler admirers insisted that the famous composer accompany them to
the opera. The great man protested in vain, "Nobody can interpret Don
Giovanni for me! That is music which I can enjoy only if I sit flown
and read the score to myself!" Much against his will Brahms found
himself one of the audience. Cross as he had been, from the very
beginning of the opera his delight and amazement were evident and
he would show his appreciation of particularly fine passages by
exclaiming from time to time, "Excellent!" "Splendid!" "Remarkable!"
"At last, that's just the way it ought to be done!" "What a devil of
a fellow that Mahler is!" At the end of the first act Brahms hurried
backstage, threw his arms affectionately about Mahler, and said, "That
was the best Don Giovanni I've ever heard. Not even the Imperial Opera
in Vienna can rival it!"

The recognition of Brahms was highly gratifying to Mahler faced once
more with the prospect of wandering in quest of fortune. April found
him in Hamburg, again just a "first conductor." Deeply analytic by
nature he now gathered together the wealth of his years of practical
operatic experience in the hope of sifting out a policy that
would enable him to adapt these new conditions to his own ideals.
The hostile Buelow, his first conquest, recognized at once the
authoritative artistic personality reflected by that ascetic face
which, when Mahler was conducting, would assume every nuance of
emotion from the agony of the damned to the bliss of the transfigured.
Mahler still anxious to learn, attended the Buelow concerts as often
as he could and was almost embarrassed by the pompous manner in which
the famous conductor would bow to him from the stage. Throughout the
concert this remarkable man would not miss the slightest opportunity
of showing his respect and admiration for the new conductor of the
"opera." Regardless of the wonder of the audience Buelow would beckon
or smile inquisitively down to Mahler (seated in the first row) during
the most beautiful passages of the music, as if asking "Don't you
think this is fine?" or "Why shouldn't I be proud of this?" Buelow
spoke of Mahler as "The Pygmalion of the Hamburg Opera," implying that
his work there had resurrected the institution from the dead.

But here again was the case of a new-found powerful friend who would
do all for the executive musician, but shrank in horror from his
creative work. After expressing his amused delight at Buelow's
ostentatious display of approval, Mahler wrote, "But when I played
my Totenfeier (Death-celebration, the opening movement of the Second
Symphony) for him, he fell into a state of extreme nervous terror,
carrying on like a lunatic, and exclaimed, 'Next to your music Tristan
sounds as simple as a Haydn symphony.' Indeed, I'm almost beginning
to believe it myself; my symphonies are either maudlin ravings or...
well, express the alternative for yourself. I've tired of doing it."

So exacting were Mahler's duties in Hamburg that he considered with
growing despair the decreasing leisure time left him for composition.
He longed more than ever for the day when freedom from the financial
worries involved in the total dependence of several members of his
family would enable him to take some modest position demanding less
time and energy. Yet he never ceased to dread the uncertainty of a
conductor's contract, knowing that those he loved would be the worst
sufferers if fate really granted him the respite he so coveted.

Just before the summer of 1892 the Hamburg Opera House thrilled with
the announcement that its recent excellence had so impressed London
music-lovers that the English metropolis had decided upon a taste
of real German opera. The exciting invitation to London included a
large part of the Hamburg cast and, of course, the new conductor.
Immediately Mahler threw himself heart and soul into the study of
English, making such headway in a few weeks that he proudly wrote his
reports from London in his newly "mastered" language. The following
quotation is literal, even orthographically so:--

"Dear Berliner!

I shall only to give you the adresse by you upon your life and other
circumstances in Hambourg. I myself am too tired and excited and
not able to write a letter. Only, that I found the circumstances of
orchestra here bader than thought and the cast better than hoped.
Next Wednesday is the performance of Siegfried which God would bless.
Alvary: Siegfried, Grengg: Wotan, Sucher: Bruennhilde, Lieban: Mime.
This is the most splendid cast I yet heard, and this is my only trust
in these very careful time. Please to narrate me about all and am



I make greater progress in English as you can observe in this letter."

The enthusiasm of the Londoners for Mahler's "Wagner" was so great
that the cause of German opera became a popular one in England
thereafter. The following account of the Siegfried performance by the
same Anglo-Austrian "correspondent" seems very illuminating:

"Siegfried--great success. I am myself satisfied of the performance.
Orchestra: beautiful. Singers: excellently. Audience: delighted and
much thankful. Mittwoch: Tristan (Sucher). I am quite done up!



The Hamburg newspapers trumpeted forth proudly the triumphs of Mahler
on foreign soil; but the expected reception to the returning hero was
dashed by a terrible epidemic of cholera which suddenly afflicted the
city, driving thousands of panic-stricken inhabitants to the safety
of other parts. Among those who fled many of the singers and opera
officials were prominent and the scheduled opening of the musical
season was indefinitely postponed. Mahler himself, en route, was
compelled to await in Berlin the outcome of an acute attack of stomach
trouble which he long suspected to be the dread disease's advance
messenger. The worry and pain of this condition left him more nervous
than ever, but he was obliged to report in Hamburg as soon as the
epidemic was on the wane.

Shortly after this Buelow fell seriously ill and unhesitatingly named
Mahler as his substitute at the symphony concerts he had made part of
German musical history. No sooner had the "substitute" conducted the
first few bars at rehearsal when the novel character of his phrasing
and dynamic effects met with the vociferous disapproval of leading
members of the orchestra. Mahler realized at once what a power for
evil an exaggerated conservatism could be in the education of
musicians. Undaunted he now added a new and difficult aim to his
already formidable array of embattled ideals. He determined to free
the world of that stupid canonization of the old masters which
rendered the slightest critical emendation of their printed pages
almost a capital crime. Fearlessly and devotedly he examined the
immortal Beethoven Ninth and wherever he was convinced that the
doubling of an instrument or the raising of a part by an octave would
only enhance the clarity of the composer's intention he made that
change. Wagner, himself one of the anointed, had made many such
alterations in the same score. The highest technical tribunals of
music secretly approved of these. So far from being disturbing, such
changes improved the work, making its message clearer, more brilliant.
So long as no detail of Beethoven's conception was obscured or
discarded the consummate grasp of orchestral balance characteristic of
the modern composer-conductor could do the great score no harm. That
was Mahler's conviction. In his rescoring of Schumann's Rhenish
Symphony his work of "retouching" fell on less hallowed ground and
was accepted as law by the whole world of conductors. It is doubtful
whether any major performance of Beethoven's Ninth to-day excludes
entirely the suggestions advanced by Mahler in the direction of
increased clarity.

The close of 1892 found the fame of Mahler, the composer, but slightly
advanced. A second performance of his First Symphony, again under his
own direction, met with the warm approval of one leading critic of
Hamburg, Pfohl. Otherwise it aroused no interest. In Berlin two of his
orchestral songs were given a prominent hearing. The second and third
collections of his Songs from Youth had just been printed and were
helping to pave the way to intelligibility for those movements of his
symphonies in which Wunderhorn songs formed an integral part of the

In 1893 Buelow, in a dying condition, resigned his leadership of the
Hamburg symphony concerts and departed for the milder climate of
Egypt. He was automatically succeeded by Mahler who conducted the
series of eight Buelow Concerts in a style as masterly as it was
disconcerting to the ultra-classically inclined members of the
orchestra. Of the complete sincerity of their opposition Mahler could
not convince himself. To him they appeared not only stubborn and
stupid, but even deplorably bad artists. His utter discouragement in
the face of their attitude is evident from the following letter:--

"Believe me, our art-life nowadays has ceased to have any attraction
for me. Always and everywhere the same lying, cursed, and dishonest
point-of-view! Supposing I went to Vienna, what sort of reception
would my conception of art get there? I would merely have to show the
famous "Hans-trained" [Hans Richter, conductor of the Viennese
Philharmonic Society.] Philharmonic my interpretation of a Beethoven
symphony to meet with the most bitter opposition. Have I not had the
experience here in spite of the authoritative position assured me by
the unqualified recognition of Brahms and Buelow?

"What a storm of abuse I bring down upon myself whenever I attempt to
step out of the beaten path to present some idea of my own! I have
only one wish: to be permitted to work in a little town unhampered
by stultified 'traditions' or guardians of 'the laws of eternal
beauty,'--to work among simple, sincere people and really to serve
myself and the few who understand me. If possible, a place where there
is no theatre, no Repertoire!"

Mahler spent four consecutive summer vacations (1893-6) on the shore
of one of the most beautiful Austrian lakes, the Attersee. Here in
a little hut, undisturbed except for the occasional clucking of
wandering poultry, he gave himself up for a few weeks to the creative
work which his operatic obligations in the city made impossible for
ten months out of the year. The Second Symphony almost reached
completion in this ideal atmosphere during his first sojourn there.
Only the last movement continued to baffle him; for the convincing
conception of "resurrection" powerfully expressed in tone had not as
yet come to him.

Buelow died in Egypt early the following year and Mahler was one of
the chief mourners when his colleague's remains arrived at Hamburg
for final interment. At the funeral services a choral setting of
Klopstock's ode Resurrection was being rendered when it seemed to him
that through its words of hope the spirit of Buelow was addressing
him. Suddenly he knew that his symphony must close with human voices
singing these words.

That year his work at the opera became doubly hateful to him. The
second conductor left and the director engaged nobody for the vacancy,
thus placing a double burden on Mahler's shoulders. His strict,
healthy, routine life alone kept this superhuman task within the
bounds of his unaided accomplishment. Retiring late he would rise at
seven. While taking a hasty, cold bath he would ring impatiently for
his breakfast, a cup of coffee, which he drank a few moments later,
completely dressed, smoking a cigarette between sips. He read no
newspaper in the morning, preferring to start his day with poems from
the Wunderhorn or some Goethe or Nietzsche. Then he worked hard at his
own music until 10:30, this labor consisting mostly of the preparation
of legible, final copies of symphonic compositions feverishly set down
the preceding summer. Then followed a brisk walk of three quarters of
an hour to the opera house where he was due at eleven for rehearsal.
At 2:30, returning also on foot, he would signal his approach from
afar with the cheerful, whistled opening notes of Beethoven's Eighth
Symphony, so that "Sister Justi" would have the soup ready on the
table as he entered. During this hearty meal (he had a splendid
appetite in those days) he would engage in what was to him the most
fascinating of all his daily occupations--reading the mail. In these
sealed messages he saw his only hope of release from the hated rut
which Hamburg had grown to be for him. "Anywhere at all, only away
from Hamburg," was his daily dream of longing and he would refer
whimsically to a certain Spirit, who would some day send him the
coveted release, as the "God of the Southern Zones." Occasionally some
operatic composer would accompany him home to dinner, but Mahler's
financial limitations made it difficult for him to entertain guests as
often as he would have liked. Dinner over he would take a short nap,
after which he would hurry to the copyist, ever busy on some important
work requiring Mahler's personal supervision. Then came a long walk
about the quiet outskirts of Hamburg until six when he departed for
the evening's performance. He would arrive home late at night,
invariably in bad humor, hissing, "The opera is an Augean stable which
not even a Hercules could clean!"

Doubtless most prominent musicians of the Nineties were unpleasantly
surprised when Strauss put his stamp of approval upon Mahler's Titan
Symphony, bringing about its performance at the Weimar festival in
1894. Perhaps the prestige of his name was somewhat responsible for
the reluctance of critics to engage in the ruthless butchery of the
work after the concert. Those who suspected a prank on Strauss' part
must have been convinced of their error when he became the first to
take the field in behalf of the newly completed Second Symphony of the
scorned Hamburg conductor. His performance of three of the five
movements of this long work in Berlin in 1895 served as a fitting
prelude to the actual first complete hearing under Mahler's own baton
later in the same year.

A few days before this concert in Berlin Mahler found himself the
center of an incredibly difficult artistic triangle. He had
simultaneously to prepare the Beethoven Ninth for the Buelow Concerts
in Hamburg, to rehearse his own symphony in a distant city, and to
conduct at the Hamburg opera every evening. At the close of the
performance at the theatre he would hurry to the train and, after
traveling all night, rehearse till noon in Berlin. Then hurrying back
by train he would arrive at the Hamburg opera just in time to give
the signal for the opening note.

So gigantic was the chorus that had volunteered for this performance
of the Ninth that the usual conductor's stand was far too low to
furnish Mahler an adequate view of the entire musical scene.
Accordingly he ordered that a new, high platform be constructed for
the occasion, taking it for granted that the stage carpenter would
know exactly what was required. Mahler's complicated duties at this
time naturally made it impossible for him to attend to the supervision
of petty details and he had his first view of the new platform only as
he was hurrying to ascend it midst the thunders of applause a moment
before the opening bars. To his dismay he saw that the stupid workman
had built a perilously narrow structure literally a whole story high!
To delay or retreat now would cause laughter and mar the triumphant
occasion. Resolutely Mahler climbed to the summit of the structure. A
first moment of dizziness--and then planting his feet so firmly into
the planking that people nearby thought he was trying to dig a sure
footing in the wood, he raised the baton and the symphony began.
Eye-witnesses testify that he stood like a statue riveted to one spot
from beginning to end, lifting his arms high to stave off any attempt
at applause between the movements of the work. It was a most
magnificent display of will-power, all the more remarkable in view of
Mahler's extremely nervous feet the involuntary shifting and stamping
motion of which was the heritage of a childhood tendency to St. Vitus

On the heels of this concert came the premiere of his Second Symphony
in Berlin. The critics now aware that a new young and revolutionary
creative force was demanding recognition acted in accordance with the
Beckmesser tradition immortalized by the still hale Hanslick. Already
buffeted by many years of critical unkindness Mahler was steeled
against their destructive attack and was more than satisfied with the
obvious impression his work had made upon the general listeners. Their
spontaneous reaction was, he believed, the only valid criticism of a
first performance--and it had been clearly favorable.

Strauss' continued championship of his cause found malicious
detractors who insinuated that Mahler in reality regarded himself as
a rival of the composer who had so generously befriended him. The
following Mahler letter to a prominent critic shows this charge to be

"I shall never cease to be grateful to Strauss who has so
magnanimously given the impetus to public hearings of my works. Nobody
should say that I regard myself as his rival (although I'm sorry to
say the stupid implication has often been made). Aside from the fact
that my music should be looked upon as a monstrosity had not the
orchestral achievements of Strauss paved the way for it, I regard it
as my greatest joy to have met with a companion fighter and creative
artist of his calibre among my contemporaries."

Mahler's explanation of the meaning of his Second Symphony is limited
to the merest noncommittal suggestion. It is in a manner a direct
sequel to the Titan Symphony, the dead hero of which is during the
funereal opening movement carried to his grave. But this
Death-celebration is not the objective one of the former work where
all nature joins in the bitter, cacophonous laughter belittling the
fate of a single insignificant bit of creation. The death music is now
subjective and out of its sombre depths rise the ultimate human

"Why have you lived? To what end have you suffered? Is it just a
great, terrible jest? We must somehow answer this to prove life worth
while, and death life's most magnificent step towards fulfilment."

The last movement, the musical exposition of Resurrection inspired by
the burial services of Buelow, is the final answer to these questions.
The intervening movements unfold the checkered tale of life in which
the tenderness of universal love mystically sung is subjected to the
cruel and irrepressible interruptions of bitter irony born of the
darkest and perhaps most modern feature of Mahler's thoughts--a
desperate scepticism. Yet, just as in life, this doubt cannot be
victorious, for the soothing promise of subtler, kinder powers that
will not be denied lurks constantly behind the yearning melancholy of
the music.

Just about this time the condition of the Imperial Opera House in
Vienna had become so discouraging owing to an alarming deficit, that
rumors began to spread throughout the musical world heralding the
installation of a new regime in the immediate future. Mahler must have
been forewarned by his guardian "Spirit of the Southern Zones" that
his reputation as financial stabilizer in declining opera-houses would
probably make him the favored candidate in this emergency. At last his
life's fondest dream, of entering Vienna as musical marshal, might be
realized, and far sooner than he had dared to hope! With his customary
thoroughness and energy he tackled the problem of turning desired
probability into happy reality. No helpful detail that was not in
direct conflict with his artistic creed met with Mahler's neglect. The
mere suspicion that his lack of formal association with the church
might be a hindrance (though he had never suffered from anti-semitism)
caused him to go through the ritual of conversion to Catholicism. Thus
if he were to meet with any obstacle it could not be that of creed.
Certainly, in every other respect he felt himself eminently qualified
for the lofty position.

In the summer of 1896 he visited the aged and failing Brahms whose
tremendous influence over musical Vienna he succeeded in enlisting.
Although the famous composer shrank from even the mildest of Mahler's
orchestral creations, branding him as "the most incorrigible
revolutionist," he had not forgotten that thrilling performance of Don
Juan in Budapest five years before. In the Austrian capital Guido
Adler, the noted musicologist, did much to direct official attention
towards Mahler as the only logical candidate. Then unforeseen, like
the reward of "bread cast upon the waters," an important member of the
Viennese opera cast, who had more than a decade before sung under
Mahler at his memorable concert debut, the Cassel music Festival of
1885, now added her praise of his ability to the already formidable
weight of evidence in his favor. Early in 1897 he received a secret
summons to Vienna and at once handed in his resignation to Director
Pollini of Hamburg.

One of the most pleasant events of his last season in the northern
city was the publication of the orchestral score of his Second
Symphony. His greatest worry had always been for the safety of his
manuscripts, the only copies of his symphonic work in existence.
Wherever he went, if only for a short vacation, a heavy trunk of
manuscripts would have to go with him or if that were impossible some
trusted friend would be delegated to stand guard over the temporarily
abandoned treasures. Often Mahler would complain bitterly of a
condition that not only made him a baggage-slave, but also made it
impossible for him to take advantage of repeated requests for his
music by conductors contemplating its performance. One day a merchant
of Hamburg, a great admirer of Mahler, heard of this from a musician
who made piano arrangements of modern symphonies and at once offered
to defray the major part of the expense of printing the Second. At the
same time Guido Adler set into motion the machinery of influence which
brought about the publication in 1898 of the First and the recently
completed Third by the Bohemian Institute for the Promotion of Art and
Science. Mahler, approaching his thirty-seventh birthday, felt at last
that he was on the way to freedom from all material cares, the last of
these being totally obscured by the sudden blaze of sunshine from

In March, 1897, Weingartner gave the new Third Symphony a fractional
premiere in Berlin playing three of the seven movements in which
Mahler reveals his "happy philosophy." The chapters he chose for the
occasion were the "messages of the flowers, the animals, and of love."
Mahler's report of the concert in a letter follows:--

"I engaged in two battles yesterday (the 'general rehearsal' and the
concert) and am sorry to be compelled to report that the enemy was
victorious. There was much approval, but also just as much opposition.
Hissing and applause! Finally Weingartner called me and I took a bow.
That was the signal for the audience to become really noisy. The
papers will tear me to pieces. Justi appears to be deeply hurt by
the 'failure' in Berlin. So far as I'm concerned, the affair meant
nothing--in fact, in a certain sense, I'm proud of the 'reception'
I got. In ten years those 'gentlemen' and I may meet again."

After a brief unpleasant concert engagement in Moscow, marred by his
inability to swallow Russian food and by a narrow escape from
train-wreck, he went to Vienna, the city of his dreams. There he was
received quietly but with the respect due one secretly invested with
full directorial powers over the Imperial Viennese Opera.


Almost ten years before this Mahler had entered the Hungarian Royal
Opera as a sort of efficiency expert, his position proving for the
short period of his stay virtually that of artistic director. At the
very first rumor that political intrigue was at work to nullify his
authority he looked about him for some new field of activity, entering
eagerly upon negotiations with Director Pollini of Hamburg, although
the proferred position meant voluntary abandonment of a glory
nominally far greater. In the northern city, with the mere title of
conductor, he had in the course of five years won the recognition
generally accorded only the musical ruler of a city. Therefore, upon
entering Vienna in 1897, there was no doubt in his mind that ability
and energy, not titles, were the sole marks of distinction the
music-loving public would respect.

At first the authorities who had called him were still somewhat
anxious about the wisdom of their choice and announced his arrival at
the opera quietly, as though just another conductor had been added to
the rostrum. Jahn, the Director, an excellent musician but an
easy-going executive, knew that the newcomer was to be his successor,
but with a characteristic pettiness almost pardonable in his
temperamental profession, asked Mahler to accept the perilous Don
Giovanni for his Viennese debut. But Mahler was too wise a batonist
to fall into the trap of presenting a Mozart work which he had not
himself prepared and which instinct told him must have fallen into a
most deplorable rut in an institution so laxly directed for seventeen
years. Until his open assumption of leadership he would restrict
himself to performances for which, with even a single rehearsal, he
could blaze the way to success by the sheer fire of his conducting.

The gratefully romantic Lohengrin was his first offering. That
performance still remains one of the most thrilling musical
reminiscences of those who happened to hear it. Never before had they
felt this vivid score to be so pulsating with every attainable nuance
of tone and color. Students of the conservatory, reading the music
during the performance, rubbed their eyes in wonder, for though these
old strains seemed to sound new there was clear evidence before them
in black and white that Wagner had intended them to sound just as they
were now heard. Public and press joined heartily in the unstinted
praise that welcomed the new conductor, Shortly after this came his
first performance of the Flying Dutchman, and on the wave of universal
approval that met his "regeneration of the Viennese opera-chorus"
Prince Liechtenstein, the power behind the institution, felt that the
psychological moment had arrived for the open announcement of Mahler's
actual position. At first the city learned that he had been "promoted"
to the post of assistant-director, but the demoniac energy with which
the newcomer suddenly began to turn the old order inside out left no
doubt in anyone's mind that another regime had been inaugurated at the
Imperial Opera. Two months later, in August, this impression was
officially confirmed and Mahler publicly named "artistic director."

The changes he made embraced every department in which he saw the
possibility for improvement. A born stage-director he had an unerring
instinct for the spirit behind the dramatist's intention. He also had
a lightning-like grasp of the inadequacy of details that lent an air
of sham to the general effect of a setting. One of the first reforms
he gave his attention dealt with the exaggerated tendency of most
singers towards unnecessary gesturing. He could not see (to give one
instance of this) why in a world-famous opera-house the presence of
the word "heart" in the text must be accompanied by an expressive
raising of the palm to the anatomical region described. Mahler went to
the very root of this evil, the conservatory, ordering that operatic
students be taught their roles with their arms bound! At the opera he
would often insist that the singers rehearse a certain part without
any gestures whatsoever.

Of the ultimate virtues of his drastic method there remained no room
for doubt after several noted stars of the old order indignantly left
to be replaced by comparatively unknown, Mahler-trained singers from
Hamburg. One of these, Anna Mildenburg, though possessed of a rather
small voice, through the genuineness of her artistry was soon heralded
as the greatest actress on the operatic stage.

Although the wooden "posing" of the singers had perhaps contributed
more than any other vice toward the ruination of performances, Mahler
found other evils the sham quality of which was a definite hindrance
to the success of the Viennese institution. At a general meeting of
the cast he revealed a plan to do away with that parasite of the
opera, the shameful and expensive army of hired applause--the claque.

To prevent possible reprisals in the shape of hissing and other
vengeful disturbances he proposed to have detectives scattered
throughout the gallery ready to arrest any offender instantly. The
singers gladly acceded to this measure which meant to them the saving
of a considerable percentage of their salary. Then suddenly turning
about, he expressed great contempt for their far too frequent
instances of sudden indisposition which often compelled the director
to announce a change of schedule at the eleventh hour, and demanded
that they agree to the added responsibility of a "second-team"
emergency casting for each performance. This demand was particularly
characteristic of the idealist Mahler who unhesitatingly dashed his
head against an opposing wall in the effort to make his way beyond it.

Nevertheless he achieved a certain popularity among them and
remembering the transitory nature of such goodwill wrote a friend

"What do you think of the pleasant breeze that is blowing here for me?
About my being lovable? At this moment I have only three enemies in
Vienna, Jahn, Richter, and Fuchs. [The other conductors at the opera.]
Everybody else considers me very congenial. Brrr! How surprised they
are going to be!"

His next reforming blow was directed at the audience, many of whom
would nonchalantly saunter into the hall at any time during the first
hour of the performance. One morning the Viennese papers announced
that by order of the director no late-comers would be admitted until
the finish of the first act unless a prescribed pause after the
overture permitted tardy entrance without disturbing the progress of
the work being given. Fortunately for art the public is basically
just whenever it understands the principle involved in the problem
requiring its decision. This reform that strikes us as quite natural
to-day was really a startling innovation in the Nineties. There
has perhaps never been more thankful ground for musical art than
Vienna, and, when its music-lovers perceived that the city had been
endowed with a daring and able reformer who had the courage of his
convictions, they flocked to the opera with a loyalty and enthusiasm
that they had not shown for many years. The financial condition of the
institution improved so noticeably that Mahler received the personal
congratulations of the Emperor and the Prince who both pronounced his
rule a great success. Even after the prices of seats at the opera
were increased the surplus that remained bore eloquent witness of
the popularity of the new director.

The opera orchestra, made up of the finest instrumental performers,
also formed the bulk of that little autonomy of music known as the
Viennese Philharmonic Society. The annual series of concerts this
organization gave was regarded by musical Europe as the apex of
executive perfection in the art and the pride with which its members
cherished this traditional glory was sufficient guarantee against
any inroads of carelessness and indifference on their part. But the
cheapened standards of the opera-house, where during the season
preceding Mahler's arrival a dainty ballet (Bayer's Fairy Doll) had
been the most often performed attraction, had made it impossible for
the musicians to regard their duties in the theatre with the same
earnestness as at the concerts where only the greatest symphonic
works were offered.

Mahler became aware of this amazing discrepancy the very evening he
conducted his first Walkuere in Vienna. At the rehearsal in the
morning he had expended much care and time over an important passage
for the kettle-drums in the last act, the significance of which had
apparently never before been clear to the drummer. At the proper
moment during the performance that evening, Mahler gave the necessary
signal confidently, but instead of the rehearsed volley of sound only
a feeble insignificant tapping greeted his expectant ear. Gazing
angrily at the culprit, he saw to his amazement that a different
drummer was now sitting in the orchestra. After the final curtain he
demanded an explanation and learned that it had become customary for
musicians living in the suburbs to leave before the close of the
longer operas. Though it was already midnight he telegraphed the
first drummer to report to him early in the morning.

From this man he ascertained how hard was the lot of the
opera-orchestra with its daily rehearsal and performance. Though
Mahler had always been of the opinion that the perfect opera and the
daily performance were hopelessly incompatible he could do nothing
to change that condition, but hearing how low was the pay of the
musicians he succeeded at least in having this increased. Just as at
Budapest, he ruled over the musicians with absolute tyranny, but the
moment he put down the baton he would treat them as his equals,
missing no opportunity to show them the kind heart beneath all this
necessary despotism. Every sign of their devotion to art met with a
personal expression of appreciation from him. A particularly touching
instance of this is recorded in one of his published letters. The
occasion was a silent act of heroism on the part of the first
clarinetist, who realized that he was absolutely indispensable at an
important premiere then in preparation and kept reporting loyally at
his post of duty all through a period saddened by the mortal illness
and subsequent death of his child.

"Dear Professor,

I learned at the rehearsal to-day of the misfortune that has befallen
you and am most deeply grateful to you for the sacrifice you have made
in an hour of great suffering. Rest assured I understand how much
self-denial and courage it required to attend to duty at such a time.
Please accept my deepest sympathy and most heartfelt gratitude, dear
Mr. Bartolomey. I shall never forget this fine deed of yours.

Most sincerely,

Gustav Mahler."

Gradually the orchestra came to understand him, responding
instinctively to every signal he gave. Often this was very difficult,
for his manner of conducting, always accentuating the melodic line of
the music rather than its superficial division into measures, made
it seem as if the bar began on almost any other beat but the first.
However, the superior virtues of his style were beyond question when
the result was considered. The most significant portions of the scores
had never been so emphatically stressed, while transitional passages
suddenly sounded livelier and lighter. The Wagner music-dramas, now
given for the first time in Vienna without "cuts," proved half an hour
shorter than their former, abbreviated versions. Yet they seemed to
music-lovers never to have been sung so broadly.

The phlegmatic, good-natured Wagnerian conductor Richter had been
loved by these musicians. A dynamic, tyrannous nature like Mahler's
rendered any such sentiment out of the question; but for several
seasons the admiring awe which he inspired more than made up for the
absence of real affection. During his very first season he was offered
the leadership of the Philharmonic concert-series, the greatest
musical honor Austria could bestow. Although compelled at this time to
conduct every evening at the opera, owing to the frequent real or
feigned illnesses of the other conductors, Mahler happily assumed this
added burden. For three seasons he conducted the Philharmonic, while
audience and orchestra partook in mingled wonder and fear of the
strange, almost illicit beauties and "blasphemies" of his readings of
hallowed classics. The connection of such a "revolutionist" with this
tradition-bound organization naturally aroused bitter criticism among
the more conservative element and his honest but tactless open message
explaining his Beethoven emendations aroused general horror the force
of which has not yet ceased to function at the mention of Mahler's

In 1899 the "Philharmonic" played his Second Symphony, but although
the applause was so spontaneous that one movement (Urlicht) had to be
repeated the critics proved no more friendly than those of Berlin. The
following season, on the occasion of the French World Centennial, the
famous Viennese orchestra entered upon a series of five concerts under
Mahler at the Exposition in Paris. It proved an expensive venture with
a discouraging deficit and cast a heavy pall of gloom over the
organization. This financial setback was probably one of the leading
reasons for Mahler's subsequent refusal to officiate over the group in
any capacity save that of guest-conductor.

His first few seasons in Vienna proved, all in all, as physically
exacting as any he had undergone in previous years, but by 1901 the
long-delayed arrival of the modest and reluctant young Bruno Walter
furnished him with a highly gifted and devoted assistant who could
relieve him of much of his work as conductor. Death and resignation
had by now cleared the opera list of all the batonists of the old
order, and when Franz Schalk, ambitious and able scion of Bruckner,
joined the new regime Mahler was enabled to confine his activities
almost exclusively to the preparation of premieres and the supervision
of matters of policy involving the artistic welfare of the

Every day he would sit alert by the stage-telephone in the darkness of
the director's box watching some rehearsal. His excited, shrill tenor
voice (it was normally a deep, friendly baritone) might be heard all
morning sending forth that barrage of disapproving criticisms without
which he felt the performance could not attain artistic perfection. If
Don Giovanni were in preparation he might be heard shouting, "What
sort of costume is Dippel (Don Ottavio) wearing? He is the typical
pall-bearer! No Spanish grandee ever looked like that!" Or during the
minuet in the second act, with its little orchestra on the stage,
"What does that viola player mean, appearing on the stage with
pince-nez? If his sight is bad let him wear spectacles!" Then to
Sister Justi, sitting beside him, "If I let such nonsense go by they
will soon be performing Fidelio in monocles." Later at the graveyard
scene, "Do you call that a statue? It looks like paper, not stone. And
the face is miserably painted." And to the quaking manager roughly,
"Don't let it happen again."

The wounded vanity of some performers secretly favored by the court
led Prince Liechtenstein to remonstrate with Mahler, warning him
against the Skandal his roughness had aroused. Mahler answered, "When
the standards of a great opera-house have declined to such a shameful
depth as here tyranny is the only cure. Please don't put any stock in
these petty complaints, unless--I cause at least two Skandals a week."
He made full use of his privileges as "king" at the opera and later
it became clear to all that his despotism was that of a fanatical
idealist and not that of a mere bully glorying in his power. For the
time came when he stood discredited in the sight of the powers behind
the institution and diplomacy may have proved advantageous, but his
tyrannous hand held firm.

The opera season over he would hurry to his own summer abode, now on
the shore of the beautiful Woerthersee, a lake frequented by more
fashionable people than the scene of his previous vacations. He found
it more difficult each year to recapture the threads of the sketches
he had been compelled to abandon because of the all too sudden arrival
of another opera season. These spiritual hindrances, however,
invariably disappeared after a few days of relaxation. In 1900 he
finished his Fourth Symphony, although the Third had not as yet been
performed in its entirety. With this (for him) very short and
ethereally scored work (there are no trombones in it) he brought to a
close the tetralogical cosmos of the human spirit which his first four
symphonies are intended to suggest. In the space of four movements
lasting only forty-five minutes Mahler's Fourth sings the joys of
heavenly existence, supplementing the successful wanderings of the
hero in search of faith in the First, his death and resurrection in
the Second, and the praise of universal love and the wonders of nature
in the Third. Just as in the two symphonies preceding it, the human
voice is here called upon to intensify the ecstasy of the music
singing the praises of "life in heaven."

The opening of the fifth decade of Mahler's life proved from every
point of view revolutionary. The year 1901 shows his symphonic labors
suddenly interrupted. The only musical products of that season are
lyric, the Five Songs from Rueckert. There is one reason and the same
reason for both facts--a woman. Turning aside from a long-confirmed
celibacy he begins to court the charming young step-daughter of the
artist Carl Moll. At the home of the musically gifted and highly
congenial Alma Maria Schindler (such is her name) he doffs his grey
cloak of solitude and makes every effort to appear the jolly, sociable
companion. Alma, at first just fascinated by the attention of the
famous director, in the course of a, few months knows that she loves
him. At length he ventures to propose and she agrees to become his

The marriage took place in March, 1902. Before the close of the year
the new household consisted of three, a tiny girl, Maria Anna, having
come to join it in November. During this period Mahler composed his
immortal setting of Rueckert's Kindertotenlieder. When his little
daughter died at the age of four, a victim of scarlet fever, friends
heard him say in great sorrow, "Under the agony of fear that this was
destined to occur I wrote the Kindertotenlieder." Anna Justina, born
two years after her unfortunate sister, survived to lessen the heavy
weight of spiritual suffering of her father's few remaining years. The
death of little Maria seems to have sounded the gloomy keynote of
Mahler's tragic closing years, years as poor in solace for him as they
proved rich for the rest of mankind through the bounty of his martyred

Mahler's songs had by now attained supreme utterance in the
Kindertotenlieder. They were threatening to demolish the wavering
border-line between orchestral song and symphony, a deed actually
accomplished later in Das Lied von der Erde. Mahler used to wonder why
the superficial effusions of his imitators had become popular while
his own Wunderhorn songs were almost completely neglected by concert
singers. Vienna's reception to its great men of music had always
presented puzzling features. Beethoven and Brahms, both foreigners,
were the only ones at whose feet the city had fallen. Mozart,
Schubert, and Bruckner, true Austrians, had met with utter scorn and
neglect the disgrace of which was never wiped out by the storms of
contrite tears shed over the modest epitaph facing a brand new "grave
of honor." Mahler would say wistfully, "My time will yet come." When
any singer of the opera asked permission to program some of his songs
at a concert he refused point blank rather than face the question
whether the motive prompting the request was personal or artistic.

The year 1902 began encouragingly, with none of his finished symphonic
works unplayed. The Fourth, under his own baton, had been given in
Munich, Berlin and last, even in Vienna; the Third in all its
sevenfold philosophic magnitude had come into its own, a first and
successful hearing at Crefeld. In Vienna, however no Mahler symphony
premiere took place during the composer's life-time.

The composition of a new symphony, the Fifth, finished in the summer
of 1902 in the peaceful surroundings of his pretty summer villa in
Maiernigg on the Woerthersee proved a mysteriously baffling process to
Mahler. He realized that he had never before been so contented with
life and its prospects. The increasing leisure granted him by the
lessening burdens of the opera, most of the performances being now in
the hands of reliable subordinates--the happiness of life with an
understanding wife whom he loved--the promise of a family of his own
soon to be fulfilled--this beautiful summer villa of his dreams--and
yet, somehow, he seemed unable to apply to the scoring of this new
work the consummate technical equipment which the experience of four
huge symphonic labors had brought him. Again and again he would return
to the revision of this difficult score and it was not until the last
year of his life, 1911, that he could write:

"The Fifth is finished. I have been compelled to reorchestrate it
completely. I cannot understand how I could have at that time (1902)
written so much like a beginner. Clearly the routine I had acquired in
the first four symphonies deserted me altogether, as if a totally new
message demanded a new technique."

Mahler failed to realize that the spiritual metamorphosis resulting
from his changed manner of life was so complete that the Fifth was
literally a "child of fancy" conceived during a period of Storm
and Stress and bore inevitably the marks of the inner struggle
characterizing a transitional work. Yet curiously enough, in form, it
marks (just as do Beethoven's and Bruckner's Fifth) the high point of
his symphonic achievement, being a work in the classically sanctioned
four movements, an Adagietto (the shortest section in all his
symphonies) taking the place of the traditional Andante or Adagio.
Technically it presents the orchestral idiom of his former symphonies
with its almost exclusively polyphonic method intensified by even
greater freedom of melodic fantasy, culminating in that amazing
display of contrapuntal artistry in the Rondo Finale that has been
described as a Triple Fugue. However, it was not until his Sixth,
begun the following year and finished in the summer of 1904, that
the realism of this prodigally polyphonic scoring struck him with
convincing force. This work, owing to its persistent pessimism, being
the only symphony of Mahler with a dark, unhappy ending, has been
aptly called the "Tragic." In one way at least it must be regarded,
despite its comparative unpopularity even among Mahlerites, as its
composer's most personal expression. Emotionally it answers the
requirements of sincere poetry for it recreates in a period of
comparative calm the sufferings of twenty years of Odyssean wandering.
After a rehearsal preceding its premiere at Essen, 1906, one of his
friends, shocked by the extreme bitterness that swayed this work to
its ultimate echo, asked Mahler, "How could a man as kind-hearted as
you have written a symphony so full of suffering?" "It is," replied
Mahler, "the sum of all the suffering I have been compelled to endure
at the hands of life."

For those who find comfort in grouping his symphonies "logically,"
since Mahler himself liked to link the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh into
a trilogy, the fact that the Fifth opens with a grim, long trumpet
call in a minor key preceding a funeral march seems sufficiently
significant to furnish a point of direct contact with the first four
symphonies. Only in this case the "program" suggested is a shrinking
back from the grave hitherto regarded by Mahler as the symbol of the
gate to eternal life. This funeral march has about it nothing of the
terrifying Death-celebration of the Second, nor the weirdness of the
Hunter's Burial in the First, for it sings almost with the serenity
and sweetness of a wistful lullaby. It sings the mystic ode of human
fate, final interment, a concept of perfect peace from which the soul,
loving life, recoils crying and gasping frantically for mortal
existence despite all its inevitable pain.

Then followed the Scherzo, leaping with unprecedented abandon into
the dance of life, weaving the praises of its joys into an almost
inextricable polyphonic web of elation, paving the way for the happy
and masterly Rondo Finale. The Adagietto is an interlude of yearning
love between these two bright movements, almost giving the impression
of interpolation, but deep beneath its graceful, amorous lines is that
same haunting suggestion of sadness so characteristic of Mahler.

The Sixth is, as has already been stated, autobiographical, and stands
starkly realistic in sound and meaning between the "return to earth"
(of the Fifth) and that eerie exquisite Song of the Night, the
Seventh, conjuring up secrets and mysteries of goblin spirits far
beyond the magic spell cast by the immortal Scherzo of Mendelssohn's
Midsummer-night's Dream.

During these years Mahler applied to the proper launching of his
symphonies the leisure granted him by the firm status to which his
untiring efforts had raised the Viennese Opera House. Because of the
open hostility of the Austrian capital towards his compositions he
responded gratefully to the offers of assistance he received from
foreign cities. In Willem Mengelberg, the musical mentor of Holland,
he found a particularly devoted admirer. Mahler's scores would be sent
on to Amsterdam, thoroughly rehearsed by Mengelberg (Mahler would
often demand as many as seven rehearsals for a symphony) and a day or
two before the performance the composer would arrive to take personal
charge of the preparations. These flying trips to Amsterdam were a
great joy to Mahler and his regard and friendship for Mengelberg
grew constantly. The gifted Hollander in turn was happy to take his
place beside Bruno Walter, thus becoming the second official Mahler
disciple. In 1903 Amsterdam heard with enthusiasm the First and Third,
in 1904 the Second and Fourth, the latter symphony being actually
presented twice in succession on the very same program! Mengelberg's
faith in Mahler seems today, a whole generation since, stronger than
ever. The world witnessed a most magnificent testimonial of his pledge
of life-long service in the cause of Mahler's art at Amsterdam in May,
1920, when he performed a complete cycle of the departed master's
orchestral works at the First Mahler Festival. The concerts were
attended by a host of the most distinguished representatives of the
whole world of music. That the occasion, following so close upon the
heels of the World War, impressed the listeners as more than a mere
music festival, rather as an event symbolic of the universal love
which Mahler so often sang, is eloquently suggested by one of the
leading reviewers:

"The last echoes have died away, bringing to a close the most gigantic
and overwhelming group of festivities ever given in honor of a
musician. What is left? Tablets and monuments, and 'Mengelberg Straat'
and 'Mengelberg Plein,' newly named by the cities of Amsterdam and
Utrecht in honor of its great musician, and an ineradicable memory in
the hearts of thousands of the most beautiful festival of music they
have ever experienced.

"Not more? Yes, much more. For this has been more than a music
festival. It has been a peace conference--the most genuine peace
conference that has been held since the world went to war six years
ago. And above everything--we shall remember to the end of our days:
that here for the first time Frenchmen and Germans, Italians and
Austrians, Englishmen, Americans, Belgians, Hungarians have stood
together in the common worship of a genius--of 'enemy nationality'
to most of them---on neutral and hospitable soil."

Before this crowning festival Mengelberg had conducted 229
performances of Mahler's orchestral works all over the world, the
Fourth leading in frequency, with a record of 42, and the dreaded
Tragic (Sixth) trailing with only five hearings.

In October, 1906, not long after the coldly received premiere of the
Sixth at Essen, Mahler wrote Mengelberg:

"My Sixth appears to be too hard a nut for the tender little teeth of
our critics of to-day. Just the same it manages to push its way
through the concert-halls. I'm looking forward happily to its
performance in Amsterdam. Shall I bring the cowbells with me from

These cow-bells, a set especially constructed to symbolize a distant
parting greeting from the valley of life to the wanderer ascending to
the peaceful solitude of ethereal heights, accompanied Mahler to all
the performances of the Sixth. Besides, he was often tempted to take
his trusted first-horn player with him to assure the transcendentally
difficult passages he had allotted that instrument an adequate

Life had given Mahler scant opportunity for contact with creative
artists outside the world of music. One of his dearest friends,
Siegfried Lipiner, was a fine poet who wrote austere dramas in the
grand manner, and steeped himself in those deep, gloomy problems of
the human soul that were always a great fascination to Mahler. The
views of this poet on death and the hereafter were of particular
interest to Mahler ever since a very serious illness during his early
Viennese directorship had brought him face-to-face with the prospect
of death. That frequent contemplation of such a nature exerted a
sombre influence over his symphonies there can be no doubt; yet in the
light of his natural inclination towards the melancholy and the weird
this influence cannot be regarded as detrimental and disturbing, but
only as supplementary and intensifying. For Lipiner's poetry Mahler
had a great love and respect perhaps corroborated by the verdict of no
other reader, but here, as well as in music, he cared nothing for the
critical voice of tradition and weighed everything on the genuine, if
not always accurate, scales of his own intuition.

At the home of his father-in-law, Carl Moll, he listened with supreme
interest to the enthusiastic discussions of a group of young painters
and sculptors and was delighted with the realization that they
represented in their field the same revolt against sham tradition
as he in music. One of these, Alfred Roller, had some amazingly
fine plans for promoting the unity of light, color, and tone on the
operatic stage. To Mahler, busy at the time with plans for a new
staging of Tristan, the suggestions of Roller came like a revelation.
The "director" suddenly had visions of a great future for the
music-drama, with a brilliancy recalling Wagner's own dreams of a
perfect unity of the arts. At once Roller was appointed by Mahler to
collaborate with him in the preparation of a series of totally new
presentations of operatic masterpieces.

A new Tristan was the first fruit of their combined genius. Of
the music as conducted by Mahler, who had perhaps never before
been surrounded with such inspiring incentives, (for his "ideal
performance" was at last becoming a fact) it is unnecessary to speak.
The greatest tragedienne of the German operatic stage, Mildenburg,
sang the role of Isolde with an emotional eloquence that surpassed
even her own former superb renditions of the part. But the
contribution of Roller lay in the wonders of tragic portent, passion,
and suffering he had lived into the settings. The very soul of the
ruling emotions of each portion of the music-drama was reflected in
the subtle shades of color in which the scene was painted and there
was an adapting magic in the changing character of the light that
impressed the passionate message of the music more deeply and swiftly
than ever before upon the hearts of the audience.

Fidelio and Don Giovanni, a Beethoven and Mozart completely
regenerated, followed Tristan. Every musical detail of these works was
exploited by Mahler for its inmost psychological significance and the
resulting performance, once more set into the living framework of
light and color created by the gifted Roller, proved so vivid and
convincing that the music-lovers, lost in wonder, almost believed they
had been attending the premieres of works born in their own day.
However, only a few felt the real significance of this collaboration
of Mahler and Roller. To such (and Reinhardt was among these) it meant
the beginning of a great epoch in the history of the stage of an
importance commanding respect beside even the mighty contribution of

Unfortunately, these productions were expensive and while they were
the delight of the art-loving Viennese they were the source of
dissatisfaction among the powers behind the "opera," who would have
much preferred saving the money involved. Mahler's repeated demands
that he be permitted a grand new setting for the Ring met with flat
refusal for several seasons and it was only in the last months
preceding his resignation in 1907 that a reluctant consent was
granted. However, by then the "eleventh hour" of Mahler's decade of
authority had arrived and he had once more come to feel how hopeless
was his dream of an ideal operatic stage. Forty-seven years old, he
longed more than ever for a complete separation from the theatrical
duties which had become utterly hateful to him. His position in Vienna
was now being seriously threatened and, uncertain what the future held
in store for him, he determined nevertheless to accept no further
directorial offer from any institution.

The arraignment of Mahler by those determined to oust him included the
preposterous charge that he was undermining sacred principles of art;
but skin-deep beneath the surface of all the accusations lay the true
cause of his "downfall," known to most as the bitter personal enmity
of those who nursed private grievances against him. A tyrannous
strictness and fanatic devotion to the principles of art had made it
possible for Mahler to raise the Viennese Opera to a position of
supreme importance. The very same qualities accounted for his forced
departure from that institution.

Many invisible paths led from the theatre to the "high places" of the
Austrian court. The Emperor's "special friend" was an actress. The
opera ballet hung by the most delicate of morganatic threads to many a
left-hand of the highest nobility, old as well as young. The Emperor
played his favorite game of cards every week at the house of a certain
woman, who was, in turn, a great friend of a tenor whom Mahler had
pensioned off in accordance with a conviction that old age and the
operatic stage were incompatible. Mahler was unpleasantly surprised
one day to receive word from Francis Joseph that the singer must be
reinstated. Instead of obeying the implied order he handed in his

It is unnecessary to quote in full his noble, touching letter of
farewell to the members of the "opera." He expressed great sorrow that
"instead of the perfect accomplishment of his dreams he had left only
incomplete fragments, as man was fated to do." The following day
ruthless, hostile hands tore the message from the walls of the "opera"
and destroyed it. But ten years of inspired regime had impressed
the memory of Mahler unforgettably upon the opera-house and the
music-lover. Today, a quarter of a century since, Rodin's magnificent
bust of the "Director" stands at last in the opera foyer, but an
unusually fine performance in the hall itself, where the greatest
dramatic music burst into vivid life under his baton, elicits this
tribute from the elderly Viennese music-lover, "Yes, it was fine; but
it was a mere reflection of the brilliancy that was Mahler."


In August, 1906, with his Seventh still unperformed Mahler finished
his Eighth, known because of the number of singers its choruses
require, as the "Symphony of a Thousand." Concerning it he wrote
enthusiastically to Mengelberg:--

"I have just finished my Eighth! It is the greatest thing I have as
yet done. And so individual in content and form that I cannot describe
it in words. Imagine that the whole universe begins to sound in tone.
The result is not merely human voices singing, but a vision of planets
and suns coursing about."

The following summer occurred the sad event which his
Kindertotenlieder had anticipated, the death of his little daughter.
Three months later, on October 15, 1907, he conducted for the last
time at the Viennese Opera House. That his resignation had already
been tendered and accepted no one in the audience at that memorable
last Fidelio dreamed.

Mahler's friends, particularly Guido Adler, were soon horrified to
hear that he had determined to set out once more, but now in search of
fortune. He would leave Austria, Europe, in one last attempt to win
success, gold, a worldly victory. He was no longer in robust health,
an ever recurring angina having made sad inroads upon his vitality.
Three years more, and he would be fifty, just the right age, thought
he, for one to retire from the exacting duties of a conductor and
devote oneself to the peaceful uninterrupted creation of music and the
cultivation of a few chosen friends. With the responsibility of a
family, accustomed as he had become to a life of comparative luxury,
he must look to some source other than the meager annuity granted him
by the government that cast him out. To regard as purely material the
motives that induced Mahler to accept the offer of Manager Conried of
the Metropolitan Opera House is unjust, for the letter of explanation
he sent Adler in 1910 from New York certainly reflects no discredit
upon him:

"I must have some practical outlet for my musical abilities to balance
the tremendous inner experiences of creative work; and the leadership
of a concert-orchestra was exactly what I've always longed for. I am
glad that this has been granted me for once in my life. Why has
Germany or Austria made me no such offer? Am I to blame if Vienna has
cast me out? Besides, I am used to certain comforts and luxuries which
my pension (the sole reward of almost thirty years of labor as
conductor) could not have provided me. Therefore, it was a welcome
opportunity which America offered me--not only a suitable position for
my inclinations and abilities, but also a salary so generous that it
will soon be possible for me to spend the remaining years of my life
in the manner held decent by my fellow-men."

By that time Mahler had learned to look with great favor upon the New
World, the musical backwardness of which made most distinguished
European musicians of those days resort to scornful expression. He
had refused to take over from Conried the perplexed steering wheel of
the Metropolitan Opera House, and yet he had thrown himself body and
soul into the regeneration of the New York Philharmonic Society's
orchestra. Fate alone is to blame for the tragic outcome when a heavy
traveling schedule of concerts proved too severe for his shattered
vitality. The plans he had made after his first taste of American life
were clearly full of hope and cheer. To Mengelberg, early in 1908, he

"I shall spend the next years here in America. I am thoroughly
delighted with the country, even though the artistic achievement at
the 'Metropolitan' is a very moderate one. But if I were young and
still had the energy which I gave unstintingiy to Vienna for ten
years, perhaps it would be possible to create here the condition which
appeared to us at home an unattainable ideal--the exclusion of every
commercial consideration from matters pertaining to art--for those in
authority here are honest and their resources unlimited."

That summer he returned to Austria, ill and exhausted, to learn from a
frank physician that unless he at once abandoned his life of feverish
activity for one of complete relaxation his weakened heart must give
way. The force of this ominous revelation was crushing to his spirit
and sitting hopeless by the table in his little vacation work-hut at
Toblach, Austria, he turned for comfort to Bruno Walter, his dearest
friend, the man who, as he said, understood him as no other.

"I have tried to come to myself here. Now I have been forced to change
not only my abode (Mahler could not be induced to return to his summer
home at Maiernigg where his little daughter had died) but also my
mode of life. This last, you may well imagine, will be hard for me
to do. I have accustomed myself for many years to steady, energetic
activity--to wander about in the mountains and woods and carry away
with me, like captured booty, the sketches I had made by the way. I
went to my desk only as the farmer to the barn--to prepare what I had
already gathered. Spiritual indisposition was a mere cloud to be
dispelled by a brisk march up the mountain-side. And now they tell me
I must avoid every exertion. I must take stock of my condition
constantly--walk but little. At the same time in this solitude my
thoughts naturally become more subjective, and the sadness of my
condition seems intensified. Perhaps I view things in too dark a
light--but I feel, here in the country, worse than I did in the city
where the various diversions helped me to forget the sad truth.
And this is such a glorious place! If only once in my life such
surroundings could have been mine after the completion of a work!
For that is, as you well know, the only time when one is capable of
carefree enjoyment. At the same time I have noticed something strange.
I can do nothing but work; all else I have unlearned in the course of
years. I feel like a drug-fiend suddenly deprived of his necessary
poison. I am sorely in need of the only hope still left me--patience."

It is no wonder that the symphony he composed in this state of
melancholy resignation was one in which he resorted to the human voice
throughout, placing upon the lips of the singers those exotic old
Chinese verses of desperately repressed suffering the world has come
to know as Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. That he did not call
this work Ninth Symphony (for symphony it is, despite its apparent
song-cycle character) is perhaps the result of the naive superstition
lent ominous significance by the fact that both Beethoven and Bruckner
had died after writing their Ninth. Although Mahler did finish another
symphony afterwards, the Farewell song closing Das Lied von der Erde
has been almost universally regarded as his own farewell to the world.
But those who have also heard his rarely given Ninth know that it
takes up the burden of the soul at the very point of despair where it
has been abandoned by Das Lied von der Erde. Then, after an opening
movement conceived in the same orchestral phraseology, it returns with
unprecedented jollity to the dance of life and culminates in a slow,
stately song of optimism, spreading a message of faith as lofty and
moving as that of Bruckner's last adagio.

Mahler did not live to hear either of these two symphonies. The
premieres of both of them fell (appropriately) to the lot of the great
musician to whom Mahler confided his inmost worries during the period
of their composition. Bruno Walter performed Das Lied von der Erde
in Munich in 1911, a few months after Mahler's death, with such
overwhelming effect that it was at once hailed as a masterpiece,
worthy, because of the individuality and perfection of its art, of a
place of honor beside the Symphony of a Thousand. The Ninth was given
its first hearing at Vienna, in 1912, also under Walter's baton, but
proved somewhat disappointing to the critics, who though at last
conceding Mahler's significance claimed that this work was the uneven
product of a failing master. However, the ensuing reluctance of
conductors to program this final symphony was a ban which could not
last. It is curious that Doctor Koussevitzky of the Boston Symphony
has most recently displayed a tremendous interest in just this
neglected work. The welcome reception which the music-lovers of Boston
and New York have given his repeated readings of it clearly suggests
the possibility that it has been underrated by those who heard it
twenty years ago. Perhaps, after all, America is the land of musical
promise. Prophetic behind these recurring performances of Mahler in
"unmusical" America stands his oft-repeated, patient assurance to
doubting European friends after many a discouraging premiere, "Meine
Zeit wird noch kommen." ["My time will yet come."]

There remains only to speak of the Eighth, the symphony whose colossal
features Mahler had suggested briefly in a letter to Mengelberg in
1906. For four years he withheld this most gigantic of all symphonic
scores from an increasingly curious world of musicians. Not until
1910 did he finally yield to the unceasing prayers of his concert
representative Gutmann that he agree to its premiere. He selected
Munich as the proper scene for the great event. Months before the date
of the performance long series of choral rehearsals had already been
entered upon. Mahler in distant America, ascertaining by letter some
of the almost insuperable difficulties attending the preparation of
the work, wrote frantically to Gutmann that the project was impossible
of success and must be abandoned. But Gutmann persisted indomitably
and at length the composer was informed that the rehearsals were ready
for his final, formative touches. Incredulous he traveled to Munich,
only to convince himself that he had been unjust in describing
Gutmann's sensational plans as a "Barnum and Bailey" affair.

The much heralded performance, which took place September 12, 1910,
Mahler himself conducting, was the greatest and perhaps the only
unqualified triumph of his life. In the overwhelming demonstration of
joy (for the Symphony of a Thousand has been called "the true ode to
joy") that followed the last note the whole world of music, eminently
represented upon that significant occasion, joined. Mahler, his pale,
pain-lined, ascetic features transfigured with happiness by so
unparalleled a tribute to his accomplishment, stood motionless on the
huge stage while that solitary great storm of enthusiastic applause of
his life kept raging. The face of more than one music-lover, to whom
the work with its sweeping union of Christian mysticism and pagan
pantheism had come as a herald of universal love and faith, must have
blanched at the irrepressible and shocking realization that this frail
being with the most titanic soul of all was already marked for mortal

[To Leopold Stokowski goes the honor of having brought the Symphony
of a Thousand to America. In March, 1916, he gave the work nine
successive performances in Philadelphia and New York before tremendous
audiences. In answer to a recent inquiry concerning those concerts he
wrote: "When we played Mahler's Eighth Symphony it made an impression
on the public unlike anything else I have ever experienced. There
seems to be a human quality in this work which so deeply moved the
public that the greater part of the listeners were in tears at the end
of the performance. This happened at all of the nine performances we
gave; so it was not due to an accidental condition on one particular

The winter of 1910 found the composer once more in America. This was
his third season of voluntary exile. His health, now completely
undermined by repeated attacks of angina, ever more startling, led him
to make apologies not only to his friends but at last even to himself
for having undertaken a heavy schedule of sixty-five concerts with the
New York Philharmonic. His message to an anxious Viennese friend at
this time was:--

"I see with satisfaction the distance I still have to traverse here
growing ever less, and, if God is willing, I hope in about a year to
attain a respectable material status, which will permit me to be
somewhere at home, to live and work--a home, I hope, so near my few
friends that I may be with them from time to time."

The forlorn hope was at once stamped out by the cruel, almost
scurrilous sneer of that inexorable power he had worshipped as the
only true deity, Nature--a terrible sneer that burst upon his dreams
with even more jarring effect than any disturbing accent of a muted
trumpet upon the sweetest of his symphonic measures. On February 21,
after conducting his forty-seventh concert of the season, he collapsed
utterly. His condition was immediately diagnosed as hopeless.

In vain he journeyed to Paris for serum treatments. The wisest
specialists shook their heads sadly. Then realizing that the end was
inevitable he went on home "to die in his beloved Wien." At eleven
o'clock on the evening of May 18, 1911, he passed away. He was, in
accordance with his wishes, buried in the non-sectarian cemetery of
Grinzing, a Viennese suburb. He had left specific instructions that
not a word be said nor a note sung at the burial. Contrite multitudes
of Viennese stood bareheaded in the teeming rain as the coffin was
lowered. And as they turned away heavy-hearted a rainbow appeared to
intensify an almost penal silence. On the following day Francis Joseph
pompously decreed that the Symphony of a Thousand be performed in
honor of the great departed Austrian composer and light-hearted Vienna
felt it might once more resume the smile a sombre moment had


Gustav Mahler Briefe, Vienna, 1924, Paul Zsolnay Verlag.

Adler, Guido: Gustav Mahler, Vienna, 1916.

Bauer-Lechner, Natalie: Erinnerungen an Gustav Mahler, Vienna, 1923.

Bekker, Paul: Gustav Mahlers Sinfonien, Berlin, 1921.

Mengelberg, C. Rudolf: Das Mahler Fest, Vienna, 1920.

Neisser, Arthur: Gustav Mahler, Leipzig, 1918.

Roller, Alfred: Die Bildnisse von Gustav Mahler, Vienna, 1922.

Specht, Richard: Gustav Mahler, Stuttgart, 1925.

Stefan, Paul: Gustav Mahler, Muenchen, 1920.

Stefan, Paul: Gustav Mahlers Erbe, Vienna.


I. New York, December 16, 1909 (Mahler)

II. New York, 1908 (Mahler); Boston, Jan. 22, 1918 (Muck)

III. New York, Feb. 8, 1922 (Mengelberg)

IV. New York, 1904 (Damrosch); New York, January 17, 1911 (Mahler)

V. Cincinnati, 1905 (Stucken); Boston, February 2, 1906 (Gericke)

VII. Chicago, April 15, 1921 (Stock)

VIII. Philadelphia, March 2, 1916 (Stokowski)

IX. Boston, October 16, 1931 (Koussevitsky)

Das Lied von der Erde--New York, Season 1921-1922 (Friends of Music,

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen--Boston, February 5, 1915 (Paul

At the opening of the musical season of 1932-1933 the Sixth Symphony,
the two movements of the Tenth Symphony prepared by Ernst Krenek, and
Das klagende Lied are the only major works of Mahler still unperformed
in America.


1860--Born, July 7, in Kalischt, Bohemia; removed to Iglau, December
of same year.

1866--First piano lessons.

1875--Attended Viennese conservatory (until 1878)

1877--Attended University of Vienna (until 1879); friendship with
Bruckner begun.

1878--Mahler's piano arrangement of Bruckner's III (Wagner) Symphony

1880--First engagement (summer) at Hall, Upper Austria. Das klagende
Lied finished; revised, 1898; published 1899; first performance,
Vienna, 1901.

1881-2--Conductor at Laibach.

1882-3--Conductor at Olmuetz.

1883--Heard Parsifal at Bayreuth.

1884--Composed Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; published 1897.
Conductor at Kassel (until 1885).

1885--Conductor at summer music festival, Kassel. Lieder und Gesaenge
aus der Jugendzeit, first part, published. Conductor at Prague.

1886--Conductor at Leipzig (until 1888).

1887--Finished Weber's Drei Pintos; premiere, Leipzig, 1888.

1888--Director of Royal Opera at Budapest (until 1891.) Finished I
Symphony; first performance, Budapest, Nov. 20, 1889; published 1898.

1891--Conductor at Hamburg Opera House (until 1897).

1892--Conductor of German opera troupe in London. Lieder und Gesaenge
aus der Jugendzeit, parts II and III published.

1894--Finished II Symphony; first performance, Berlin, 1895.

1896--Finished III Symphony; first performance (2 movements) Berlin
1896; the whole work, Krefeld, 1902; published 1898.

1897--Conductor at Imperial Opera, Vienna, May. Director at Imperial
Opera, Vienna, July. Artistic Director at Imperial Opera, Vienna,
October (until 1907).

1900--Finished IV Symphony; first performance, Munich, 1902; published

1902--Finished Kindertotenlieder; first performance, Vienna, 1905;
published 1905; Five Songs from Rueckert; published 1905; Finished V
Symphony; first performance, Cologne, 1904; published, 1905. Married
Alma Maria Schindler, March 10; children, Maria Anna, 1902-7, and Anna
Justina, 1904.

1904--Finished VI Symphony; first performance, Essen, 1906; published

1905--Finished VII Symphony; first performance, Prague, 1908;
published 1908.

1906-7--VIII Symphony, first performance, Munich, Sept. 12th, 1910;
published 1910.

1907--Conductor of operas and concerts in New York (Metropolitan Opera

1908--Finished Das Lied von der Erde; first performance, Munich,
November 1911 (Walter). Second season in New York; the Philharmonic

1909--Finished IX Symphony; first performance, June 1912, Vienna;
published 1912; X Symphony (Unfinished); two movements performed at
Prague, 1924.

1910--Third season as conductor in America.

1911--Death, May 18, Vienna; burial in cemetery at Grinzing (Vienna).


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