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September 13, 2002 - Image 115

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-09-13

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The Best Way to Meet

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home, Mahler took music lessons
from a local Catholictwiest. He stud-
ied at the Prague Gymnasium and
Vienna Conservatory, winning awards
for piano and composition.
After graduation, Mahler made his
living as a conductor white earning a
sparse composing income. Before
long, he had progressed to major
opera houses in Prague (1885-86),
Leipzig (1886-88), Budapest (1888-
91) and Hamburg (1891-97).
Mahler was a popular conductor,
although his harsh rehearsal methods
and dealings with musicians were
widely criticized.
According to Norman Lebrecht,
author of Mahler Remembered, the
conductor/composer converted to
Catholicism primarily to get ahead in
the German musical world.
In 1896, the 36-year-old Mahler
was eager to take the top job at the
prestigious Vienna Court Opera and
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
"The job was his; provided he
adopted the state religion of the
Habsburg court," Lebrecht wrote.
"On Feb. 23, 1897, he underwent
baptism at St. Michael's Church,
Hamburg. Twelve weeks later, he con-
ducted [Richard Wagner's opera]
Lohengrin in Vienna."
Mahler's work as director of the
Vienna Opera integrated top-quality
musicianship with striking dramatic
integrity. He enthusiastically embraced
the works of Wagner and other
German composers with an almost
dictatorial fervor.
In a 1922 memoir, Alfred Roller, an
artist who designed sets during Mahler's
tenure in Vienna, said the
conductor/composer never hid his
Jewish origins — and, even if he had
wanted to, the world would not let him.
"It's a funny thing," Mahler once
told Roller, "but it seems to me the
anti-Semitic papers are the only ones
who still have any respect for me."
However, these same anti-Semitic
newspapers — the Neue Freie Presse,
Wiener Tagebllatt and Deutsches
Volksblatt — baited him as a Jew,
despite the frequent Christian-Chemed
texts of his symphonies and song cycles.
When Mahler conducted Wagner's
operatic cycle Ring of the Nibelungen
in Vienna, it was widely characterized
in the press as "the Jewish Ring."
In 1907, Mahler traveled to
America, taking over leadership of
New York's Metropolitan Opera.
He told his mother-in-law in a letter
that he hoped American critics would
judge his work by musical standards,
not as a by-product of his Jewishness.

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DSO Conductor Neeme Jarvi has
chosen Mahler's Third Symphony for
his return to the podium for the
2002-2003 classical concert season.

"Since they are completely unpreju-
diced," he wrote, "I hope I shall here
find fertile ground for my works and
thus a spiritual home, something that,
for all the sensationalism, I should
never achieve in Europe."

Its Just Lunch Directors:
Angela Johnson, Nancy Ansara,
Heather Hill, and Pamela Lanier

Deconstructing Mahler

Although Mahler — who died near
Paris in 1911 after seeking treatment
for a heart condition diagnosed a few
years earlier — achieved great fame as a
conductor during his lifetime, it was
not until the 1960s and the champi-
onship of Leonard Bernstein, conduc-
tor of the New York Philharmonic, that
he became the cultural icon he is today.
"In every aspect of his life, Mahler
was a double man: sad grownup and
innocent child; suave Westerner and
gypsy-like Easterner; flowery romanti-
cist and bold modernist; master of
chamber music sounds yet composer
for some of the biggest orchestras in
history," Bernstein told television
audiences in his Feb. 7, 1960, Young

People's Concert.
Bernstein became the first conductor
to record all of Mahler's symphonies,
not only on disk but also on video. In
1986, he produced a television docu-
mentary titled The Little Drummer Boy,
which focused on Mahler's Jewishness
and his obsession with death.
He concluded: "Mahler's music, at
its greatest and most mature, [is] a
synthesis of his life-long conflict
between Judaism on the one hand and
Christianity on the other."
The 2001 London theater season
included a play examining the emo-
tional fallout of Mahler's abandonment
of Judaism and of his volatile marriage
to Alma Schindler, a non-Jew he mar-
ried in 1902. Written by Ronald



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