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Gustav Mahler in Vienna

Rereading this well-written and illuminating article about Gustav Mahler and antisemitism in Vienna. This is a theme I explore in my project, and that appears in my own family's history. My grandmother converted to Christianity, and my family of "half-Jews" was among many who were "German first and Jewish second," in my godmother's words. It is clear, however, that no amount of assimilation could counteract the virulent antisemitism that grew more and more toxic from the turn of the century through the second world war... 

Read the whole article here:


The case of Gustav Mahler has always held great interest for those seeking to delineate the troubled relationships between Jews and the anti-Semitic cultures—particularly Germanic cultures—within which they have lived and worked; this interest has, if anything, become more intense in recent years. The turn of the century in Vienna—Mahler’s Vienna—was especially fraught, marked by the precipitous decline of Austrian liberalism and the emergence of many Jews to cultural prominence against an anti-Semitic background that was becoming increasingly virulent.

. . . 

Events conspired to make Mahler's position as a cultural intruder particularly poignant. In 1897, he returned to Austria from Hamburg in what should have been triumph, ready to assume the most prestigious musical positions then available, as director of the Vienna State Opera and conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. But there was a price he had to pay: to “qualify” for such lofty positions in Imperial Vienna, Mahler had to be willing officially to renounce his Jewish heritage and become Catholic—which he did readily, without apparent qualms. In other circumstances, this might have meant little more than a kind of all-too-familiar political compromise, except that in that same year, Mahler’s act of renunciation was rendered more significant by two events. In Vienna itself . . .Karl Lueger, head of the Christian Socialist Party, became mayor after having allied himself with the anti-Semitic faction headed by Georg von Schönerer. To place that event in historical context, we may note that Lueger and Schönerer would serve for a time as Hitler’s role models . . .  a powerful demonstration of how politically potent an outspoken anti-Semitism could be. . . 

Letter: Schoenberg to Mahler

"And now my wish for your fiftieth birthday is that you may soon return to our hated and beloved Vienna; and that you may feel inclined to conduct here and yet not do so, because such riff-raff certainly don't deserve it; or that you may feel no inclination and yet do it for our joy, because perhaps we do deserve it. "