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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. . . 

James Loeffler on Wagner's antisemitism

A very interesting interview: James Loeffler, pianist and scholar, discusses how Wagner's antisemitism affected Jewish composers and musicians in Europe (most certainly including the composers in my project). 

Listen here!

"James Loeffler is an associate professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Virginia. He is a trained pianist, ethnomusicologist, and specialist on Jewish classical music. In our latest Voices on Antisemitism podcast, Loeffler discusses German composer Richard Wagner's antisemitism. The influence of Wagner's ideas on Adolf Hitler is well known, but as Loeffler explains, Wagner's antisemitism also adversely affected Jewish musicians in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. "

Another article that may interest you after listening is this one on Forbidden Music, by Michael Haas, which discusses Mendelssohn, Mahler, Zemlinsky, and Schoenberg with relation to Wagner's legacy.

"Mahler did represent one Wagnerian trait that would be passed on to future generations of Vienna’s Jewish composers: he was not a performer on the piano or violin, or indeed, any instrument. Wagner resented the fact that all of the prominent Jewish composers of his day happened to be virtuosi: Meyerbeer, Hiller, Mendelssohn and Rubinstein dazzled as pianists. Indeed, it was the only means by which a Jewish composer could be noticed. Neither Mahler, Schoenberg or Schreker claimed to be more than competent on any particular keyboard or stringed instrument. Zemlinsky was a marvellous pianist but this was not his means of establishing his compositional credibility. This sea change is important as all of these composers developed a uniquely fine ear for the ‘distant sound’ that defined fin de siècle musical Vienna."