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Austrian-Jewish composer and conductor.

Career Summary

Born in Bohemia, Mahler came to Vienna to study at the Conservatory, 1875-78, with Julius Epstein (piano), Robert Fuchs (composition), and Franz Krenn (theory). After a series of appointments in other cities, he served as Music Director (Kapellmeister) of the Vienna Hofoper for ten turbulent years, 1897-1907, where he raised the standard of the opera house to among the finest in Europe, and established himself particularly as a conductor of Mozart and Wagner, later also of Richard Strauss, Puccini, Pfitzner and others, numbering among his assistant conductors Bruno Walter and Franz Schalk. After his enforced resignation, partly out of anti-semitism, in 1907 he was succeeded by Felix Weingartner. He was also Director of the Vienna Philharmonic Concerts 1898-1901. From 1907, he worked in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House and also as conductor of the New York Philharmonic, returning to Vienna for the last few months of his life.

Mahler and Schenker

Federhofer comments: "We do not know what kind of relationship [Schenker] had with Mahler ..., for Schenker expressed his views only briefly and very rarely regarding his works and achievements as a conductor. He valued him as a conductor, but he rejected his works" (Nach Tagebüchern, p.62). Schenker described a performance of Smetana's Dalibor in 1897 as "excellent, and under G. Mahler's direction, to whom we take this opportunity to pay tribute also for his truthful performances of the Nibelungen tetralogy, the Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Czar und Zimmermann, etc." (Federhofer, Essayist, p.358).

Schenker's diary comments include the following: [1898]: G. Mahler. (Symphony) Annoyingly immature, and good-for-nothing, its irreverent pretentiousness all the more ridiculous ..." (OJ 1/4, p.6) [January 3, 1907]: "open rehearsal of Mahler's Sixth Symphony: a work completely devoid of culture, childishly grotesque. A glittering barn-full of percussion instruments, and in the Finale the composer as a musical clown. (OJ 1/5, p.32)

At the height of opposition against Mahler, in the press and in other quarters, Schenker lent him his support, as noted in his diary: [May 22, 1907]: Open letter to Mahler signed on a deliberate whim; situation not without humor. (OJ 1/4, p.41)

Four days later there was a stir in the press over this, and Schenker, in a heavily reworked entry of which this is the final version, wrote: [May 26, 1907]: "ttack by Dr. Robert Hirschfeld in the Feuilleton of the Extrablatt over the signing of the Mahler open letter: in this he shows himself quite simply incapable of understanding that, even though I may have serious criticisms to level against Mahler in the most forceful manner, that does not mean that I should at the same time make him suffer for the highest, highest conceivable standards to which I hold him, [standards] that could indeed still less be applied to the other musicians around him. It is, however, quite futile to try to instruct on such a subject someone who thinks that taste alone governs art, especially a virtually uneducated taste. People want to speak only of a "genius" (on account of their own vanity!) or to criticize the artist (as it were, out of desire for revenge, because "genius" has not manifested itself in him); but they cannot understand how one might seriously criticize someone's achievement without also thereby ... wanting directly to press for their personal removal, especially when, as was the case with Mahler, removal would be bound to cause greater disadvantage than gain. (OJ 1/6, p.42)

Mahler himself wrote thanking Schenker; this is the only item of correspondence that exists between the two men: OJ 12/48, undated note: Dear Doctor, My heartfelt thanks to you for your friendly good wishes. Yours most truly, Mahler.

Following Mahler's resignation, Schenker wrote the somewhat self-righteous entry (undated, probably October/December 1907), perhaps with Hirschfeld's attack in mind: Gustav Mahler: People acclaimed him, people rated him as a genius in all that he thought, undertook and completed. In the end, many, many years later, it dawned on them—over the course of time—what he really represented. Now all those who have extricated themselves from their error are angry with—of all people!—me, who from the very beginning had taught them to perceive how all-too-lowly the extent of artistic mastery in Mahler was. Isn't it a merry qui pro quo that they consider me to be contradictory instead of realizing that it is they themselves who are contradictory? It is just like the illusion that the fields are rushing past one, while in fact it is the train in which one sits that is doing the rushing past. The person who is moving believes the unmoving to be in motion." (OJ 1/4, p.27 = OJ 1/6, p.50)

Later in his career, Schenker continued to make adverse entries in his diary about Mahler as a composer.

Mahler in Schenker's Writings

Surprisingly, there is no reference to Mahler in the unpublished Niedergang der Kompositionskunst (Decline in the Art of Composition) (c.1905-09) —Schenker's first sustained public attack on Wagner and his legacy in Bruckner, Wolf, and Richard Strauss. In Der Tonwille, Schenker refers to Mahler's "touchings-up" of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Heft 8-9, p. 54; Eng. trans., vol. II, p. 122), which had previously been the subject of a brief aside in his 1901 article "Beethoven-'Retouche'" (Federhofer, Essayist, p. 266).There is one reference to him in Das Meisterwerk in der Musik, vol. III, p.18 (Eng. trans., p.6).


  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern und Briefen ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985)
  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker als Essayist und Kritiker ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1990)
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  • OJ 11/42, [30] Handwritten letter from Maximilian Harden to Schenker, dated December 2, 1897

    Harden rejects a submission by Schenker. — He tells him that his glowing review of Goldmark's Das Heimchen am Herd, which turned out to be a terrible work, has compromised the integrity of Die Zukunft; and he informs Schenker that a collaboration between the two of them is now virtually unthinkable.

  • CA 41-42 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Cotta, dated October 1, 1906

    Schenker goes back on his earlier agreement with Cotta, and makes an impassioned case for including the "Nachwort" as Section 3 of Part II of Harmonielehre.

  • OJ 12/48, [1] Handwritten note from Gustav Mahler to Schenker, undated [May 23?, 1907]

    Mahler thanks Schenker for his good wishes.

  • WSLB 47 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Hertzka (UE), dated November 9, 1909

    Schenker resists attending a meeting with Hertzka and von Wöß regarding the printing of his edition of the Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue; asserts his rights as an author to control over his own material; and makes claims for the introduction to his Instrumentations-Tabelle, which was not accepted for inclusion in 1908 reprinting.

  • OC 1A/4-5 Handwritten letter, carbon copy, from Schenker to Hans Liebstoeckl, dated May 30, 1911

    Schenker asks Liebstöckl to place an announcement [of a lecture series] in the Illustrirtes Wiener Extrablatt.

  • OJ 12/9, [6] Handwritten letter from Karpath to Schenker, dated April 3, 1913

    Karpath exchanges newspaper clippings with Schenker. — Announces a forthcoming review of Schenker's monograph on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (1912). — Tells of a potential new pupil for Schenker who is currently studying with Schreker. — Complains at being persecuted by supporters of Schoenberg.

  • OJ 10/1, [6] Handwritten letter from Dahms to Schenker, dated July 15, 1914

    Dahms communicates from the Black Forest, commiserating over Schenker's experiences with the Vienna Konzerthausgesellschaft.

  • Sbb 55 Nachl. 13, [1] Handwritten letter from Schenker to Furtwängler, dated November 5, 1919

    Having attended for the first time a concert conducted by Furtwängler, Schenker congratulates him on his achievement then, proclaiming him a "counterweight" to the present [in his opinion inadequate] generation of conductors, and heir to the Mahler mantle. Schenker comments on Viennese concert-goers and their fickleness. — He commends Moriz Violin to Furtwängler, in case the latter can provide an introduction to Hausegger.

  • OJ 6/7, [3] Handwritten letter from Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated May 6, 1922

    This wide-ranging letter describes the difficulties encountered with Emil Hertzka at Universal Edition, concerning an attack on the music critic Paul Bekker planned for the "Miscellanea" of Tonwille 2. — He expresses his displeasure with Weisse for putting his success as a composer in the way of aiding his teacher's cause, and for exploiting his teacher's generosity. — Ends with generous praise for Violin's musicianship.

  • DLA 69.930/10 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Halm, dated September 25, 1922

    Acknowledges OJ 11/35, 20 and composition; expects to be able to comment on Halm's Klavierübung in Tonwille 4; reports Leipzig University's decision not to appoint him; speculates on the impact of Kontrapunkt 2 and Der freie Satz; public difficulty in accepting Urgesetze. — Aristide Briand: The importance of being well-read on a topic before commenting in public: Schoenberg and Reger; newspapers. — Maximilian Harden: although faithful to Schenker, Harden had not mastered the topics on which he wrote. — National Govenment: Schenker's publishing plans, including "The Future of Humanity": man's anthropomorphic thinking is a delusion, he needs to adapt to nature, to return to a primitive state, to abandon "development" and "progress" and return to primordial laws; inferior man wants to "govern" (bowel wants to become brain); Schenker deplores "artifice" (French) as against nature (German). — Things French: praises German superiority over French in its joy of work. — Higher Plane: the German should not abase himself before the Frenchman.

  • OJ 10/1, [73] Typewritten letter from Walter and Margarete Dahms to Schenker, dated December 27, 1922

    Dahms has been trying to improve his publishers' financial terms. — He is in low-grade accommodation; housing in the "German colonies" is available only to officials. — Reports on the concert season in Rome. — Die Musik would not accept an article from him on Schenker's teachings. — Comments on a recent article by Paul Bekker, on Emil Hertzka's "sabotaging" of Schenker, and Furtwängler's lack of whole-hearted support. — Is still working on his latest book, for which he is arranging a de luxe edition by subscription. — Reports unfavorably on an incident in which Otto Klemperer played the Italian fascist hymn.

  • DLA 69.930/12 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Halm, dated April 3‒4, 1924

    In response to matters raised by Halm in two previous letters, Schenker discusses figuration, distinguishing between that which works only on the surface and that which arises out of the middle and background, drawing on primal intervals. He also concedes that he heard Bruckner improvising, and criticizes it adversely. He refers to Reger, and outlines plans for forthcoming volumes of Der Tonwille.

  • OJ 89/2, [7] Handwritten letter from Schenker to Hoboken, dated September 5, 1928

    The Schenkers have just returned to Vienna. — The "fantastic nature" of the Hobokens' travels by auto. — The exceptional heat in Galtür. —Salzburg as magnificent but too small to hold Mozart.