‘O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!’

https://i0.wp.com/www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/2009d24507d9265464371233d43b42bf4c3e2885/c=294-0-4890-3456&r=x404&c=534x401/local/-/media/2015/11/10/TXNMGroup/Deming/635827523040281041-BriefsLogo.jpgIt’s odd that some biographically significant dates from musical history stick in my memory, while others don’t. I’ve never had any difficulty at all remembering May 22 as Wagner’s birthday, nor that Schoenberg was born on September 13 and died on July 13. Ask me what day in January it was when Mozart was born, however, and my response will be to tell you that it must have been round about, uh, the, erm … oh, hang on…

The reason I bring up this topic here is that today’s date — May 18 — means only one thing to me: it’s the day that Gustav Mahler died, all the way back in 1911.

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‘O death! You all-conquering power!’ (From the text of Mahler’s Second Symphony.)

And while I’m never happy to think of the deaths of composers whose music I care about — they’ve shared so much with me, I always feel, that they seem more like vanished friends than remote figures from history! — I do find Mahler’s demise to be even more sad and regrettable than most of the deaths we read about in musical history.

Partly, of course, this is because of everything Mahler has brought into my life — and not all of that is purely musical: there are many friends I’ve made and experiences I’ve had as ‘secondary’ effects of his life and music; and for those, too, I feel grateful to him.

But mostly his death is sad to think about because of what it means he didn’t bring into people’s lives, mine included: since he was only 50 when he died (of subacute bacterial endocarditis, untreatable in 1911), the value of the great and searching music he didn’t go on to compose can hardly be calculated. If he’d lived to be as old as Richard Strauss, he wouldn’t have died until 1945: what he would have produced in those extra 34 years — in fact, a doubling of his creative lifespan! — we cannot even guess at…

I don’t have a lot of free time today; but since it is May 18 I’d like to quickly share a few things related to Mahler — including a powerful photo that I didn’t know about until relatively recently…

First of all, though, here is the oldest recording we have of the famous Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (1901-2): I think it makes a poignant and appropriately ‘historical’-sounding accompaniment — as you’ll hear, it was originally on two 78rpm sides! — to the images that follow.

And now for the images.

Here, to begin, is the rather splendid bust of Mahler to be found at the Wiener Staatsoper, commemorating the ten years he spent as Director there… (A magnificent photo of the opera house from around the time of Mahler’s arrival can be seen here.)

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Next, I am including what appears to be the last photograph of Mahler, taken round about the second week of May 1911 — when after learning that he could not be cured, and having decided that he wanted to die in Europe, he and his family made the 8-day voyage back from New York…

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Next, two photographs of Mahler’s death mask, made on 19 May, the day after he died in a Vienna sanatorium…

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And here is a photograph from the day of his funeral — at Grinzing Cemetary, Vienna, on 22 May — showing Mahler’s coffin being placed in the horse-drawn hearse shortly after 5pm…

That particular picture is one that I did not see until I was an adult: when I was younger, I had no idea that any such image existed. I can still remember the overpowering feeling that came with seeing for the first time an actual photograph from Mahler’s funeral…

The next photo is another one I did not see published for many years. Presumably it shows the mourners following the hearse…

Though I’ve never seen all of those people definitively identified, I find it plausible that the man numbered ‘1’ is Mahler’s brother-in-law, the violinist Arnold Rosé (1863-1946), and that ‘2’ is the composer’s stepfather-in-law, the painter Carl Moll (1861-1945). Number ‘3’, on the other hand, is pretty clearly Alfred Roller (1864–1935), the painter and set designer who worked with Mahler on some of his most famous operatic productions. (A photo of Roller can be seen here.)

I think it’s a shame that we don’t see Schoenberg in either of these funeral photographs; but we know that he was there — and afterwards produced a painting showing mourners at the graveside…

My final photograph shows the grave as it looks today — with the massive gravestone that, naturally, was not installed until after the funeral.

I’ve written elsewhere in these postings about my discovery of Mahler when I was a youngster. As a result, it will come as no surprise at all to my regular readers that, back in April 1982, I was a Mahler-mad schoolboy who — on a school trip to Austria and Italy that gave us all one single visit to Vienna! — spent the entire afternoon making my way to Grinzinger Friedhof in order to see Mahler’s grave. It took a fair bit of travelling — by a variety of trams, and on foot; and I’m not entirely convinced that someone as young as I was should really have been allowed to blunder unaccompanied around a vast city and its suburbs! — but eventually I got there. No-one else was visible anywhere, so I was able to spend some silent time there, and take some very amateurish photographs of my own.

And, of course, I saw what everyone else sees: that the monumental stone bears only Mahler’s name, without any dates or other information: there’s nothing about ‘7 June 1860 – 18 May 1911’, and no stuff about ‘Conductor’, ‘Composer’, or whatever.

The decision to show his name and nothing else was Mahler’s. As he put it:

“He who seeks me out, knows who I was. The others do not need to know.”

MD

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4 thoughts on “‘O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!’

  1. That was a wonderful post about Mahler, Mark. It’s my mother-in-law’s funeral today and we are ending the service with the end of Das Lied von der Erde in the Ferrier/Walter recording – she actually heard them at a performance in, I think, 1951. It’s extraordinary how Mahler’s music seems so appropriate for every experience of life.
    David

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