- Correspondence (Tags)
2. The Mahler Family Letters
One day it might become possible to embark upon a complete edition of Mahler’s letters. Those currently published are scattered in various states of textual completeness among a number of volumes, and more are continually coming to light. The first collection was somewhat idiosyncratically edited (and expurgated) by the composer’s wife (Gustav Mahler Briefe 1879-1911, ed. Alma Maria Mahler (Vienna, 1924)); it was followed by Alma’s similarly selective and tailored (if still generous) collection of his letters to her that made up the second part of her 1940 Gustav Mahler: Erinnerungen und Briefe (Amsterdam, 1940 and 1949). Both of those collections have since been extended and subjected to revealing modern textual scholarship: the first by Herta Blaukopf (Gustav Mahler Briefe (Vienna, 1982)) and the second by Henry-Louis de La Grange and Günther Weiss (Ein Glück ohne Ruh’: Die Briefe Gustav Mahlers an Alma (1st edn., Berlin, 1895), translated and revised by Antony Beaumont as Gustav Mahler: Letters to his Wife (London, 2004)). A good many other letters had been published piecemeal in catalogues, journal articles, and memoirs. Some found their way into the Mahler-Strauss correspondence (Gustav Mahler Richard Strauss Briefwechsel 1888-1911, ed. Herta Blaukopf (Munich, 1980), trans. Edmund Jephcott as the Mahler-Strauss Correspondence (London, 1984)) and the later volume of Mahler’s unknown letters (Gustav Mahlers Unbekannte Briefe, ed. Herta Blaukopf (Vienna, 1983), trans. Richard Stokes as Mahler’s Unknown Letters (London, 1986)). In 2006 came two important new additions: the correspondence with Anna von Mildenburg, edited by Franz Willnauer (Gustav Mahler ‘Mein lieber Trotzkopf, mein süsse Mohnblume’: Briefe an Anna von Mildenburg (Vienna, 2006)), and then at last this new collection of ‘family’ letters, the bulk of which had been carefully preserved by Mahler’s devoted sister Justine.
They had found their way to Canada, thanks to the continued custodianship of the family (specifically of Justine and Arnold Rosé’s daughter-in-law, Maria Rosé, who donated them to the Music Library of the University of Western Ontario in 1983). As Stephen McClatchie points out in his introduction, they had been consulted by Henry-Louis de La Grange in the 1950s, and translated extracts were incorporated into his enormous biography of the composer; but in some cases he had relied on faulty transcriptions and, more importantly, he appears to have seen only part of the collection published here. To be able then to read these letters in their entirety is wonderful—and McClatchie is to be praised for his painstaking efforts at textual reclamation and dating. The joy is not entirely unalloyed: the translations are sometimes uneasy and often seem idiomatically confused. Mahler begs Justine and others to ‘write him’; accommodation is always in the plural—and would Mahler really have kept his reading matter (p. 184) in a ‘book armoire’? Detailed textual critique is now usefully facilitated by the German edition, Gustav Mahler, ‘Liebste Justi!’: Briefe an die familie (Bonn and Weidle, 2006).
What is so important about this collection is that it covers the earlier, ‘pre-Alma’, part of Mahler’s life. Over-eager Mahlerians might at first feel a little disappointed by so much apparent trivia concerning family management, bookkeeping, and budgeting and so relatively little in the way of revelations about his compositional and intellectual preoccupations. But there are jewels buried here, and cumulatively this correspondence reveals a very great deal about Mahler’s character and psychology, as about his closest family and friends.
The 568 letters are presented chronologically in five sections, each prefaced by a brief summary of the period in question. The first, ‘The Early Years (Vienna, Kassel, Prague and Leipzig)’, comprises sixty-two letters in just over forty pages; ‘Budapest, September 1880-March 1891’ is slightly longer, including forty-seven letters; the longest by far covers ‘Hamburg, March 1891—April 1897 (nearly 200 pages and 283 letters). The last two sections, ‘Vienna, April 1897—November 1907’ and ‘The Last Years’ (New York, Toblach, Vienna), comprise 120 and just fourteen letters respectively. The unequal section lengths tell the central story of this collection, which is dominated by Mahler’s correspondence with his sister Justine.
3. Gustav Mahler: “Mein lieber Trotzkopf, meine süße Mohnblume”. Letters to Anna Bahr-von Mildenburg (1872-1947)
With the publication of Gustav Mahler: “Mein lieber Trotzkopf, meine süße Mohnblume”: Briefe an Anna von Mildenburg the last major collection of the composer’s letters is now in print. Not entirely unknown, the Mildenburg collection, which includes not only letters, but other materials related to the famous Wagnerian soprano’s career, is part of the Theatersammlung of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria), an archive physically separated from the Musikabteiling of the same institution. While some of the contents of the letters have been already published, as in Mildenburg’s article “Aus Briefen Gustav Mahlers” (Moderne Welt 3, no. 7 [1921- 1922]: 13–14) and in Alma Mahler’s Gustav Mahler: Briefe (Berlin: Paul Zsolnay, 1924), they are printed in their entirety here for the first time. Although some of the previously available letters have been intriguing, the collection as a whole is useful in shedding light on both Mahler’s career from his time in Hamburg through the early part of his years in Vienna, and also on his close association with the singer Anna von Mildenburg.
The relationship between Gustav Mahler and Anna von Mildenburg is known primarily for the involvement of the young conductor with the talented soprano whom he essentially discovered and promoted in the early part of her career. While director of the Hamburg opera, Mahler was responsible for Mildenburg’s professional debut in the role of Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre on 11 September 1895 in a performance that he himself conducted. Mildenburg was successful from the start, and she became one of the noted Wagnerian performers of the day. As her mentor, Mahler became close to Mildenburg, and the evidence of these letters suggests that their professional association developed into a more personal one. Mildenburg preserved Mahler’s letters and, when viewed as the whole presented in this volume, they offer a glimpse of one side of their relationship as well as some perspectives on the culture in which these two musicians were deeply involved.
One of the foremost conductors of his day, Mahler was known for the exacting standards that he brought to the opera house, both in the musical and dramatic sense. As a proponent of Wagner’s works, he brought integrity to performances in Hamburg. In fact, as documented in these letters, he early on made a gift to Mildenburg of Wagner’s writings, a gesture that certainly underscores his intention of giving her even more background for her performances. Mildenburg herself became internationally known for her Wagnerian roles, especially as Brünnhilde and Isolde, and her career extended beyond Hamburg, to Bayreuth and other venues. Later in her career, when she no longer performed, Mildenburg gave master classes, and thus conveyed her experience and training to new generations of singers, among them the noted soprano Sena Jurinac (a photo of the two working together appears on p. 466).
This volume contains about 225 letters, mainly by Mahler (with some by Mildenburg), organized in three sections: September 1895 to May 1896, fifty-nine letters from the time when they worked together in Hamburg; June 1896 to April 1897, seventy-eight letters from the period when Mahler left Hamburg to the time he was named director of the Vienna Hofoper; and April 1897 to December 1907, eighty-eight letters that cover essentially the entirety of Mahler’s period when he led the Hofoper in Vienna. This volume also includes twenty-four of Alma’s letters to Mildenburg, an extensive concluding essay (Nachwort), and several appendices that support the volume.
Willnauer has presented each letter in a diplomatic transcription that resembles the style used in Gustav Mahler Briefe, edited by Herta Blaukopf (Vienna: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1982; rev. ed., 1996). Following the style of that edition, annotations accompany each letter to indicate the source and/or provenance, dating when not explicitly part of the letter, and explanations of selected references or expressions that have a significance for Mahler’s or Mildenburg’s career.
4. Gustav Mahler: Letters to his Wife (Alma Mahler (1879-1964)).
Gustav Mahler: Letters to his Wife. Edited by Henry-Louis de la Grange and Günter Weiss in collaboration with Knud Martner. First complete edition revised and translated by Antony Beaumont. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995, 2004. [xxvii, 431 p. ISBN 0-8014-4340-7.] Illustrations, bibliography, indexes.
The relationship between Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma remains a fascinating part of the composer’s biography for the insights it gives to his works. Mahler dedicated his Eighth Symphony to his wife, and supposedly attempted to depict her in one of the themes of his Sixth Symphony. For these and other reasons, Alma was a force in Gustav’s life, and he wrote to her often throughout their marriage. The publication of the complete extant letters of Gustav Mahler to Alma makes available one side of the correspondence that went on for over a decade, from their first meeting in 1901 through the composer’s death in 1911.
These letters are not entirely unknown, since Alma Mahler published a selection of them in Erinnerungen und Briefe (Amsterdam: Allert de Lange, 1940), translated in English as Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, 3d ed. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975). Yet Alma was selective in compiling her collection and either edited the letters she included or entirely omitted others. This new book is based on the German-language collection Ein Gluck ohne Ruh’, edited by the Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange and Günther Weiss (Berlin: Wolf Jobst Siedler Verlag, 1995), which had previously been available only in German.
In their edition, La Grange and Weiss assembled almost twice the amount of material found in Alma’s edition, with approximately 188 letters first published in their edition. The present English translation includes all the letters, including the introductory material that discusses the problems with the earlier edition. Their discussion of editorial matters is particularly helpful in understanding the need for this new collection (especially pp. xvii–xxi), which includes a summary of the different numbers of letters from section to section. In fact, an index of all the letters may be found on pp. 405–13, and those who are interested in doing so can use this list to compare the contents with the earlier Memories and Letters. It is unfortunate that the editors did not include a tabular comparison, like the one that Herta Blaukopf published in her edition of Mahler’s Briefe (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1982; rev. ed., 1996). The new Letters to His Wife differs from Ein Gluck ohne Ruh’ because of some refinements in the dating of the letters, which is based on further study of materials in the Moldenhauer Collection of the Bayerischer Staatsbibliothek (for an overview of the collection, see Gustav Mahler: Briefe und Musikautographen aus den Moldenhauer-Archiven in der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. Patrimonia, vol. 157. [Munich: Kulturstiftung der Länder Freistaat Bayern, Bayerische Landesstiftung, Bundesministerium des Innern, 2002]). For this reason, those using the German edition should consult the English translation to confirm the details about the dates and provenance of the letters. (The Kritischer Bericht found in the German edition, but not in the English translation, contains information about the provenance of each letter.)
Nevertheless, in comparing Letters to His Wife with Memories and Letters, the differences become immediately apparent. In the first section of letters found in Letters to His Wife, for example, two of the seven are newly published, and, more importantly some differences occur in the translations. Beaumont’s rendering is more accurate, and affords a clearer sense of the German originals. A casual reader might find his phrasing of “vocal compositions” (in letter no. 3, 28 November 1901) wordier than “songs,” as expressed in the earlier translation, but it represents better Mahler’s original “Gesangscompositionen” as does the translation of “Stufenleiter” as “hierarchy” (rather than the previous “stage by stage”) in letter 276 (of 22[?] June 1909), in which Gustav wrote to Alma about some aspects of Goethe’s Faust. Similar improvements occur throughout, and only in isolated cases do questions arise.
Letter by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) to a ‘Friend’ (name, date and location unknown).