Mahler’s vegetarianism is documented in his letters:

1. “The following season proved a very gloomy one for Mahler. Once more the “city of music” could furnish him no greater material consolation than that of a few piano-pupils. Evenings he would attach himself to a group of young, poverty-stricken Wagnerian enthusiasts and over a cup of coffee help wage the abstract battles of the music-dramatist’s political and ethical doctrines. Of these sage utterances, one the young musicians adopted unanimously was the proposal to regenerate mankind through a strict, vegetarian diet. Perhaps the cost of meat-dishes had as much to do with this resolution as the realization that carnivorous humanity was going to the dogs. […] Although two years had passed since those unforgettable meatless meetings of the young Wagnerians in Vienna, Mahler was in Olmuetz still a vegetarian, claiming bitterly that he went to the restaurant to starve.”

In two separate letters to Alma, Mahler mentions his vegetarianism.

2. “Keussler is also already here. A splendid fellow. After the Saturday evening rehearsal, I’ll be joining him for a vegetarian meal. (10 September 1908).”

3. “I’ll presumably have to assume the role of ‘the fleshpots in the land of Egypt’. Ouch! What a metaphor for a husband with vegetarian inclinations! (June 1909).”

  1. Engel, Gabriel Gustav Mahler, Song Symphonist.
  2. Mahler, Gustav, Gustav Mahler: Letters To His Wife, ed. Henry-Louis de La Grange and Gunther Weiss, (Cornell University Press, 2004) p.254.
  3. Mahler, Gustav, Gustav Mahler: Letters To His Wife, ed. Henry-Louis de La Grange and Gunther Weiss, (Cornell University Press, 2004) p.272.

Gustav Mahler, in his younger days, was a vegetarian. There’s a story, recounted by one of his biographers, about how the composer was teased by fellow musicians in a restaurant when he refused meat, instead of asking for spinach and apples.

Mahler might have caught on to this way of eating from reading an essay by none other than classical music’s most notorious vegetarian, Richard Wagner (1813-1883).

In 1880 (the same year Wagner published an essay endorsing vegetarianism) Mahler wrote to a friend:

“For the last month, I have been a total vegetarian. The moral effect of this way of life, with its voluntary castigation of the body, is enormous. I expect nothing less than the regeneration of mankind. I advise you to eat suitable food (compost-grown, stone-ground, wholemeal bread) and you will soon see the fruit of your endeavors.”

Eventually, Mahler gave up his vegetarian diet, but a string of health issues meant that he always watched what he ate.

We don’t know exactly how handy Mahler was in the kitchen, but we do know that his sister, Justine, baked a killer Marillenknoedel – traditional Viennese apricot dumplings. One of Mahler’s friends, Ludwig Karpath (1866-1936), recalled the composer’s shock at finding out that Karpath wasn’t a fan of Marillenknoedel.

Gustav Mahler’s sister, Justine, made killer Marillenknoedel (apricot dumplings), a traditional Viennese dish.

“What!” Mahler shouted to his friend. “Is there a Viennese to whom Marillenknoedel means nothing? You will come with me right away to eat the heavenly dish. My sister Justi has her own recipe for it, and we will see if you remain indifferent.”

Karpath became an immediate fan of the dumplings.

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