Who was Mahler's English girlfriend?

Who was Mahler's English girlfriend?


norman lebrecht

May 30, 2011

A book on Mahler in Leipzig, published for the city’s historic cycle, reveals a mass of unsuspected detail about his life there in 1886-88. Nothing that changes our fundamental perception of a very young man in an impossible hurry, oblivious to social courtesies. But there are fresh details of his living arrangements in Leipzig and his human relationships that substantially enhance our understanding of his development in his mid-20s.

At the heart of the matter stands the enigmatic figure of Marion von Weber, wife of an army officer and mother of three, with whom Mahler fell headlong in love. The romance took place while Mahler was working with her husband on a completion of his grandfather’s opera Die Drei Pintos, and it provided the impetus for Mahler composing his first symphony. That much is known and uncontested.

An essay by Sonja Riedel in the new book reveals that Marion was born in Manchester in 1856 as Marion Mathilde Schwabe. Nothing more is known of her antecedents and I’d be grateful if anyone can help me trace them. Ms Riedel takes issue with my assertion that Marion was Jewish, pointing out that a Saxon officer could not have married a Jew and that she was buried, in April 1931, a Roman Catholic. Schwabe, however, is often a Jewish name and it may well be that she discarded her original faith (as Mahler did) in order to achieve social advancement.

Manchester in the middle of the 19th century was a world centre of textile manufacture, attracting many immigrants from Germany, among them many who were Jewish.So what else can we find out about Marion, Mahler’s English love? All clues gratefully received.


  • MusikAnT says:

    Thank you for this. Fascinating to read about the background of the woman who played such a vital role in Mahler’s early years. Hope more information is forthcoming!

  • Thank you . I just heard “Die Drei Pintos ” in a concert version by the Gulbenkian Orchestra and Gulbenkian Choir directed by Lawrence Foster (28/05/2011) , The soloist were MICHAELA KAUNE,DORA RODRIGUES,SIMONA IVAS,MARIUS BRENCIU,PETER FURLONG,PHILIPPE FOURCADE,JOB TOM and interrupting the music. The opera was a disapointment to me ( I could agree with Von Bulow) . It would be ver important for me to have your opinion (which I valur Highly) about this matter

  • It’s not a work of great consequence, Jose. After a flurry of performances in the first two seasons, it vanished pretty quickly.

  • NIgel SImeone says:

    You’ve probably found this already, but Marion Schwabe – and her family – seem to have been friendly with Joachim, Clara Schumann and Julius Stockhausen in the 1870s. Eugenie Schumann mentions her in her memoirs and reports (p. 175 of the English transation, p. 210 of the German original) that she was a “dear friend”, who “later married a grandson of Carl Maria von Weber”.

    This page of documents about Marie Fillunger mentions Schwabe (Marion and her family) a few times, the most interesting seems to be a letter from 1877: “L.a.s. 3ff, 6pp. 14.2.1877, s.l.. Zu ihren bevorstehenden Konzerten in Rotterdam und Brüssel, Der neugeborene Sohn der Familie Stockhausen wird Johannes genannt. Hauskonzerte bei der Familie Schwabe und Joachim.”

  • NIgel SImeone says:

    OK – this was just too interesting to resist, especially as I spent a long time last night talking to friends in Manchester about the city’s 19th-century musical connections. Here’s a bit of information about Marion Schwabe.

    Marion Schwabe is listed as age 5 in the 1861 census, living in Chorlton upon Medlock (essentially the area where the RNCM and Manchester University now are), in the Ward of St Luke, part of the Parliamentary Borough of Manchester.

    Marion’s father is given as Adolph Schwabe, age 38, a calico printer employing 650 (I think it says – hard to read) men. His wife is given as Mathilda, age 27. Marion’s brother Maximillian (age 7) is also mentioned. The house address is given as 313 Oxford Street.

    As far as I can tell, the Manchester Schwabes (confusingly, there seem to be at least two families, both highly cultured, and both involved in the textile business), were originally Jews, but by the time Marion was born the family had become quite enthusiastic Unitarians. There’s a lot more, and I can upload a scan of the relevant census page if you would like it (I don’t know if it can be uploaded to your site).

    • NIgel SImeone says:

      Just to continue the story a little bit: Adolph Schwabe knew Engels (through the Schiller-Anstalt in Manchester), and Richard Cobden, among others, and apparently returned to Berlin in 1868 “a cuckolded jackass” following his wife’s affair with the Manchester doctor Louis Borchardt. That’s according to Engels, no less, in – I think – a letter to Karl Marx.

      This is beginning to feel like more than enough of a good thing – but I’ve managed to unearth quite a lot more. This family and its several branches had truly extraordinary musical connections: Chopin, Wagner and Halle among others.