Exclusive: Mahler's first break in America – from a researcher in Vietnam

It has long been assumed that the first performance of Mahler’s music in the US was Walter Damrosch’s concert of the fourth symphony in 1904. Damrosch went on to become Mahler’s second biggest enemy in America after Toscanini, as described in Why Mahler, so his preccedence tends to rile loyal Mahlerians.

I can now inform you that Damrosch’s was not the first performance. The diligent researches of Michael Bosworth, who lives in Hanoi, Vietnam, have revealed a performance six years earlier. Hats off to Mr Bosworth!

The concert was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and it contained the Urlicht movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony. The singer was the contralto Josephine Jacoby and the conductor Louis Koemmenich. So Brooklyn beat New York to Mahler by six whole years. Details below:

U.S. première of “Urlicht”, 4th movement of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony

Brooklyn Academy of Music
12 December 1898, 8:15 PM
Annual Concert of the Choruses and Orchestra of the Brooklyn Sangerbund
Conductor: Louis Koemmenich
Soloist: Josephine S. Jacoby, alto/contralto (the soloist in “Urlicht”, also called “Eternal Light” in the Brooklyn Eagle review).
Here’s Josie….

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  • This is a fascinating discovery. To add to the nice photo of Jacoby and the information above, there’s a preview of the concert in the 11 December 1898 edition of the New York Daily Tribune:

    The Brooklyn Saengerbung, under the direction of Louis Koenmeinich, will give an interesting concert at the Academy of Music to-morrow evening, in which a women’s chorus of sixty, men’s chorus of eighty and orchestra of forty-five. Mrs. Josephine S. Jacoby, contralto, August Spanuth, pianoforte, and Henry Bartels, barytone will take part. One of the novelties on the programme is the fourth movement of Mahler’s second symphony – a vocal number called “Urlicht.”

    There’s a link to a PDF of the relevant page from the paper online (a ridiculously long URL, but google “Josephine Jacoby” “Mahler’ 1898 and it comes up right after this blog.)

    Do you have the original review from the Brooklyn Eagle? It would be fascinating to see what they had to say about the music.

    • Unfortunately, the Brooklyn ‘Daily Eagle’ review has nothing to say about “Urlicht” as music (nor do any of the previews I have seen). It simply reads “Mrs. Jacoby sang with orchestral accompaniment, ‘Eternal Light,’ by Mahler…she was applauded vigorously.” The “Daily Eagle” also published the earliest notice for the event, on 20 Nov. 1898.

      Michael Bosworth
      Hanoi

  • Brooklyn, being a borough of New York City, cannot “beat New York” to anything, by definition. It can beat Manhattan, or the Philharmonic Society, and did both those things.

  • Louis Koemmenich is my great-great grandfather. Thank you for this info! I am trying to track down his parents in Germany, but am not having much luck. Of course, I can’t read German so once I get down to any German primary sources, I’m lost again.

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