So who did you know who knew Mahler?

So who did you know who knew Mahler?


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2017

Gustav Mahler died 14 years after Johannes Brahms, for whom we found a handful of mutual acquaintances within living memory.

But Mahler seems so much closer to us – in part, because of the modernity of his outlook and, in part, because many of his associates – Walter, Klemperer, Alma – lived into the 1960s and 1970s.

The people I met who knew Mahler were:

1 His daughter, Anna (r.), who became a close friend.

2 His ‘niece’, Eleanor Rosé, my upstairs neighbour.

3 Leopold Stokowski, who claimed to have attended the Munich world premiere of the eighth symphony in 1910.

So who were your Mahler contacts?



  • Alexander says:

    …speaking frankly – mine is you, Norman 🙂 – remotely and digitally – nothing one can do – 21st century ….

    • Pamela Brown says:

      In that wistful vein I can say that when I first heard the Mahler 1 long ago with Tennstedt at the MO, my initial reaction was, ‘how did he get inside my head?’ I had known nothing of him previously, and attended that concert out of curiosity. I felt both terrified and elated. I was even tempted to wonder if he ended up killing himself, as he saw darkness and evil and sublime joy with such overpowering clarity. After I left the concert I devoured everything I could find about Mahler.

      In “Why Mahler”, Norman actually hints at a “Mahler Effect”, analogous somewhat to the “Mozart Effect.” He talks about how there is no sorrow or grief or loss that Mahler’s music does not help us deal with. Although my primary focus is Wolf’s music, there have been long spans of time when I have only listened to Mahler.

      How I would love to have been able to thank him…:-)

    • Alexander says:

      Thank you all for your amazing and captivating stories of your lives. It was such a pleasure for me to read them now drinking my coffee , I really enjoyed 🙂

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Tell us more about Anna Mahler.

  • Louise Charette says:

    Quel privilège vous avez !

  • John Borstlap says:

    I studied with Alexander Goehr, who is the son of Walter Goehr, refugee conductor and close friend of Schoenberg, who was close to Mahler. But what would that mean? Mahler was a mountain of musical craft and meaning, Walter Goehr a rather mediocre conductor, and his son the miniature Schoenberg for postwar Britain introducing modernism on the islands, so any Mahlerian quality had been thinned-down through the line.

    Mahler also had met Brahms at various times. So, there some lines converge. At one such occasion Brahms complained about ‘modern music’, that he did not see it go anywhere positive, whereupon Mahler pointed towards the broke they just happened to cross on a bridge, saying; ‘There goes the last wave!’. Modernist reports stop here, while the story went on with Brahms saying: ‘That may well be, but how do we know whether the stream doesn’t end into a marsh?’ The German word for ‘marsh’ gives a better sonic demonstration of that result: ‘Sumpf’. This sound can be heard regularly in the modernist performance circuit today.

  • Adam Stern says:

    This is a true story.

    In 2002, I was at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and stopped in at a little shop that sold uniquely-flavored jams and jellies. A young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, was presiding over the counter. She was very sweet, very informal; I think she was dressed in overalls and a t-shirt. We chatted as I tasted some samples.

    At one point my profession came up in our conversation. With utter casual directness, the young woman said, “Oh, yeah, my great-great-great-grandfather was a musician, too — d’you know Gustav Mahler?”

    I’m sure my double-take was visible from miles away.

    Not exactly a meeting with someone who knew him, but, assuming she wasn’t convincingly pulling my leg, as close as I’ve ever come to his DNA.

    (P.S. — The pepper-flavored jellies I bought were delicious.)

  • John says:

    Stokowski was at the premiere of the 8th, so I guess we could say it was in Mahler’s presence. Did he ‘know’ Mahler? I doubt it.

  • Musician says:

    I have heard that Mieczysław Horszowski (1892-1993) saw Mahler conducting in Vienna. Is it possible to check it? There must be a family of Horszowski living somewhere. He told that story in London around 80s or 90s.

    When Mahler died Horszowski was 19 years old. I remember he said that his conducting style was really unique and that – even though he was telling the story after 90 years (!!!!) – for him Mahler was the best conductor ever in terms of both technique and musicality. And Horszowski who had probably one of the longest careers in the history must have seen thousands of conductors… I wish it could be verified somehow.

  • Raymond Mah says:

    In 1943 at age 11, I corresponded with Bruno Walter when he was conducting the NY Philharmonic. He signed a nice letter for me. In the mid-1940s he conducted a Philadelphia Orchestra radio broadcast [60 minutes] of Mahler’s 4th Symphony. Since then I have had several opportunities to attend live performances of Mahler works when he guest conducted with the San Francisco Symphony.

    My first listening of Mahler’s music hooked me to this composer. In the 40s Mahler’s music was considered boring, too long.

    Over the last several decades, all the principal conductors include Mahler in their repertoire.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      (All the principal conductors)

      Except Thielemann….

    • John Borstlap says:

      But most of Mahler IS boring and too long. Nonetheless, there is so much in it that it great, that listeners just accept the boring long bits, it is like the emotional pain you have to pay for a rewarding relationship.

      The same with Wagner.

      In Mahler, you find the most sublime (1st mvts symph IX, X, Lied vd Erde, Symph I, IV, 2nd mvt & Adagietto symph V) next to the stupid (like the finale of symph VII which sounds as if written by Donald Duck).

  • Kelvin Grout says:

    Back in the eighties, in London, Ontario I met a delightful lady with the surname Rose. As a child she lived over the road from Mahler, knew him well and met many of the musicians and artists of that time. I believe her father was a painter. Her house was full of original paintings and scores, but most striking was the Rodin bust of Mahler sitting above the fireplace. I wish I could remember the details of her life, but that Rodin bust is something I will never forget.

  • Michael Shapiro says:

    1. Lotte Hammerschlag Bamberger whose father was Mahler’s physician.
    2. Joseph Braunstein, the musicologist and student of Schoenberg.
    3. Leopold Stokowski of blessed memory.

  • Nicholas Goursky says:

    In the 1960s I knew a young man (my age) named Bruce Mahler — a pianist — who claimed to be Gustav’s grandson. He even had the look of a young Gustav Mahler. We lost touch and I never learned what became of him. He had a very beautiful girlfriend back then.

    • David says:

      Mahler and Alma had only one child who survived to adulthood, the much-married
      Anna. If Bruce was a grandson he would have been Anna’s son. Did she
      have a son called Bruce? I don’t think so. Didn’t she have only daughters?

      NOTE to Jonathan Dunsby(see below) who writes that Previn claims to be a ‘distant descendant'(sic) of Mahler, that is, also issue of Anna. Another false claim, apparently.

      Prehaps we should all stick with George and Zsa Zsa. The Mahler Industry seems to have hit the fan.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I can make a distant connection…

    I met Neil Armstrong, who met
    Werner von Braun, who made a presentation to
    Hitler, who often visited
    Winfred Wagner, who was daughter-in-law of
    Cosima Wagner, who knew
    Gustav Mahler

  • Rich C. says:

    I met Henry-Louis de la Grange, who knew Alma, who slept with Mahler (and just about every other man in Vienna).

    • James says:

      Apparently, Alma was someone who had IT, or as Dorothy Parker would
      say, had THOSE, something that drew men of genius to her flame.
      Mahler seems to have married her also for her social standing and her
      her Gentile heritage.

      Anyway, hasn’t she suffered enough? Who of us would want to have been
      married to a character such as Mahler? Misericordia!

      • John Borstlap says:

        Well, just now I am reading Alma’s own memoirs about her life with Mahler and they were both quite, let us say, peculiar, and brilliantly gifted in a cultural sense, and very intelligent, and virtuosic in creating difficulties for each other. To my feeling the greatest victims were their children.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    Schoenberg knew Mahler and taught Webern. Webern taught Emil Spira and Spira taught me. In the other direction, Schoenberg studied with Zemlinsky who had studied with Eduard Marxsen, a pupil of Mozart and acquaintance of Beethoven. However, for those who had the privilege of an exceptional musical education, this sort of thing is not so uncommon.

    • Joel Lazar says:

      Excellent point about “an exceptional music education”. Those of us who came through many American universities and conservatories before there was a broad awareness of Schenker learned our theory from first- or second-generation Boulanger students… giving a line of descent back to Gabriel Fauré, who was her teacher. Some of us with a relationship to Walter Piston or his students can add Paul Dukas to their ancestry as well…

      • John Borstlap says:

        As Boethius explains in his ‘Historium Defamatum’, all musicians descend from Orpheus, which is the reason most musicians suffer from relational problems.

    • Ken Baldry says:

      I see you were an Emile pupil. So was I & I tried to get more info to set him up a web page, hopefully with his music but got no co-operation from Joan. Have you anything? The Lichterfelds just asked me & I gave them everything I had. (

  • Stuart L says:

    In the late 1990s I interviewed Felix Aprahamian in connection with the organ at Alexandra Palace. Felix had been well-acquainted with Mahler’s daughter Anna and had also been close to various composers such as Frederick Delius, Olivier Messiaen and Francis Poulenc.

    He had also been very friendly with Benjamin Britten but I have another connection (sort of) to Britten as I met the actor David Hemmings back in 1953 around the time he was working (as a twelve year old) with Britten singing in various works including, subsequently and most famously, Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw.

  • Christopher Czaja Sager says:

    Studied with Wolfgang Rose, who by family was related to GM.He and his wife cared for Alma in her last years in NYC.The Roses inherited from her a Nolde or two as I recall.
    Those two, Wolfgang and Ali , and in NL, Desi Halban very much part of the GM cult in answer to your ” so who (m..) did you…”

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you for reminding me of Desi Halban, whom I knew and liked very much. But it was her mother who knew Mahler, not she.

      • MARCUS OVERTON says:

        I encountered Mahler’s music as a student at Northwestern University in the early 60s. I left that concert — Thor Johnson conducting the 5th — with the same question as another commenter — how did this man know what was going on in my head and heart, long before I arrived at the moment of that musical encounter? From that day onward, I sought every contact – however far removed – I could find to “connect” with him. The day I finally stood for a long time at his grave is an important one in my memory.

        Another fascinating question would ask about other artists through whom we have made connections with people who – like Mahler, but maybe not always in music – have changed the world.

        If only I had known – when I had started my opera career as a lowly production assistant at Lyric Opera of Chicago – who Herbert Graf “really” was: the unforgettable “Little Hans” of one of Sigmund Freud’s earliest breakthrough cases, the little boy who had a near-pathological fear of horses.

        But it was only years later that I found out that the amiable, slightly befuddled, pear-shaped man who was directing that 1966 production of MAGIC FLUTE (in sets by Oscar Kokoschka, no less) could, might have opened a direct line for me to a world-changing mind and personality.

        Lesson learned: pay attention, do your research, never assume that what you see is all there is.


        • John Borstlap says:

          “…… how did this man know what was going on in my head and heart, long before I arrived at the moment of that musical encounter?”

          A reaction that very very many people have with this entirely unusual music. That is indeed the most remarkable thing about Mahler: he could express the existential experiences of the 20th century with all its emotional and spiritual agonies long before they presented themselves. Much more so than the ‘real’ 20C music, that is: established modernism which has been labelled as ‘really modern’, it has been Mahler who wrote the real music of the 20th century, up till and including the postmodern condition which has developed quite recently. If / when, in 100 years time or so, people would want to truly understand the 20th century in the sense of: how did people feel back then? Mahler’s music gives the full picture.

          • James says:

            Goodness, what desperate claims you make!

            ‘….Mahler expresses the existential experiences of the 20th century.’
            (if only the 20th century had been as breezily and harmlessly muddled as Mahler)

            ‘….He gives the full picture of how people felt back then.’
            (which people? Alma? Richard Struass? Reger? Debussy? Sousa? Yours Truly?)

            This, of course, is The Gospel According to the Mahler Industry….
            quite like Trump’s 21st century claim that he will make America great again…fine and noble words, if one wants, needs to believe them…silly laughable rot if one doesn’t.

            Like the Trump Industry, the Mahler Industry seems to appeal esp. to the gulllible,
            the fetish-prone, those who are forever searching, searching for Someone
            to Whisper the Answer, to Reveal the Cosmos, to Show the Way. Very
            20th century stuff, this, and we know how THOSE missionary efforts
            panned out, although Scientology is still going strong and the World
            According to Trump has only begun to hatch its glorious eggs.

            Indeed, Mahler and Trump: neither at their best with women, both hammy and
            gross, with such pretension and fuss, erratic, excessive and endlessly
            full of hot air. And both with disciples who seem unprepared to think
            for themselves… this, prehaps their greatest achievement.

            Time to fling open the windows for sunlight and fresh air!

          • John Borstlap says:

            To James:

            So sorry you never did get anything of that music.

            Indeed there is something like Mahler cult, which is greatly exaggerated, but its kernel holds something of truth and meaning.

            So sorry you don’t hear what is between the notes (where the most important meaning of the music is located, of which Mahler himself was aware and as he had said himself).

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    Andre Previn once claimed in an interview that he was distant descendant of GM

  • Joel Lazar says:

    I met Anna Mahler in London, thanks to Jerry Bruck, who knew Alma, as did several other of my now-departed senior colleagues, among them Jack Diether and of course Henry-Louis de la Grange. A college classmate of my wife, also a friend of mine was Alma’s god-daughter. Two of my conducting mentors, Jascha Horenstein and Richard Burgin, knew people who knew Mahler, of course–Burgin was close to Sibelius in the early days of the 20th century, and we all know about the Mahler-Sibelius encounter at some remove, and both of them knew Schoenberg; Horenstein knew Berg and Webern as well.

  • James Manishen says:

    Joseph Braunstein was one my music history teachers at the Manhattan School of Music in 1970-72. He had met Mahler, I recall.

    Mr. Braunstein died in 1996 at age 104, so that would have made him 19 when Mahler died. He was a wonderful man, with brilliant insights in all areas of music. His NY Times obituary has a fascinating story about how a Papal benediction led to saving his life from the upcoming Nazi invasion of Austria.

  • Duncan McGibbon says:

    I heard Jascha Horenstein conduct the 3rd at the NFH in the sixties. His vibrant version of the choral n movements must have come from Mahler’s own conducting.

  • David Boxwell says:

    My own degrees of separation to Mahler: Emma Lou Diemer to Paul Hindemith to Bruno Walter to GM.

  • Sixtus says:

    I can get to Mahler through several paths. The most direct is Leonard Bernstein > Bruno Walter > Mahler. The most interesting would be John Cage > Schoenberg > Mahler. Knowing a major conductor of Bernstein’s generation or earlier puts one in one- or two-step contact with most of the great composers of the first half of the last century or even before. I can get to Wagner via Boult > Hans Richter.

    • John Borstlap says:

      You must live a very happy life.

      • Sixtus says:

        I’ve been trying to take this as far back as I can trying to reach Beethoven (and through him, Haydn and Mozart). I think the key will be the Wagner > Liszt connection. On this path I think Bach is within reach, but not Handel, Vivaldi, Couperin or Rameau. I don’t think any path will get me to Machaut. My criterion is that the individuals involved must have met personally or exchanged correspondence.

  • David says:

    Ronald married Benita who then married George who had been married to Magda
    and also to Zsa Zsa who had been married to Conrad father of Nicky he who had been married to Liz who then married Eddie who had been married
    to Debbie who bore Carrie….such fun! One feels that one truly knew each of
    them personally and is enriched thereby. The thrill of it all!! Photoplay lives on,
    at least in spirit.

  • David Thompson says:

    My list of connections to musical greats of the past usually starts with Franz-Paul Decker – a great interpreter of late Romantic music, and a major influence on my musical approach. He deserved to be better known (and more widely recorded) than he was. The most obvious direct composer connection through Decker was to Richard Strauss, but via Bruno Walter there are of course many more, including Mahler.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Why not a potentially less comfortable but no lesss fascinating question: Who did you know who knew Richard Strauss?

    • John Borstlap says:

      My grandmother from my mother’s side had a pen friend in Munich who knew the milliner who had to fix the hats of Strauss’ wife Pauline:

      Pauline always complained that they were not big enough and would create a tantrum in the shop when she came to try them on.

    • Bruce says:

      There would be plenty of American oboists (most likely all old by now, so add another degree of separation for their students) who knew or studied with John DeLancie, who commissioned Strauss’s oboe concerto.

    • Adam Stern says:

      If Strauss was on hand supervising the Mainz premiere of his “Salome” in 1906 (which seems likely), then I can claim something of a link, as my maternal grandfather was the longtime principal horn of the Mainz Opera Orchestra.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Fritz Mahler (1901, Vienna – 1973, Winston Salem, North Carolina) was the Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut from 1953 to 1962. His father was GM’s cousin.

  • Gustav says:

    I visit the Maiernigg hut every year in the summer, in the late evening when there’s nobody else around and it’s closed. I walk up through the forest from the lake Villa – the path Mahler had carved out from the beginning of the forest from the road is still discernible ( you must take the route he took!) and spend up to two hours in his presence, sometimes taking photos, looking at the views he had, taking in the silence, the sun setting. Once there was a beautiful cat that came to say hello. This is the closest I have got to Mahler. I leave via the same way, going down through the forest back towards the villa with Wyn Morris’s recording of the 1st movement of the 8th playing on my ipod. The whole thing is very personal.

  • Price Luber says:

    Two degrees of separation between Mahler and me. My horn teacher Sinclair Lott recorded the Ninth under Bruno Walter in 1961; in rehearsal tapes, Bruno can be heard saying “louder, Mr. Lott.” [The orchestra was the Columbia Symphony, made up of LA Phil members and local studio musicians.]

  • EP says:

    I am two degrees removed from Mahler: My teacher played in the New Philharmonia Orchestra in London under Klemperer (and, of course, played on the recordings of the Ninth and Das Lied von der Erde).

    Not sure how many degrees of separation I am from Brahms, but now I’ve got to find out…