Last of the great Mahlerians has died

I’m sorry to hear of the death of Donald Mitchell, the critic and publisher whose lifelong passions were Britten and Mahler. Together with Hans Keller, he promoted both causes in the late 1940s, founding Faber Music to publish Britten after his friend fell out with Boosey & Hawkes and writing several lengthy studies of Mahler that contained profound and original insights into the composer. Donald was 92 and had been suffering from dementia for more than a decade. His wife, Kathleen, died earlier this year.

Two fond memories:

After the great English storm of 1987, Donald called me to say he was still without electricity and was depressed that the storm had blown down a tree that Britten and Pears had planted in his garden. He found comfort, he said, by reading the pages in my book Mahler Remembered where the composer, alone on a rainswept mountain, was starting to compose his ninth symphony. Suddenly, said Donald, ‘life was meaningful again.’


We were walking in Stockholm with Henry-Louis de La Grange, the French Mahlerian, who expressed an innocent interest in the works of Michael Tippett in relation to Benjamin Britten. ‘Not to be mentioned in the same breath,’ said Donald, whose loyalties never wavered.



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  • RIP. Indeed, like Henry-Louis de La Grange, he was a great Mahlerite. However, the headline is not very accurate. There is at least one great Mahlererite – if not the greatest of them all – still living: Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. mult. Constantin Floros! Ignoring him means to ignore Mahler himself.

    • +1
      That’s exactly what I wanted to say.
      But apparently Floros is not british, so it’s easy to understand why he is skipped.

        • It’s definitely not about the titles (although they have a real meaning) but about what this eminent scholar achieved in musicology. And I’m not only talking about Mahler. He deciphered neumes for the first time, wrote eminent books and essays about Berg (being the first to proof there is a hidden programme in the Lyric Suite, years before George Perle), Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Henze, Ligeti, Liszt, Mozart, Mahler, Schumann, Wagner and so on. Many of his books are now translated into English. So there is something to learn for you guys. ,-)

          • It’s a complete waste of time to talk to these ignorant people.
            The only thing you should tell them is: lern Deutsch!

  • How sad that the eminent Donald Mitchell passed away. I had the pleasure of meeting him once after a Britten War Requiem and we had a wonderful conversation about that score. He was modest whilst incredibly knowledgeable, a true gentleman.

  • Excellent work. But back in the golden days we too had Borstlap. Oh if only you could have seen it. That woman never took a backward step. She stole my heart, then one day without warning, she vanished.

    • She was slain by the pulverizing intensity of my intelligence & erudition.

      But it is also possible that she was suddenly arrested by the Serbian state police, who had recently read my book.

          • Don’t worry, high art will for sure continue to exist, with or without you. You have nothing to do with the REAL art.

          • It seems that the Kram-Hammerbauer gets a bit off the rails. What could she possibly mean? Entertaining opinions based upon what information, evidence, insight? Better insights than mine? My Noble Contribution slandered? I will converse with my lawyers… and ask the Vatican for advice.

          • Show people your pieces and tell them you are in the same line of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Mahler. They will probably suggest you to consult a doctor instead of lawyers. However, after a while, people do find out some common traits you share with those real composers. Namely, you have the clear sight of Bach, the good hearing of Beethoven, the healthy mind of Schumann and the happy marriage of Mahler. Maybe you also love children as much as the Vatican?

  • That first recollection is really beautiful. It says a lot about where music ‘is for’, and what Mahler musically achieved in some of his works: the ennobling, ordering and giving meaning to apparently meaningless experiences. All great music does it, and for those couple of unique works Mahler should be forgiven his many moments of rambling along.

  • RIP Donald Mitchell. Thank you for the badly-needed breaks you gave to this young aspiring conductor, who loved the music of Britten with all his heart.

    • And thank you, Maestro Platt, for showcasing Britten at the Maverick. The performance of Britten’s “Young Apollo” you conducted continues to resonate and reverberate even now. What a privilege to hear it live.

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