Death of noted German Mahlerian, 94

Death of noted German Mahlerian, 94


norman lebrecht

October 12, 2019

The University of Berlin is in mourning for one of its foremost musicologists.

Professor Rudolf Stephan was the author of several interpretative texts on Mahler’s music and an influence on its German reception. He was also a keen advocate of contemporary music and a rigorous teacher who required his students to read at least 200 pages a fad.



  • John Borstlap says:

    These kind of musicologists can be happy to have contributed so much to Mahler understanding. Thanks to them, together with conductors like Bernstein and Walter, M has acquired a firm place in the central repertoire, instead of being seen as a mere ‘forerunner’ of modernism. I am reminded of Henry Louis de la Grange, who wrote an immense Mahler biography and had the paper serviettes in his house in Paris gold-printed with ‘Mon temps viendra’ (Mahler’s saying). I am not making this up. Mahler musicologists are a special breed.

    • Cynthia H. says:

      The definitive bio on Mahler. Sang in the Westminster symphonic choir during the mid- late 70’s Mahler’s “Resurrection” & Eighth under legendary J. Levine & Jessye Norman. Beautiful memories.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Henry Louis de la Grange was definitely a special breed: a mahlerologist with a fine education. Mahlersecondologist Gilbert Kaplan arguably beat de la Grange in singlemindedness. But who else? Donald Mitchell may come close, but he also wrote about Britten. Others, like Rudolf Stephan or Constantin Floros have been prolific scholars who also contributed to Mahler research.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    It is wrong to reduce Rudolf Stephan to a Mahlerian. He was way more than that. He was one of the leading German musicologists of his generation. His work focused on the first half of the twentieth century and was a leading force for the complete editions of the works of Arnold Schönberg and Alban Berg.

    • John Borstlap says:

      True, he was also a friend of Adorno who wrote the notorious ‘Philosophy of New Music’, the bible of fascistoid avantgarde Germans. Hopefully Stephan did not realize what was going-on.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Can you fill a gap in my knowledge? What did Schoenberg think of Adorno’s work in general, and the Philosophy of New Music in particular? My general understanding, from lectures of decades ago, is that he didn’t think much of him and dismissively referred to him as “der Wiesengrund”. It sounds irresistibly amusing, but reality may be more nuanced.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed Schoenberg did not have a high opinion of Adorno’s writing, because A burdened ‘modern music’ with political ideology, which was gratefully embraced by frustrated avantgardists who got irritated that the central performance culture did not like their progress. Which is ironic, since A presented Schoenberg and his ‘school’ as the only possible development of 20C music and everything else, especially Stravinsky and his followers, as products of a decadent, frivolous, commercial capitalist world. Schoenberg tried to leave behind his own political abberations of earlier years – the 12-tone system being the means with which German music would again become the dominating force, etc., so A’s philosophying of contemporary music was an embarrassment to him.

      • HugoPreuss says:

        Seriously? “fascistoid avantgarde Germans”?? I am definitely no friend of Adorno’s thought (and I have written about him), but to call him “fascistoid” betrays a deplorable lack of knowledge. Even if he had a strong opinion on music (and on everything else), he did not have a SA at his disposal to beat up opponents of his ideas. In fact, to call an exiled victim of fascism “fascistoid” is disgusting.

        Is it possible to write about Germany without using fascism, if there is something you don’t like? It should be, 74 years after WWII.

        • John Borstlap says:

          The tortuous ideological writing of Adorno had a deplorable influence upon the development of German postwar new music, as anybody with some historical knowledge can confirm. It is of the greatest irony that someone who has been forced to emigrate would exercise a mindset not altogether free from totalitarianism. For a marxist this is, however, normal.

          It should be known that Adorno was enthusiastic about the nazis before he realized he was in the firing line. That says something, it seems to me.

          When, nowadays, listening to pretentious atonal nonsense is being presented as a necessary moral sacrifice for a terrible cataclysm, even after all that time, it is the spirit of Adorno hovering over the suffering audience. I know it seems contradictory, since the intention was the opposite, but there is in such postwar ‘music’, and in its promotion and defenses, a strong strain of totalitarianism which would never have had such monopoly in Germany if the war had not happened. And the fascistoid nature of so much avantgardism is, of course, not restricted to Germany, the term was not meant as something exclusively belonging to that country. But postwar modernism was sometimes even embraced by German musicians who had been collaborating with the nazis, finding it no great change from one totalitarian context to the next – the ‘modern music centre’ of Darmstadt was, just after the war, led by seriously compromised people (Toby Thacker: Music after Hitler, 1945-1955; Ashgate 2007). So, it does not come as a surprise when we see this as the latest fruit of official German avantgardism – from the Holy Temple of Darmstadt:

          I don’t think it is morally wrong to associate such ‘work’ with the lust at destruction typical of fascistoid mindsets.

          I think it is regrettable when musicologists feel they have to defend modernism, their talents could be better put to work on more worthy cases.

  • Emil says:

    Which “University of Berlin”? There are at least three (plus the UdK and others).

  • Rob Haskins says:

    I seem to remember that Stephan also wrote about Hindemith—very interesting scholarship.

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    What was wrong with my last comment?

  • Of Mahlerians among the conductors, we might remember Sir John Barbirolli, and among the critics, Sir Neville Cardus.