When Mahler met Ibsen

When Mahler met Ibsen


norman lebrecht

December 28, 2021

From an article on Mahler’s brief 1891 trip to Norway:

….’Evenings, when I return to the hotel, I sit in the reading room. When I looked up from my newspaper for a moment, in front of me I saw—Ibsen. He is here right now, and is living in the same hotel. You can well imagine that I was not a little moved by this.’


Full article here.


  • Piano Lover says:

    Did Mahler compose something related to this meeting?

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      The answer, perhaps sadly, is no. Mahler composed symphonies that were both epic and narrative-like in quality, but he did not compose ‘programmatic’ music, per se. However, from Mahler’s younger years, there were rumors of a “Nordic” Symphony that was either destroyed or lost. Mahler didn’t take his earliest efforts seriously, for the most part. For convenience sake, “Das Klagende Lied” – which is programmatic (it’s rather cantata or oratory like) – can be considered to be his Opus One.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Interesting. The narrative suggests that he recognised Ibsen, rather than being introduced to him. Even in this image-dominated internet age, I doubt that I would recognise any of the leading contemporary playrights in such circumstances.

    • V. Lind says:

      Stoppard? Alan Bennett? Ben Elton?

      But you raise a point. Everyone knows what Shaw and Wilde and Pinter and Miller and Williams looked like. Suggests that there is a dearth of attention to the talent behind the stage productions, and that there are also no easy avenues for these (like classical artists) to become household names — i.e. cultural programmes on television.

  • John Borstlap says:

    How interesting…. Not many of European artists in those times wanted to travel that far north. I can only think of Monet who went to Norway in 1885.


    • Jean says:

      Mahler also came to Finland in 1907. Seems he travelled a lot

      • norman lebrecht says:

        The Finnish trip is fully documented, because he met Sibelius and had his portrait painted by Gallen-Kallela.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I forgot about that. Of course that was something much more important.

        • Jean says:

          Antti Vihinen wrote a 350-page book on that (in Finnish), published in 2018. Hope someone would translate this into English…

          ”My time will come!”
          (Gustav Mahler to his wife, 31 January 1902)

          ”My time will come!”
          (Jean Sibelius to his wife, 28 January 1914)

  • Peter San Diego says:

    More precisely: when Mahler saw Ibsen. “They exchanged not a word.”

    • V. Lind says:

      Sort of feels like me being at the same event as Jackie Kennedy and Lauren Bacall. I saw them both. we exchanged not a word.

  • Peter says:

    Spoiler alert [redacted]

  • David K. Nelson says:

    While I think it is incorrect to say Mahler “met” Ibsen, at least as I use the word “met,” the article is interesting reading and the vintage photographs are lovely. Based on the few photos I have seen of where my dad’s family came from, basically a world of huts and fishing boats, I was not expecting that so urban and urbane a cityscape existed in Norway at that time.

    If one wanted to be poetic and imaginative — which I rarely do on a Thursday — I suppose a case can be made that Mahler’s symphony finales did to (and for) concert halls what Ibsen’s famous “door slam” did to (and for) theaters: ruffled the right feathers and cleared away deserving cobwebs. The 20th century began fairly deep into the 19th thanks to them and some others.

    I was also interested to read the reference to Georg Schnéevoigt being one of Mahler’s musicians, which I did not know. I have heard some of his pioneering Sibelius recordings in transfers from 78s – a pity that we evidently have no recordings of his Mahler interpretations although he lived very nearly to the LP era.