The A to Z of Carnegie Hall: M is for Mahler
Half way through our summer series revealing the A to Z of Carnegie Hall, we arrive at the letter M for "Mahler"—composer, conductor, and musician Gustav Mahler.
M is for Mahler
Composer, conductor, and musician—Gustav Mahler has represented all three elements of the performance at Carnegie Hall during much of its 121-year history.
A trio of postcards caricaturing Gustav Mahler. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
The first record of a work by Gustav Mahler being performed at Carnegie Hall shows that it took place on November 11, 1904. Walter Damrosch conducted the New York Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Mahler's Fourth Symphony on a program that included Elgar, Liszt, Gluck, Duparc, and Strauss. Since then, his symphonies and songs—in particular—have been performed hundreds of time. The Carnegie Hall concert database shows a marked dip in the frequency of performances of Mahler's work between the 1930s and the 1960s. Leonard Bernstein's efforts to bring Mahler's music back into the mainstream bore fruit through the 1960s, '70s, and beyond with many Mahler pieces receiving Carnegie Hall premieres in the past four decades.
Bernstein—with the New York Philharmonic—famously celebrated Mahler's music during the centenary of his birth in 1960 with a Carnegie Hall festival during which Bernstein, Bruno Walter, and Dimitri Mitropoulos conducted his music. Later, Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic celebrated Mahler again with Mahler Month in September and October 1976. Pierre Boulez, James Levine, and Eric Leinsdorf were the conductors for the complete Mahler symphony cycle that season.
Poster for Mahler Month in 1976. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
In just two and a half years—between 1908 and 1911—Mahler conducted the New York Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in excess of 70 times at Carnegie Hall. Three of those performances were in 1908—all with the New York Symphony Orchestra—15 took place in 1909; 37 in 1910; and 18 in 1911.
The program for his first performance—on November 29, 1908—included none of his own music. Instead, he conducted a program of Schumann, Beethoven, Smetama, and Wagner. Just over a week later, on December 8 of that year, he conducted his own work at Carnegie Hall for the first time—the US premiere of his Symphony No.2 in C Minor, "Resurrection."
Although calendars and advertisements list Carnegie Hall performances by Mahler as late as April 4, his final Carnegie Hall appearance took place on February 21 of that year. Illness prevented him from conducting again. He sailed for Europe on April 8, 1911, and died in Vienna the following month. Like his first concert, his final concert included none of his own work.
The program from Mahler's Carnegie Hall debut on November 29, 1908. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
In five of the concerts he conducted at Carnegie Hall, he also performed as an instrumental soloist. During four of those five concerts, he played the harpsichord and in the remaining concert, he played the "Bach klavier"—a modified piano—in works by Bach and Handel.
Carnegie Hall's Director of Artistic Planning Jeremy Geffen discusses Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," calling it "a miracle and a question mark at the same time" and "about as personal a statement as any composer could make."