Gustav Mahler [1860-1911]: Gustav Mahler, photographed in 1907 at the end of his period as director of the Vienna Hofoper. Although Mahler converted to Christianity to obtain this position, he was ever much a Jew in his sympathies and in his music. Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, into a Jewish family in Kaliste, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now part of the Czech Republic. In February 1897, at age 36, Mahler converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, chiefly to secure a post as artistic director of the prestigious Vienna Court Opera. It was a procedural necessity at a time when Christian Europe was highly discriminatory in its practices. Nevertheless, his music retained his Jewish heritage and influences, and if there was any doubt that Mahler owed his allegiances to his Jewish origins, they need be dispelled. “This, in the eyes of those who hated his innovations, far from removing his Jewish stigma, drew attention to it,” Paul Johnson, a historian writes in A History of the Jews, quoting from Alma Mahler’s book Gustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946). The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research writes: “In spite of his conversion, the antisemitic press lambasted Mahler’s work, asserting that his music “speaks German with a Yiddish accent.’ ”— a way of saying his music was too Jewish. Well, what could the man do but be himself, both as an artist and as a human being. As Mahler once said: “The point is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star but to go one’s way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.” Leonard Bernstein is credited with bringing Mahler to wide public acceptance. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Credit: Moriz Nähr (1859–1945)