“He was not a man who ever deceived himself, and he knew that people would not forget he was a Jew. . . . Nor did he wish it forgotten. . . . He never denied his Jewish origin. Rather he emphasized it.”
—Alma Mahler, Gustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946), p. 90
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Lorin Maazel, perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, in Tokyo, Japan, on October 20, 1998. The work was first performed at the Vigadó Concert Hall, in Budapest, Hungary, by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra on November 20, 1889, with Mahler [1860–1911] himself as conductor. Having read much about Mahler over the years, I view him without question as a Jewish composer. This remains true despite his late-in-life conversion, at age 36, to Christianity (i.e., in particular, Roman Catholicism), baptized at St. Michael's Church in Hamburg, in 1897. This was done only as a necessary means to obtain a coveted position as director of the Court Opera in Vienna (the Hofoper)—a position for which he was eminently qualified but nevertheless disqualified because he was a Jew and not a Christian. Such is, in my opinion, a conversion done under duress. Even so, or rather perhaps as a result, Mahler was routinely assaulted by acrimonious, rude and vitriolic comments from the Viennese press for being precisely what he was: Jewish. This is apparent in his music, which resonates beautifully with this writer. There is another added beauty to Mahler’s music—its universality. You need not be Jewish to appreciate it or love it.