Gustav Mahler. Letters to His Wife

Whether additional correspondence will in the future surface, the model presented
here by the editors, and in the present revised translation, should prove to be a critical yardstick
which would surely accommodate subsequent additions.

Although previous collections of the Mahlers’ letters have been issued in numerous
preliminary and corrected editions, Beaumont lays forth convincing evidence for his translation
as well as emendations to the 1995 German edition. For his revised English version of the
German original, both accessibility and accuracy have been guiding principles. In the Foreword
and — just as pointedly — the “Preface to the English Edition” Beaumont makes clear from
comparative charts and commentary that a significant amount of correspondence appears here in
English for the first time. Further, since the appearance in 1995 of the German edition of the
letters, both the release of material from the Moldenhauer archives and the publication of Alma
Mahler’s early diaries (Tagebuch-Suiten) have yielded a more complete picture of the decade or
so of nearly regular correspondence.

The organization of the present edition and translation differs from previous attempts to
catalogue and make accessible the letters and related material. As an example, in the edition of
Alma Mahler, Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters (3rd revised ed. and trans., D. Mitchell, B.
Creighton, K. Martner) the diary-entries and letters were presented in two separate parts of the
volume. Beaumont’s edition, by contrast, attempts to integrate both aspects by interspersing the
letters with excerpts from the diaries or recollections, and by inserting regular editorial
commentary or elaboration as an aid to the reader. At the same time, surviving entries on
postcards and telegrams directed by Gustav to Alma Mahler are included chronologically as
equivalent testimony with the letters. Finally, because of the transfer of significant material from
the Moldenhauer archives to the Bavarian State Library, individual dates for letters have been
verified or corrected on the basis of new, available evidence.

Since the translation of letters which appeared in both the new and previous editions
differs — for the most part — in style, we may concentrate on that which the present edition
offers as supplementary data. Beaumont has devised a key to indicate, among other matters, 1)
letters or communications that have not previously been published, and 2) portions of letters with
passages marked that had formerly been “suppressed.” These passages are identified with
parenthetical marking (<…>) and function, at times, as the introduction to substantial letters.
The reader thus now has the opportunity to perceive some letters in their entirety and to consider
subsequent paragraphs differently because of the potential for restored information at the
opening. In other examples, internal passages in the letters, constituting groups of sentences or
short phrases, have been restored, these also being marked with the key indicating previous
suppression. It would be further helpful for scholarly purposes to have an exact specification of
the source(s) for each of the restored passages; this could be supplied via a traditional apparatus.
That having been said, scholars must now ask if the newly available parts of these letters yield a
different or modified picture — or perhaps new interpretive insights — into the creative
personalities of Gustav or Alma Mahler, if not both.

Many of the letters from Gustav to Alma were written during the period of their courtship
or during extended times of professional separation after their marriage. These latter periods
were inevitably occasioned by Mahler’s duties as conductor, during periods of isolation for
composition, or as part of a related professional invitation. As a consequence, Mahler’s voice in
this correspondence is divided between lover, husband, composer, conductor, mentor, and
reporter of travel anecdotes. Several groups of the letters, taken from representative period of the
correspondence, will provide a sense of the topics discussed along with the range of comments
dealing with artistic and personal issues.

As a first such group, Gustav Mahler’s letters written to Alma during December 1901 —
several months before their marriage — will show some of the modifications offered in the
present edition. At the time Mahler had traveled to Berlin for a performance of his Fourth
Symphony. A letter written to Alma on 14 December had — in previous critical editions —
given rise to some concern on exact dating, since Mahler had inscribed the letter “15 December.”
Beaumont’s edition confirms the dating of 14 December, proposed earlier by Mitchell and
Creighton. In a subsequent letter from this Berlin sojourn [16 December 1901], Gustav Mahler’s
explanation of his “flippant tone” in a previous missive to Alma has now been restored in
Beaumont’s edition. This letter shows the effect of including, at both the start of the letter and
within the body of the text, several substantial passages that had been stricken from the text as it
appeared in previous editions. Again, the supposition of a correction to the dating is here
affirmed [Mahler had written incorrectly 17 December 1901]; further, the lengthy first paragraph
and a later, similar insert establish continuity and demonstrate a typical surge from personal to
aesthetic before returning to the topic of a planned rendezvous, all within the text of one letter.
Gustav Mahler’s attempt in the restored first paragraph to account for his flippancy was
occasioned by Alma’s epistolary references to another man. Mahler explains in this newly
available paragraph that she simply did not understand his tone — as related in print — and
that she would have appreciated his jovial attempts to “educate” her, had they been physically
together. He concludes this paragraph by glossing over a previous disgruntled attitude and
referring to a future bliss in common. In the second paragraph, which had appeared in print
previously, Mahler refers to his work and public opinion on the same; he cautions Alma not to
respond to other, uninformed views — especially those of his detractors in Vienna, who surely
did not understand his art. When read after the first, restored paragraph, the tone of the mentor
continues logically between topics — personal and professional, emotional and aesthetic — so
that the second paragraph does not bear as unmotivated a tone. Likewise, a later, restored
paragraph in this letter elaborates on their planned reunion once Mahler had returned to Vienna.
Alma had apparently suggested that he visit her immediately upon arrival; in the newly edited
version, Mahler pleads “administrative duties” that would distract him from emotional
concentration, if he did not settle these first before visiting Alma. Without this paragraph the
earlier version of the letter depicts Mahler as an urgent suitor who relies on his beloved to
prepare her family for their relationship on the basis of his falsely presumed accessibility.

During a similar series of communications in September and October 1903 Gustav
Mahler commented to Alma on leading artistic figures in Vienna as well as his visit to
Amsterdam to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra in performances of his Third Symphony.
In a previously unpublished letter to Alma, inscribed “Vienna, 4 September 1903,” Mahler
declares that he has “absolutely nothing to report.” After complaining of headaches and personal
anxiety, he goes on to speak of decisive figures at the Hofoper: Alfred Roller and Anna von
Mildenburg are discussed along with a visiting tenor who must be accommodated. Since this
letter is now, for the first time, available, scholars have further evidence of the hectic parade of
notables regularly accompanying Mahler’s duties at the opera. In the following month Mahler
traveled via Frankfurt to Amsterdam. On a postcard depicting Goethe and his parents — now
published in Beaumont’s edition — Mahler writes of a similar journey with Alma during the
previous year and his wish to travel with her again. The following letters from Amsterdam
compliment Willem Mengelberg’s kindness and the astounding preparedness of the
Concertgebouw Orchestra which Mahler was rehearsing for performances of his Third.
Although Mahler appreciated Mengelberg’s domestic hospitality, he suggests to Alma that they
lodge at a hotel, should they visit Amsterdam as a couple in the future. Aside from objecting to
restrictions on his freedom, Mahler seems to have revised his opinion — as witnessed in
passages here restored — on a possible relocaton to Holland after eventual retirement. Finally,
in a brief yet significant aside (previously deleted), Mahler confides to Alma in the letter of 20
October 1903 that the Concertgebouw Orchestra was intent on performing all of his symphonies
up to that time. Although the comment is not equivalent to evidence of a contract, the inspiration
of hope is clear. Such newly added details show that Mahler’s reputation and appreciation of his
creativity was gaining in international circles, despite his complaints to Alma — less than two
years before — of being misunderstood in his chosen home environment of Vienna. Surely
these additions make the revised version of the letters from Gustav to Alma Mahler a significant
source for further scholarship on the composer, his creativity, and the productive relationship
between two individuals which helped shape the course of modern music.

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Gustav Mahler. Letters to His Wife
product_title=Gustav Mahler. Letters to His Wife
product_by=Ed. Henry-Louis de La Grange and Günther Weiss, in collaboration with Knud Martner. Trans. and revised Antony Beaumont. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004)
product_id=ISBN: 0-8014-4340-7