The MGM logo: a hand-drawn cartoon of Mahler at the podium, glaring at the audience

Main heading: The Music of Gustav Mahler: A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Sources [rule] Paul Banks





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Neues Wiener Journal, 4233 (6 August 1905), 10.



Neues Wiener Journal, 6311 (19 May 1911), 3–4.



Illustriertes Wiener Extrablatt (19 May 1911).


[Early Piano Works]




[Unidentified early piano works]


  ? –1875










Printed Editions






In a passage not included in the first edition of her collection of memories of Mahler, Natalie Bauer-Lechner records Mahler talking about his earliest works dating from after the composition of Die Türken and before his acceptance at the Vienna Conservatoire (NBL2, 69):

Später komponierte ich dann schon fleißiger aus eigenem Antrieb: eine Klavier-Violin-Sonate, eine Nocturne für Cello; für das Klavier alles mögliche, und endlich eine Oper, zu der eine Schulkollege den Text mit mir schrieb. Auf Grund dieses Bruchstückes (denn ich kam nie dazu, sie zu vollebden) wurde ich später am Wiener Konservatorium von Hellmesberger (diesem Schaf) mit Überspringen von Harmonielehre und Kontrapunkt zu meinem größten Schaden in die Kompositions-Klasse aufgenommen.

Later I certainly composed more diligently on my own initiative: a piano-violin sonata, a nocturne for cello; everything possible for the piano, and finally an opera for which a school colleague wrote the text with me. Later, on account of this fragment (for I was never able to finish it), at the Vienna Conservatoire, to my great disadvantage, I was allowed by Hellmesberger (that dolt) to join the composition class having skipped harmony and counterpoint.

Later references to early piano works by Mahler appear in three accounts of Mahler's visit to Vienna (or Baden) to seek the advice of Julius Epstein about a possible musical career. The earliest to appear, along with transcriptions of two letters from Mahler (28 August 1875 (GMB2a, no.1); 6 September 1877 (GMB2a, no.4)), was published by Gustav Schwarz in the Neues Wiener Journal on 6 August 1905.[1] Schwarz was an estate manager near Ronow and Morawan in the Časlau region, where Mahler spent some time during the summer holidays in 1875. Schwarz had been told that Mahler was a formidable sight-reader by a Herr Steiner (possibly Ignaz Steiner, the father of Mahler's childhood friend, Josef Steiner (HLG1, 842, fn. 3), and having heard him play, he advised him to study music. Clearly Bernhard Mahler had doubts about this career path, and so on 28 August 1875 Mahler wrote Schwarz to enlist his support in the ensuing family discussions (GMB2, 3; KBME, 151):

[...ich kann nur hinzusetzen, daß es noch einen kleinen Kampf kosten wird, den l. Vater zur Übereinstimmung mit uns in Betreff unseres Projektes zu bewegen, obwohl er freilich sich schon ziemlich zu unserer Seite hinneight; doch ist er noch immer nicht eins mit sich....Der l. Vater fürchtet bald, daß ich mein Studium vernachlässigen oder unterbrechen würde, bald wieder, daß ich durch schlechten Umgang in Wien verdorben werden könnte; und wenn er auch, wie es mir scheint, sich zu unserer Seite hinneigt, so müssen Sie doch bedenken, daß ich im Kampfe gegen die Übermacht so vieler „verständiger . gesetzter Leute” ganz allein auf mich angewiesen bin.

...I can only add that it will still be something of a struggle to induce my dear father to agree to our plan. He is showing signs of coming over to our side, but he is still not quite won over....My dear father has two fears: one, that I might neglect or interrupt my studies, and the other, that I might be ruined by getting into bad company in Vienna; and even when  he seems to be inclined to our side you must remember that I am entirely alone and have only myself to rely on in my struggle against the superior power of so many 'reasonable and mature people'.

The crucial conference probably took place on 4 September and a few days later Mahler travelled to Vienna to meet Julius Epstein (1832–1926), then a piano teacher at the Konservatorium der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. According to Schwarz's account it was he who accompanied the teenager (KBM, 149; KBME, 151):

Herr Schwarz traf püktlich mit dem jungen Mahler zusammen, sie fuhren nach Wien und hier suchten sie sofort Professor Epstein auf. Der Professor wohnte aber in Baden und Herr Schwarz fuhr mit seinem Schützling dahin, um den jungen Menschen sogleich fachmännisch beurteilen zu lassen. „Ich erkannte sofort die eminente Begabung Mahlers,” sagte  Herr Schwarz „als ich zu Professor Epstein kam, war er gar nicht entzückt, das Klavierspiel Mahlers imponierte ihm nicht. Erst als Mahler eigene Kompositionen zum besten gab, wurde Epstein warm, erklärte ein über das andermal, die Sachen seien direkt ‚wagnerisch’und fragte mich, warum ich ihn denn nicht telegraphisch nach Wien berfufen habe.”

Herr Schwarz met young Mahler as agreed, and they made the journey to Vienna, where they immediately called on Professor Epstein. But the Professor was then living out at Baden, so Herr Schwarz took his protégé there in order to get an expert opinion of him without delay. 'I recognized Mahler's outstanding gifts at one,' said Herr Schwarz; 'but when I came to Professor Epstein, I found him anything but delighted, for Mahler's piano playing did not impress him at all. It was only when Mahler played him some of his own compositions that Epstein showed any enthusiasm and said over and over again that there were in direct descent from Wagner, and asked me why I had not sent him a telegramme asking him to come to Vienna.'

This account does not quite agree with Epstein's own memories of his first meeting with Mahler, recorded in an interview for the Neues Wiener Journal on the day of Mahler's death[2] (KBM, 149; KBME, 151):

[„Ich weiß mich noch sehr gut des Tages zu erinnern — erzählte Professor Eptein —, an dem der Vater Gustav Mahlers zu mir ins Konservatorium kam, sich mir als Herr Mahler aus Iglau vorstellte und mich bat, seinen Sohn zu prüfen, ob er Talent genug hätte, sich der Musik zu widmen. Ich fragte den Vater, ob der junge Mann — Gustav Mahler war damals kaum fünzehn Jahre alt — begeisterung genug für die Musik zeige, worauf mir Herr Mahler sagte: ‚Gewiß. Ich aber möchte, daß er die Handelsakademie in Wien besucht, um später einmal meine Spiritusfabrik zu übernehmen.’ ,Ich soll also über seine Zukunft entscheiden', sagte ich. ,Das ist eine Gewissenssache und nicht so leicht als Sie glauben. Nun, ich werde es versuchen.' Ich forderte Mahler auf, sich ans Klavier zu setzen, um mir etwas vorzuspielen. Er hatte damals schon Verschiedenes komponiert, wie er sagte, ohne vorher Studien gemacht zu haben, und ich ersuchte ihn, mir eine seiner Kompositionen vorzutragen. Ich ließ ihn kaum wenige Minuten spielen; die Komposition war unfertig, und er hat sie später selbst vernichtet. Aber ich empfand sofort, daß ich den geborenen Musiker vor mir hatte. Das sagte ich auch dem Vater und setzte hinzu: ,Der wird Ihre Fabrik nicht übernehmen.' Kurz darauf wurde Mahler Schüler des Wiener Konservatoriums, nahm Klavierunterricht bei mir und studierte Theorie bei Professor Krenn...”

 'I very well remember the day,' said Professor Epstein, `when Gustav Mahler's father came to see me at the Conservatoire, introduced himself as Herr Mahler from Iglau, and asked me to examine his son; he wanted to know whether the boy had enough talent to make music his career. I asked the father if the young man — Gustav Mahler was then barely fifteen — had shown enough enthusiasm for music. "He certainly has," Herr Mahler replied. "But I would rather he went to the Commercial School in Vienna so that he can take over my distillery later on." "That is as much as to say that you want me to decide his future," I said, "and that is a matter of conscience, and not as easy as you seem to think. Well, I'll do what I can." I asked Mahler to sit down at the piano and play me something. He had already composed several things, so he said, without any previous training, and I asked him to play me one of his own compositions. I let him play for only a few minutes; the composition was immature, and later on he destroyed it himself. But I realized immediately that I was in the presence of a born musician. I told his father so and added, "That young man will never take over your distillery." Mahler became a pupil at the Vienna Conservatoire soon afterwards, where he was taught the piano by myself and theory by Professor Krenn ...'

Epstein gave another account of the consultation to the Illustriertes Wiener Extrablatt[3] which is broadly similar, and (unlike his other account) confirms Schwarz's memory that the meeting took place in Baden, though again it mentions only Bernhard Mahler. In fact the research of Alfred Rosenzweig, undertaken at least seventy years ago, appears to establish conclusively that both men accompanied the teenager to Vienna (ARGM, 89–91).

Mahler played Epstein some of his own music, but whether it was piano music as such is not clear: if accurately remembered by Schwarz, Epstein's comment about the Wagnerian pedigree of the music he heard might suggest that Mahler may have presented extracts from Herzog Ernst von Schwaben, the opera on which he had recently been working. Even if Mahler did not take a portfolio of his own piano music with him to Vienna in September 1875, he had undoubtedly composed more works for the instrument since his early Polka.

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  HLG1, 18–19
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© 2007-14 Paul Banks  |  This page was lasted edited on 21 December 2017