Web Letters | The Nation

Mahler's Body > Letters

Web Letter

To imply that Alma Mahler-Werfel had an affair with Gropius because he was Aryan is an unnecessary cheap shot. Two of her three husbands were Jews, and she was forced to flee Austria with Franz Werfel. It was a narrow escape; he later depicted it in his play Jacobowsky and the Colonel.

Now, what I don't understand--Mr. Schiff is so scholarly that he mentions Otto Weininger for no discernible reason... so why can't he get the name of the Habsburg empire right?

Furthermore, the remark that Mahler "was more culturally German than narrowly Austrian" doesn't make any sense at all. "Austrian culture" didn't exist in Mahler's times. The Habsburg monarchy was a multi-ethnic state that encompassed Central and Southeast Europe, and culture followed language. If somebody spoke German, no matter where he (or she) was born, then he was culturally German. For example: both Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek were born in Prague, but Kafka was culturally German (German was his first language and he wrote in German), whereas Hasek was culturally Czech.

This ambivalent character of the Habsburg empire can be confusing, but it is crucial to understanding fin de siècle Vienna as the birthplace of modernity. For all his musical expertise and name-dropping, Mr. Schiff obviously does not understand it.

Irene Mettler

Maple Ridge, BC, Canada

Jul 13 2009 - 2:47am

Web Letter

I was hoping for more than another journey into Mahler's Jewishness. Oh, well.

A quibble, too, but an important one. Let's be clear: Mahler did not call Das Lied von der Erde a symphony, because first and foremost he recognized that it wasn't one. He knew a song-cycle when he saw it. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt and cease trying to make it his real Ninth Symphony. And the logical case is, if Mahler didn't want to create a Ninth out of a superstitious fear, why did he go ahead and write, er, a Ninth Symphony and call it just that?

Eugene Barnes

Dunn Loring, VA

Jul 9 2009 - 4:49pm

Web Letter

I believe those who love Mahler may understand Roller's veneration of Mahler's body in another context. To me, his music has always been so amazingly beautiful and possessed of such compassionate understanding of the sorrow in the world, that I think of him as a kind of saint.

Of course, the ugly history of anti-Semitism plays a pivotal role in his life, and in his position both in music and as a prophet of the twentieth century. It was a part of his daily life and added to his sorrow. Incidentally, as a non-Jew, I've never really understood the differences people see between Jewish and non-Jewish faces. I don't see it. Anyway, I'd like to posit that perhaps Roller was a fellow who just really loved his friend the suffering genius. Christianity focuses on Christ's physical suffering--someone raised in Christianity can easily equate Christ with those they love and admire most.

I have a different impression of Alma Mahler's statement that Mahler was a Christ-believing Jew. In my opinion, it's impossible to be friends with someone Jewish, or appreciate the artistic or literary work of someone Jewish, without feeling an expansive admiration for Judaism. Alma Mahler was supposed to be rather advanced intellectually. Could she not have meant that Mahler embodied the best of both religions, and Mahler believed in Christ's teaching, which reflects Judaism above all else--the atonement, hope for forgiveness of Yom Kippur, the doing good others, the having a personal relationship with God that was private and intellectually evolved rather than rigid like much paganism at the time.

Maybe her statement contained and admiration of his Judaism, and her stating he was Christ-believing was an attempt to explain his humanism to the more literal-minded.

Amy Ponomarev

League City, TX

Jul 7 2009 - 9:08pm

Web Letter

This article is rubbish, and you people are absolute fools for publishing it. No wonder your readership has declined.

Adam Woodbridge

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Jul 5 2009 - 9:13pm