Mahler in His Own Words
April 26th, 2011
We’d like to share the letter by Gustav Mahler to his concert manager Emil Gutmann, which composer Steven Mackey set in his song for bass-baritone Eric Owens and Dolce Suono Ensemble. Mahler was a prolific and expressive writer of letters, and this one shows perhaps a less-known side of the great composer. Here is the letter in the original German, followed by the English translation made by German scholar Giles R. Hoyt, Ph.D., which Steven Mackey set in his work.
Gustav Mahler Briefe, 1879-1911, edited by Alma Maria Mahler
(Berlin: P. Zsolnay, 1924)
My amazement is considerable. The whole time I have been saying, I cannot do without the third rehearsal day! Now you come in order to remove this impediment—Schalk and I talk ourselves hoarse in order to explain to everyone why that must be. You arrange everything; we discuss the unavoidable necessary rehearsal plan. You send out from Munich the final list. You now indicate to me that the Singing Society is so “enthused”, that therefore the third day for rehearsal is not necessary, and that instead of this day we have enthusiasm at our disposal. Probably you want to insert a fourth rehearsal between the present three rehearsals (which will last in total about fifteen hours—and thus I have insisted on an hour pause in each rehearsal). Indeed you even want to make possible an additional rehearsal on the day of performance. You are assuming a Singing Society’s enthusiasm for art makes the dead come to life, because after these two days the people would be dead. Please, once and for all! I have the three days in question completely booked with no alteration possible, the minimum, by the way, of what is necessary. Either our agreement stays intact in all its parts, or you may take this as my irrevocable resignation. There is to be no further discussion of this in the future.
With sincerest warm regards,
Translation by Giles R. Hoyt, Ph.D.