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Thread: Was Gustav Mahler an antisemite?

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    Default Was Gustav Mahler an antisemite?

    From Mahler by Jonathan Carr:

    [Mahler's attitude to Judaism was at least as ambiguous (...as his conversion/baptism/commitment to Christianity...) At almost no stage did he show any special interest in Jewish matters, let alone back Jewish causes...in general, he did not treat Jewish musicians with special favour. Rather the contrary. In the pre-Walter era he turned down the idea that he should engage Leo Blech, a converted Jew, as a conductor because 'for the anti-Semites, I still count as a Jew despite my baptism, and more than one Jew is more than the Vienna Court Opera can bear.']

    [...During a visit in 1903 to Lemburg (Lvov, now in the Ukraine), he wrote to Alma, 'Life here has an unusual look. Oddest of all are the Jews who run around here the way dogs do elsewhere. It is extremely entertaining to watch them! My God, am I supposed to be related to them?']

    In his Third Symphony, Mahler introduces a voice, singing a setting of Nietzsche's Midnight Song from Also Sprach Zarathustra.
    Although those who have actually looked into Nietzsche know that he was not anti-Semitic, still, he was used by the Nazis to push their agenda of a 'master-race.'
    Plus, Nietzsche disparaged the 'slave mentality' of playing the victim, and saw the master race mentality as having escaped this inferior psychology;

    ...and Mahler, in his relentless desire to build himself up, obviously identified with Nietzsche's observation, adopting it as a rejection of his own 'victimized Jewish' descent, and hos own beginnings in lower-class poverty.

    What this all seems to point to in Mahler's case is a monstrously self-directed ego, and a relentless desire to succeed and assimilate into the harshly judgmental, biased, racist Viennese society, and anyone else who stands in the way be damned.

    In this regard, Gustav Mahler was simply a product of the times, reflecting his own self-hatred, and desperately trying to succeed and distance himself from his own heritage, by developing a monstrously relentless persona/ego. Perhaps it is this very dichotomy between 'ego' and 'receptive artist' that created such an amazing body of work, and desire to create.

    Although I do believe that there was some 'cross-contamination' between his persona and his creative self, if you will pardon the pun.

    That's why I criticize his forlorn use of an 'everyman's God' in the Eighth Symphony, aligning himself with a cosmopolitan view of religion, along with Beethoven. In a gigantic, yet overblown and awkward way, he was trying to establish his place in Western classical music history, tossing away and rejecting his own Jewish heritage and connections in the process.

    His pittance for Judaism was the incongruous use of street-ditties in the First Symphony, and in a few other instances. How generous! (sarcasm)

    Although Mahler was a good father, etc, I see a relentless egotism in him which I find disturbing. Yes, Mahler was human, all too human.

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    Senior Member Jobis's Avatar
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    He was jewish...

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    Senior Member Cosmos's Avatar
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    I think your evaluation is unfair

    From what I know, Mahler disliked that he was Jewish because he was in an anti-semitic environment. He converted to Catholicism just so he could be director of the Vienna Opera. His statement in the letter to Alma is unusual...I'll have to read more. But I would agree, that seems anti-semitic. Perhaps he was just trying to assure himself that he was separate from the general German public's perception? I'm not sure. All I can say to justify his actions is that he grew up in an area where people thought jews were below them, and he did not want to be judged in such a way.

    Quoting Also Sprach Zarathustra is not a good example of anti-semetism. Like you mentioned, Nietzsche wasn't anti-semitic, and (warning, my judgement on Nietzsche is limited because I have only read his Genealogy of Morales) he uses the Jews as an example of how Western thought shifted to be caring for the poor and apathetic to the rich

    Also, his use of Jewish melodies in the first symphony got critics to attack him and disregard him as a composer because he was Jewish. He didn't use them anymore (or at least very infrequently), probably to avoid such negative attention. I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of the eighth, just because only the first part is connected to Christianity, and both lean one the secular side and follow Mahler's favorite theme: redemption through love. I could kinda see what you mean by saying he's trying to "establish his place" in classical music, 'specially since his other symphonies were criticized so much.

    So, in the end, I don't think Mahler was anti-semitic. I agree with you in that I think his actions all stem from selfish reasons. Him rejecting his jewish heritage was not because he hated Jews, but because he hated the prejudice he faced, so he tried to separate himself from that image, rather than defend his people.

    Edit: Thank you, Mahlerian, for providing context to that quote. Again, reinforcing that he wasn't anti-semitic.
    I have to say, millionrainbows, you seem to have very outlandish conceptions sometimes. That's not bad, it provides great discussion topics, but this thread is a little out there
    Last edited by Cosmos; Apr-28-2014 at 18:12.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jobis View Post
    He was jewish...
    If I could like this fifteen times, I would

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    He was Jewish and did what many Jews did living in Vienna at the time. Anti-Semitism was deep-rooted in Vienna (probably still is) and a name change and conversion were necessary to survive in that society.

    Heck, my dad changed his name in 1940's Manhattan. Didn't have to convert. He was a devout atheist, as many Jews became after the holocaust.
    Last edited by hpowders; Apr-28-2014 at 17:31.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cosmos View Post
    From what I know, Mahler disliked that he was Jewish because he was in an anti-semitic environment. He converted to Catholicism just so he could be director of the Vienna Opera. His statement in the letter to Alma is unusual...I'll have to read more. But I would agree, that seems anti-semitic. Perhaps he was just trying to assure himself that he was separate from the general German public's perception? I'm not sure. All I can say to justify his actions is that he grew up in an area where people thought jews were below him, and he did not want to be judged in such a way.
    The comment in question came out of a visit to a ghetto, I believe. Mahler, who, despite his modest background, had been accustomed to high society for some time, was put face-to-face with "how Jews are thought of", and shunned it, wanting to have himself thought of as Austrian first and Jewish second. As for his lack of practice: Mahler was not raised in a particularly religious household, and was never a practicing Jew or Catholic. He didn't turn his back on his Jewish faith so much as never have it to begin with.

    Does this translate into a hatred of Jews and Judaism? No. That's silly.

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    Does this really even matter? Do we have to hunt for things like this? Was Hitler an anti-Semite? Absolutely. But when we have to dig into minutiae to try and discern anti-semitic attitudes, it seems like we are going into the absurd. Is anti-semitism a few stray comments here and there? Is a person defined by a few comments made at various times in their life? In the entirety of what we know of Mahler, the sum total of what is presented as evidence of anti-semitism is a few disjointed incidents? I would say, based on that, that no, he was not anti-semitic.

    i defy you to find a single person that has lived on this planet that has not made a single statement that, heard or read out of context, couldn't be used to denounce them for some crime or another. We are human. We say and do stupid things from time to time, often frequently. Sometimes these things start looking like the witch trials of yesteryear - picking up on ridiculous details to tarnish a person, for whatever reason. Did Mahler ever give any good reason for us to fear he was an anti-Semite? If not, why the hell are we looking for evidence of it?

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    The overblown adjectives in the OP's condemnation reveal the uselessness of the opinions expressed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    Does this really even matter? Do we have to hunt for things like this? Was Hitler an anti-Semite? Absolutely. But when we have to dig into minutiae to try and discern anti-semitic attitudes, it seems like we are going into the absurd. Is anti-semitism a few stray comments here and there? Is a person defined by a few comments made at various times in their life? In the entirety of what we know of Mahler, the sum total of what is presented as evidence of anti-semitism is a few disjointed incidents? I would say, based on that, that no, he was not anti-semitic.

    i defy you to find a single person that has lived on this planet that has not made a single statement that, heard or read out of context, couldn't be used to denounce them for some crime or another. We are human. We say and do stupid things from time to time, often frequently. Sometimes these things start looking like the witch trials of yesteryear - picking up on ridiculous details to tarnish a person, for whatever reason. Did Mahler ever give any good reason for us to fear he was an anti-Semite? If not, why the hell are we looking for evidence of it?
    I agree wholeheartedly, DrMike. Let's give everybody some slack...NOT!

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    If he was anti-Semitic, why would he surround himself with Jews in the Vienna Philharmonic?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    The comment in question came out of a visit to a ghetto, I believe. Mahler, who, despite his modest background, had been accustomed to high society for some time, was put face-to-face with "how Jews are thought of", and shunned it, wanting to have himself thought of as Austrian first and Jewish second. As for his lack of practice: Mahler was not raised in a particularly religious household, and was never a practicing Jew or Catholic. He didn't turn his back on his Jewish faith so much as never have it to begin with.
    So, he really wasn't a Jew. I've always considered that to label someone as a particular 'sect' means that they consciously practice it. I mean, I was baptized a catholic and I don't consider myself a catholic. We don't have any choice in what family we are born into, and what our parents do when we're young. Our choice comes after.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    That's silly.
    I could not agree more.

    If there is anyone who has not at lease once looked at a 'group identity' to which they supposedly belong, whether it be ethnic, religious, a skin color, and not had that very same thought, "I am not in any way related to the slightest part of these group name here." -- well, then, they just have not lived very long at all :-)

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    Any bigots you find, please refer them to the owner of the LA Clippers for sensitivity counseling.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vesuvius View Post
    So, he really wasn't a Jew. I've always considered that to label someone as a particular 'sect' means that they consciously practice it. I mean, I was baptized a catholic and I don't consider myself a catholic. We don't have any choice in what family we are born into, and what our parents do when we're young. Our choice comes after.
    Being raised Catholic and being born a Jew, though, are not really analogous. There is the Jewish faith, and then there is the Jewish ethnicity. The problem is that the real anti-semites out there - the ones who would persecute you, or even kill you - were interested more in bloodlines, not whether you faithfully went to synagogue. So while Mahler would not have necessarily been a practicing Jew, would a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite like, say Hitler, have overlooked that? Or still seen that he was born a Jew? In contrast, there is no Catholic ethnicity.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PetrB View Post
    I could not agree more.

    If there is anyone who has not at lease once looked at a 'group identity' to which they supposedly belong, whether it be ethnic, religious, a skin color, and not had that very same thought, "I am not in any way related to the slightest part of these group name here." -- well, then, they just have not lived very long at all :-)
    That's an interesting observation; maybe I haven't lived long enough - or maybe the 'supposedly' really is wrong.
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