Notes 60.2 (2003) 458-460
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Gustav Mahler als Konzert- und Operndirigent in Hamburg. By Bernd Schabbing. (Musicologica Berolinensia, 9). Berlin: Ernst Kuhn, 2002. [371 p. ISBN 3-928864-86-6. DM 49.95.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.
When we consider Gustav Mahler as a re-creative musician, there is an undeniable tendency to focus solely on his years at the helm of the Vienna Court Opera, from 1897 to 1907. Bernd Schabbing's 2001 Hamburg dissertation, written under the supervision of Constantin Floros and now appearing in print, adds a welcome perspective to the topic by its thorough and fascinating study of Mahler in Hamburg. The Hamburg period (1891-97) was important for Mahler for various reasons. He then had the opportunity to conduct symphonic works with some regularity; he enjoyed close personal and professional relationships with Anna von Mildenburg and Bruno Walter; his success in Hamburg reinforced the admiration influential contemporaries such as Johannes Brahms and Hans von Bülow already had for him; and it served as a successful springboard to the Vienna post. Most importantly, perhaps, it marked a return to regular composition, after something of a block in Budapest, with the completion of the Second and Third Symphonies, the revision of the First, and the composition of numerous songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. In Hamburg he also developed his lifelong pattern of composing in the summer, and orchestrating and recopying his summer work during the rest of the year.
Schabbing's book comprises eight chapters, each broken down into subsections of usually no more than a page or two. A detailed table of contents makes it easy to find topics of interest, and the sectional structure may make the volume manageable for readers with little German. The excellent apparatus—which occupies about a third of the book—includes seven appendices drawing on primary sources, an index of names, tables, and an exhaustive bibliography, arranged topically.
The first chapter serves as an introduction in the form of a literature survey that evaluates critically how Mahler the conductor [End Page 458] and his years in Hamburg have been portrayed by scholars. It also discusses the primary sources used in the book. These fall into three types: (1) material from various archives and collections in Hamburg (correspondence, theater programs, etc.); (2) contemporary newspaper critics; and (3) memoirs and other accounts by contemporaries such as Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Ferdinand Pfohl, and, of course, Natalie Bauer-Lechner. (Schabbing appears not to have seen the unpublished portions of Bauer-Lechner's memoirs, held at the Bibliothèque musicale Gustav Mahler in Paris—three of which relate to the Hamburg years.)
In some ways, Gustav Mahler als Konzert- und Operndirigent in Hamburg approaches a musical history of Hamburg in the 1890s. The second and third chapters establish the context in which Mahler worked by examining concert life and music criticism in Hamburg. Schabbing surveys institutions such as the Singakademie, the conservatory, and the various orchestral subscription series, paying particular attention to Mahler's most illustrious predecessor, Bülow. His account of the Hamburg Stadttheater and its director, Bernhard Pollini (1838-1897), is more balanced than is often the case. Rather than the usual negative assessment of Pollini's reliance on "stars" (of which Mahler most certainly was one) and concessions to public taste, Schabbing places him within the wider context of increasing theater commercialization in Germany.
Chapter three turns its attention to music criticism in Hamburg's daily newspapers at the end of the nineteenth century. After a brief overview of the history of the daily press and the three papers to be considered (the Hamburger Fremdenblatt, Correspondent, and Hamburger Nachrichten), Schabbing provides brief biographies of the main music critics, the most important of whom were Carl Armbrust, Josef Sittard, and Ferdinand Pfohl. Sittard, in particular, disliked Mahler and was frequently critical of his activities; Mahler once referred to him as his "infernal judge" (Richter aus der Unterwelt) in an unpublished 1893 letter to his sister. As singular events, concerts were reviewed much more frequently than operas, although special performances and premieres did merit attention...