« A memorable performance of Mozart's Requiem from Handel Choir of Baltimore | Main | BSO receives $100,000 grant from NEA to support next season's tours »

May 18, 2011

A reflection on the death of Gustav Mahler, 100 years ago

One hundred years ago today -- May 18, 1911-- Gustav Mahler died. He was only 50.

Back in July, the 150th anniversary of his birth, I went on and on about how much this man and his music has influenced my own life, so I'll spare you that. I just wanted to acknowledge the anniversary in an aural and visual musical way.

The visual is a photo of Mahler's grave at the Grinzing Cemetery in Vienna.

I got there once, a long time ago in the early stages of my Mahler mania, on a very cold, gray January day. The sight of the large, unadorned stone left an indelible impression.

This picture (by Chris Lee) comes courtesy of the New York Philharmonic, which is currently on tour with music director Alan Gilbert. In between performances (including an all-Mahler program) in Vienna earlier this week, musicians and patrons of the orchestra stopped by the cemetery to lay a wreath. Mahler was music director of the Philharmonic at the time of his death.

Choosing music to mark this day was tough. I finally settled on ...

the "Urlicht" ("Primal Light") movement from the "Resurrection" Symphony, in a poignant performance with the divine Janet Baker and the London Symphony, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Mahler's most illustrious successor at the helm of the New York Philharmonic.

I think these five minutes easily reveal the soul of Mahler and the extraordinary, magnetic pull of his music. Here's the text:

O red rose! Man lies in greatest need. Man lies in greatest pain. I would rather be in heaven. I came I upon a broad path where an angel came and wanted to turn me back. But I would not be turned away!.I am from God and want to return to God. The dear God will grant me a little light, will light my way to that eternal, blissful life.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:31 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes


So beautiful. Thank you.

Mr. Smith

Thank you for this wonderful article!

Mr. Mahler's incredible career thrived in the turbulent post-Victorian sexual revolution propelled by his fellow Viennans the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the avant-garde artist Gustav Klimt along with an international coterie of very daring 'Desperate Housewives' who bravely demanded birth control, sexual freedom and sexual satisfaction for themselves and other women.

My fast-paced, fact-based historical novel, 'Sex and the Rebel Woman' reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of the leading players in that revolution and highlights Gustav and Alma Mahler's pivotal roles.

I hope you will read it and recommend it to your readers. It is available in the Kindle store.

Again, thank you for your wonderful article!

Virginia Ann Harris

Thank you for this beautiful tribute to Gustav Mahler. The words from "Urlicht" are so fitting on this day as we commemorate his death 100 years ago. We will keep his heavenly music playing!

Thanks very much for commenting. I'm very glad you liked the choice of words and music for the occasion. TIM

Wonderful column, Tim, as was your earlier one on the occasion of Mahler's birthday. I note what Virginia states above about how pivotal Mahler's era was. I have sometimes mused if Mahler was aware of the work of another contemporary, the poet Rilke. The two of them seemed to be exploring the same territory, one in music the other in poetry.

Thanks very much for the comments. I love your mention of Rilke. Sure does seem to be a case of kindred souls. TIM

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected