Strauss and Mahler in Berlin–on the same day

Richard Strauss accompanied his own lieder on the piano as part of an all Strauss concert on 14 February in the Beethovensaal. On the same day there was a “Mahler Abend” at the Künstlerhaus, where the composer himself accompanied Johannes Messchaert’s recital of a total of eighteen lieder: “Kindertotenlieder,” “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen,” four Rückert Lieder, and songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” Arthur Abell commented on this in the Musical Courier:

That Strauss and Mahler are the two symphonic composers most in the public eye and most talked about in Germany today everyone acquainted with the facts will admit. That Strauss and Mahler concerts should have been given on the same evening, on Thursday, both with the assistance of the composers themselves, was a remarkable coincidence and one that the critics, at least, regretted, as they wished to be present at both affairs the entire evening…

The public is naturally curious to see and hear such celebrities as Strauss and Mahler, for, quite apart from their prominence as composers, their positions as chief conductors of the Berlin and Vienna Royal operas, respectively, bring them into the limelight of publicity. 

Musical Courier, Issue no. 10 (6 March 1907): 5.

Abell chose to attend the Strauss concert, which had been arranged by Georg Fitelberg, who conducted an enlarged Philharmonic Orchestra. Instead of the advertised Mrs. Strauss as the soloist, the bass Paul Knüpfer performed “Der Einsame” and “Das Thal” with orchestra, and “Ich träge meine Minne” and “In goldener Fülle” with Strauss at the piano. 

As for the concert of Mahler lieder, Abell reported that there was a favorable reception, but he surmised it must have been due to the baritone Messchaert’s performance rather than the songs themselves:

…most of them are familiar to me, and I certainly could not enthuse over them; still, smaller songs, if I mistake not, will live much longer than his pretentious, bombastic, empty symphonies. In some of his lieder, when he writes with naïve simplicity or with a touch of the grotesque, he has moments of real inspiration.

Leopold Schmidt, who also preferred Strauss, was much more generous in his account of the Mahler concert for the Signale:

An approving and reverent public had gathered on Thursday at the Künstlerhaus where the “Verein für Kunst” gave a Mahler evening. Gustav Mahler himself appeared from Vienna and accompanied Johannes Messchaert in a large number of his Lieder. What Mahler has created in the lyrical area is consistently interesting and sometimes beautiful; in particular he is drawn to volkstümlich texts as from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, in which he develops humor and inwardness and offers a striking mixture of an “Altvater” and a modern nature. But the deepest of Rückert’s “Kindertotenlieder” have also inspired him well. The absolutely masterful performance of the orchestrally-conceived accompaniments at the piano was combined with Messchaert’s accomplished singing to make an uncommonly strong, lasting impression.

Signale (1907): 258.

The Mahler supporter Paul Becker commented about the performance: “At the piano, Mahler presents the same picture as when conducting, heedlessly objective, distant from every personal cult. And precisely because of that, every nerve stimulated and tense. All the praise for Messchaert’s wonderful art is not enough. He took up his task with gorgeous, convincing warmth. The only thing to say about him is to thank him.”1Mahler am Klavier zeigt dasselbe Bild wie als Dirigent, rücksichtlos sachlich, jeden persönlichen Kultus meidend. Und gerade dabei jeden Nerv spannend und anregend. Für Messchaerts wundervolle Kunst ist jedes Lob zu gering. Mit hinreißender überzeugender Wärme hatte er seine Aufgabe erfaßt. Von ihm sprechen kann nur ihm danken heißen.” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (1907): 144.

This was Mahler’s last appearance in Berlin, as it turned out.


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