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Saturday, January 23, 2016

MUSIC | Gustav Mahler, Willem Mengelberg and Leonard Bernstein

Mengelberg performed Mahler every year.
I have posted twice about Willem Mengelberg, in 2013 and 2014. He made the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra into a world-famous, immortal institution.

Two of my first cousins twice removed (brother and brother-in-law of my grandmother) were on the board and staff of the Concertgebouw, but not at the same time. Charles Boissevain was a leading advocate for the Concertgebouw and he helped raise money for it in his role as the editor and publisher of Holland's leading newspaper, the Algemeen Handelsblad.

His eldest son Charles E. H. Boissevain became an active board member but resigned during the period that his brother-in-law Han de Booy was a staff officer. The Boissevains were very close to Mengelberg, who was appointed conductor at the young age of 24, and through him to Mahler and there is a famous photo (made into a Dutch stamp) taken by de Booy of them out on the beach.

On the Zuider Zee by Valkeveen, March 1906. Standing (L to R): Alphons
DiepenbrockGustav Mahler, Willem Mengelberg. Seated: Mrs. M. Wubbe
Mengelberg, Hilda G. Boissevain de Booy, P. J. Boissevain and Mrs. 
E. H. (Maria Pijnappel) Boissevain. Photo by Han de Booy.

A 1995 New York Times story  acknowledges the high reputation of Mengelberg before World War II:
"What Rembrandt is to the outside world in the realm of painting," the Dutch minister of education proclaimed at the 1920 [Mahler] festival, "you are throughout Europe and America as the leader of an orchestra." In the 1930's, Mengelberg's popularity rivaled and perhaps exceeded that of Queen Wilhelmina.
Mengelberg was born to German parents who had emigrated to Holland. He was a huge fan of fellow-German Gustav Mahler and performed him after the invasion of Holland by the Nazis until he was ordered to stop because Mahler's German-speaking parents in Bohemia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were Jewish. Mahler married a Christian and attended a Christian church, but that was not enough for the Nazis.

That Mengelberg kept the orchestra going at all during the war was an issue during the postwar hatchet days. He was reported as toasting in Germany to the invasion of Holland and he was photographed talking with the hated Hitler's Austrian puppet occupation leader Seyss-Inquart. Some feel Mengelberg was unjustly stripped of his greatest honors. In any case he was exiled to Switzerland for six years and never conducted again after the war. He died in 1951 at 80, having led the Concertgebouw for 50 years (1895-1945).

In the 2013 post I noted that Leonard Bernstein was so passionate about Mahler that he was buried with Mahler's Fifth over his heart.

Recently I received an email from Riva Freifeld, who is a moviemaker. She said, confirming my account (I post this with her permission):
What a wonderful connection your family has to Mahler, Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw! And the NY Times quote was correct. Greatest ever. One afternoon back in the 1990s I was in Bernstein's apartment when we were making a short film about preserving all of his work on digital media, which was rather new back then. There was a photograph of Mahler in the music room, I think it was on the piano. And some scores were lying around. It was like being in a sacred place.
Another autodidact-conductor of Mahler, New Yorker Gil Kaplan, was reported in 1984 as promising to leave a score by Mahler to the Piedmont Morgan Library:
CONDUCTOR OF ONE WORK BUYS MAHLER SCORE FOR IT, By WILL CRUTCHFIELD May 13, 1984–Gilbert E. Kaplan, the publisher of a monthly financial magazine [Institutional Investor] who attracted widespread attention in 1982 by learning and conducting Mahler's mammoth ''Resurrection'' Symphony, has taken his fascination with the work one step further by acquiring the composer's original manuscript of the score. Mr. Kaplan plans to leave the manuscript on loan at the Pierpont Morgan Library so that Mahler scholars can have access to it, he said in a telephone interview Friday. The holdings of the Morgan Library and other collections housed there include several important Mahler autographs.