Anthony Coleman of the Contemporary Improvisation faculty has invited a wide array of "improvising" and "classical" musicians to combine forces on November 29 for a "Mahler in Chinatown" concert. What does it mean to "mix" and what does it mean to be "apart"—a stranger in Chinatown, perhaps? Coleman has helpfully compiled the following texts as part of this exploration.
Once, many years ago, I read a book that described Mahler and Chaliapin, while working together at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, making forays down to Chinatown in order to drown their sorrows in Chinese tea and to commiserate about those pesky rules that didn’t allow these Europeans, who were accustomed to their words being taken as law, to rehearse as long and as often as they wished …
◊ ◊ ◊
Life in New York was otherwise enriched by growing friendships and social engagements. The Mahlers got to know both the city and an assortment of its occupants, ranging from the artists of the Metropolitan Opera to the socialites who supported symphony and opera … They toured the city’s ethnic quarters, among them an underworld Chinatown with an opium den and a teeming Lower East Side Jewish quarter whose inhabitants Mahler could scarcely see as “our own sort of people.” “Are these our brothers?” he asked Alma. “Can it be that there are only class and not race distinctions?”
—Stuart Feder Gustav Mahler: a life in crisis pg. 165
Raised a Catholic, Alma Mahler remained sporadically observant and casually anti-Semitic throughout her adult life, and by calling her deceased husband a “Christgläubiger Jude” (a Jew who believed in Christ) she buried him in a categorical minefield. “Christian” and “Jew” were loaded terms and shaped Mahler’s life daily; as Sander Gilman explains in The Case of Sigmund Freud, the opposite of “Jew” in late-nineteenth-century Europe was not “Christian” but “Aryan.” Alma could have called Gustav a “Christian” or even a Catholic, since he had been baptized in 1897. Or she could have identified him as a German, as Mahler had done with vehemence to a New York journalist in 1910, denying that he was Czech, despite his Moravian birthplace, and not even mentioning his Ashkenazi background. De La Grange, oddly repeating the sanitizing efforts he accurately detects among some of Mahler’s non-Jewish associates, spends many pages trying to prove that Mahler lacked any connection to Judaism, did not know either Hebrew or Yiddish and had not observed the bar mitzvah ritual at 13. But these are irrelevant, if not dubious, claims because in Mahler’s day “Jew,” like “Christian,” had become a racial term, detached from questions of creed.
—David Schiff Mahler’s Body
“I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed.”
Er stieg vom Pferd und reichte ihm
den Trunk des Abschieds dar. Er fragte ihn,
wohin er führe und auch warum es müsste sein.
Er sprach, seine Stimme war umflort:
Du, mein Freund,
mir war auf dieser Welt das Glück nicht hold!
Wohin ich geh’? Ich geh’, ich wandre in die Berge.
Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz!
Ich wandle nach der Heimat, meiner Stätte.
Ich werde niemals in die Ferne schweifen.
Still ist mein Herz und harret seiner Stunde!
—Hans Bethge nach Wang-Sei
He dismounted from his horse and handed him
the stirrup-cup. He asked him
where he was going, and also why it had to be.
He spoke, and his voice was veiled:
O my friend,
fortune did not smile on me in this world!
Where am I going? I shall wander in the mountains,
seeking peace for my lonely heart.
I shall journey to my native land, to my home,
I shall never stray abroad.
My heart is still and awaits its hour!
—Hans Bethge after Wang-Wei
from the last movement of Das Lied von der Erde
A dying man in China might say, in a lowered voice: Fortune did not smile on me in this world, Where am I going now? Up into the mountains To seek peace for my lonely heart. I am a failure, the American says—and that is that.
—Theodor W. Adorno/Max Horkheimer Dialectic of Enlightenment
Bernstein weighs the presence and absence of Jewishness in Mahler’s music, the difficult issue of his conversion to Roman Catholicism. He pinpoints the comparatively few moments at which Mahler’s music has an identifiable ethnic sound, with the “Jewish wedding music” of the First Symphony’s third movement as an obvious point of departure. His bar-by-bar narration of the Scherzo of the Second Symphony sketches a tension between earthbound ghetto dances and angelic voices of Christian redemption. He goes on to argue persuasively, as others have done before, that Mahler’s whole eclectic manner was the expression of a Diaspora outlook, a kind of borscht esthetic blending high and low European styles with Oriental accents in the Phrygian mode. He ends by claiming that all things tragic in Mahler, all the funeral marches and funereal airs, are instances of Jewish agony and shame ...
—Alex Ross Bernstein’s Mahler: A Tangle of Conflicted Jewishness
“You wanna do your partner the biggest favor of his life? Take him home. Just get him the hell out of here!”
Duffy bear hugs the protesting Gittes, along with Walsh, literally dragging him away from the scene, with Gittes trying to shake free. Through the crowd noises, Walsh can be heard saying …
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”