Helmut Brenner, the renowned Mahler scholar has recently edited “Gustav Mahler: Liebste Justi! Briefe an die Familie” (Weidle-Verlag, Bonn 2006), the German version of “The Gustav Mahler Family Letters” -edited by Stephen McClatchie and published at about the same time by Oxford University Press.
“Liebste Justi! Briefe an die Familie” not only constitutes the first time that the whole existing correspondence of the Mahler's family is made available in his original language, but Brenner has appreciably expanded the English edition by increasing the number of footnotes, and also including a comprehensive familiar tree of both Mahler's and Rosé's families –recently enriched by additional details in Brenner’s latest research- and, quite interestingly, Brenner has also provided his original paper “Gustav Mahlers Finanzen und das Bank- und Währungswesen um 1900”, which deals with the financial situation and the historical circumstances that surrounded Germany and Austria during the whole of Mahler's life.
gustav-mahler.es: Mr.Brenner, first of all, we would like to congratulate you on your valuable and outstanding volume. Amazingly as it might seems Mahler's odd assortment of sound bites binds into transcendent coherency, transforming what was grossly unpalatable at first and even tenth listening into an out of body experience. Let us call it a Mahler moment. Anyone vaguely familiar with the composer knows there is no such thing as a casual Mahler fan. People are either passionate about him or they hate him. One day I (E.M.C.) was listening to a cheap transistor radio and a wonderful music was being broadcasted. I immediately got hooked to that music. That was Mahler's 5th Symphony. I entered Mahler's magic world thanks to that Symphony.Can you please tell us how did you first enter Mahler's World?
Helmut Brenner: I first heard a Mahler symphony in the early seventies. I believe it was the 3rd in Düsseldorf. I was deeply impressed by the colossal final movement.
g-m.es: We are curious to know how did you become involved in this huge project. Was it your first approach to a mahlerian research?
HB: First of all I have to explain that since the year 2000 I have become more and more interested in Mahler (and his wife Alma), first as a human person, and then as a composer. At the same time I read extensively about the historical period around 1900; fine arts, literature and, of course, the music of the Fin de Siècle. In October 2004 in Bonn during a reading by Oliver Hilmes of his book ‘Witwe im Wahn’ (a superb biography of Alma Mahler), I met the publisher Stefan Weidle of Bonn. Weidle had been offered a manuscript by Stephen McClatchie of Canada which contained his commentary on the Family Letters of Gustav Mahler. Because the book (including the letters) was written completely in English, Weidle needed an editor for the German-speaking market who was willing to make the necessary translations, corrections and additions. I agreed to take on this task. Since then my principal efforts have been devoted to researching the unresolved details about Mahler's life and his wonderful music. As a result, I am in close contact with well-known Mahler scholars in all parts of the world.
g-m.es: Did you work with the original German manuscripts or did you make use of transcriptions?
HB: I obtained only a German transcription of the letters from Stephen McClatchie. The originals, as is generally known, are in Canada, in the University of Western Ontario Music Library. They formerly belonged to Arnold Rosè, his son Alfred and his wife Maria. I translated and made minor corrections and additions to the preface, introduction, annotations and the short biographies. I have also added new annotations, an editorial, an essay about Mahler's finances, the family-trees and a small bibliography.
g-m.es: The relevance of this work is invaluable for Mahler's researchers and enthusiasts in general as in the past only part of these letters were available, mainly thanks to the notable achievement made in this regard by Prof. de La Grange. What is the approximate percentage of letters which were made available for the first time?
HB: I estimate that about 5% of the letters were previously available.
g-m.es: Do you know the reasons why the Rose's did not make available to Prof. de la Grange the totality of Mahler's correspondence?
HB: I only can assume that La Grange obtained only those letters which were important for him in connection with his monumental biography of Mahler.
g-m.es: Women have been greatly influential during the whole of Gustav's life; for instance Anne von Mildenburg, Natalie Bauer-Lechner and, above all, I would like to pinpoint in this regard three cornerstones: his mother, Justine and Alma. As most of the family letters which have been preserved are those written by Gustav to Justine the book is really very insightful as regards the existing rapport between them. For instance, letter 510 clearly shows how close their relationship was. However the feel of Gustav's letters to her is usually extremely polite. How would you appraise this fact?
HB: Mahler's sister Justine was the most important link to their other siblings Emma, Otto and Alois. She had to solve all the problems at home which he could only discuss with her in written form from afar. This situation resulted inevitably in a very close and trusting relationship. Furthermore you have to consider that at this time women were quite subordinate to men and acted almost exclusively in a serving capacity. Her brother's welfare was her supreme concern. Therefore the polite diction in the letters is not really astonishing.
g-m.es: Mahler's mother and largely Alma are both musically represented in Mahler's works. Would you say that the same holds true if we consider that Justine is also portrayed, or some sort of allusion is also made in his music? Are we correct by making such an assumption?
HB: I am not aware of any evidence showing that Justine has been represented in Mahler's music. Mahler's sisters, especially Emma, were rather unmusical, therefore Mahler did not include any deep commentaries about his music in the letters. He communicated much more later to Natalie Bauer-Lechner, as she relates in her well-known book. I do not even consider that Mahler’s mother explicitly appears in her son’s music.
g-m.es: What is the reason which might explain the reduced number of letters from Justine to Gustav? Is it because Gustav did not use to keep his own correspondence or is it because the letters, if any, were destroyed by Alma just as she did when she burnt her own letters to Gustav?
HB: We can only speculate about the reasons. It seems that these letters, like others which had been sent to Mahler, were destroyed in the Second World-War during the burning of Vienna and the bombing of Alma’s house. But it also possible that Alma intentionally destroyed many of the letters, such as the ones from Anna von Mildenburg to Mahler.
g-m.es: After Alma emerging into Mahler's life, the surviving correspondence with Justine is terribly scarce. Was there actually a gap between Gustav or Justine or are we right in assuming that most of the correspondence, for some unknown reasons, was lost?
HB: No, the reason is quite simple: Mahler married Alma and Justine married Arnold Rosé at the same time. The two couples lived close to one another in Vienna, making written correspondence unnecessary.
g-m.es: Regarding Mahler works the letters are specially revealing as far as Die drei Pintos is concerned. You have recently published a paper on this subject. Would you mind to tell us your main findings?
HB: I think the most important result is that we now have many letters, in which Mahler himself informed his parents and his sister Justine about his work and about the performances of “Die Drei Pintos”, meaning that we now have very important primary sources.
g-m.es: After going deep inside the letters I'm sure you have developed a sort of special knowledge of the real Mahler. How would you describe him as a man? Which are the commonplaces on which you would most disregard?
HB: It’s not so easy to answer this question. In the Family Letters we meet Mahler first of all as a private individual with all of his problems and worries. He was, as the Germans say, “ein Zerissener”, who took care of his brothers and sisters on the one hand and advanced his career as composer and conductor at the same time. Disappointments and privations were unavoidable.
g-m.es: For nearly fifty years Mahler was largely ignored. However, he was championed by two of his protégés, the legendary conductors Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, but it was Leonard Bernstein in the 1960s who made him famous. How can you explain that neither Bruno Walter nor Otto Klemperer did perform all the symphonies?
HB: I do not have a definitive answer. It is conceivable that in the future new recordings will be released, which up to now have been sleeping in the archives of broadcasting companies. I hope this will happen.
g-m.es: How would you assess or judge the present situation on Mahler research in German?
HB: In recent years many excellent books and essays about Mahler’s life and works have been published. In general, German speaking Mahler research is on a very high level.
g-m.es: In relation with the web, could you commend some German specialized Mahler web or forum? Are we right in assuming you are an active lister?
HB: I recommend the web-site of the IGMG in Vienna, with links to other Mahler-Societies all over the world.
g-m.es: In our Spanish forum, most of the discussions are focused on Mahler's discography. Would you mind to let us know the name of your favourite or leading mahlerian conductors?
HB: I believe that all recordings by Bruno Walter should be an essential part of any Mahler discography. Walter often discussed questions of interpretation with Mahler, so we can presume that Walter’s recordings correspond closely to Mahlers intention This also applies to Willem Mengelberg. Unfortunately he only left us recordings of the 4th, the Adagietto (with many Portamenti) and the Gesellenlieder. I also admire Bernhard Haitink, Mariss Jansons, Riccardo Chailly and last (but not least) Leonard Bernstein. With reservations: Abbado, Mehta and Maazel.
g-m.es: I'm sure that you do enjoy a lot of mahlerian concerts in the area where you live, Dusseldorf. Have you got any particular past experience or memory you would like to share with us?
HB: During the past year I have very often heard the 6th. You know the confusion about the correct order of the middle movements in this symphony. I have tried to inform conductors about the latest research on this question, with some success. In the meantime more and more conductors are recognizing that the correct order of the middle movements must be: Andante moderato and then Scherzo. Gilbert Kaplan has published an excellent book about this problem.
g-m.es: Would you care to uncover, so to speak, for our web whatever mahlerian projects you might envisage for the future?
HB: A close Mahler-friend has asked me to proofread his new Mahler book. Furthermore I am writing a review and in the late fall I will publish a longer essay about a close relative of Mahler. In addition I am always looking for new and antiquarian literature about Mahler and his work.
g-m.es: Finally, we would like to show our deep appreciation for all your kindness and wish you all the best for your future mahlerian works.
HB: Thank you, too. I wish all Spanish Mahler-Friends continued pleasure in studying Mahler’s life and listening to his works.
ver 'entrevista con Helmut Brenner' en castellano (Spanish)