Mahler, Schoenberg and superstitions

The world of classical music has seen quite a few characters in its time. From composers prone to violent tantrums (Beethoven, Lully) to singers seemingly out of touch with reality (Florence Foster Jenkins), eccentricities abound. Mahler and Schoenberg, who come together in CLoSer: Song of the Earth, were both fervently superstitious…

Mahler and the Curse of the Ninth

The Curse of the Ninth referred to the ill-fated composers who died after writing their ninth symphonies, before completing a tenth. For Mahler, it was Beethoven who embodied this, though he did not refer to it as a ‘curse’. To say that Mahler was spooked by the idea is an understatement; he so feared dying after composing a ninth symphony, he forwent numbering what would have been his ninth, naming it Das Lied von der Erde and subtitling it instead Symphony for Tenor, Alto and large Orchestra. But Mahler’s preoccupation with his own mortality as he was writing Das Lied von der Erde is understandable – his life had descended into turmoil. Just one year earlier he suffered three great traumas: he lost his position as Director of the Vienna State Opera; his eldest daughter, Maria, contracted scarlet fever and died; and a doctor diagnosed him with a fatal heart condition.

In a twist of irony though, believing that he had cheated fate, he numbered his next symphony his ‘ninth’ and died leaving his ‘tenth’ incomplete.

Gustav-Mahler-Kohut

Schoenberg and 13

Like Mahler’s, Schoenberg’s great superstition was also numbers-based. A life-long triskaidekaphobe, Schoenberg went out of his way to avoid the number 13. It has been suggested that he even went as far as deliberately misspelling his opera Moses un Aron as the correct spelling resulted in the title being 13 letters long. His fear came to a head on Friday 13 July 1951, when Schoenberg was 76 years old. Not only was the date Friday 13, but the digits in his age also added up to 13. Schoenberg spent the day in bed, fearing the worst was to happen, and just before midnight it did. His wife, Gertrud, recalled  “about a quarter to twelve I looked at the clock and said to myself: another quarter of an hour and then the worst is over. Then the doctor called me. Arnold’s throat rattled twice, his heart gave a powerful beat and that was the end”.

Arnold_schönberg_credit_man_ray
Schoenberg, by Man Ray

 

Delve deeper into Mahler’s mind on 17 February and explore his life and emotions as he was writing Das Lied von der Erde. Storyteller Rachel Rose Reid joins us for a new commission based on Mahler’s turbulent relationship with his wife, Alma.

CLoSer: Song of the Earth
Wednesday 17 February 2016, 7.30pm
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, EC2A 3PQ
Tickets £15 (includes a free drink), £5 students / 16-25s
Box Office cls.co.uk / 020 7621 2800

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