Mahler in New York

Explore the city Mahler called home while presiding over the New York Philharmonic

New York Philharmonic

Gustav Mahler on a New York City street (1910)Original Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives

Mahler
as New Yorker

Gustav Mahler, his wife, Alma, and their daughter, Anna, made their home in New York from 1908 to 1911. It was a time of sweeping social change — women’s suffrage was a growing movement, unions were on the rise, and the Upper West Side was the hot new neighborhood. 

Photographs of New York City New York Waterfront (1905) by Irving UnderhillOriginal Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Arrival in New York

When Gustav and Alma Mahler disembarked in New York, they became residents of the busiest port in the world. The city had a population of almost 5 million, 500,000 of whom came from Germany or Austria.

The city was noisy, bustling, and, in spite of its high society and cultured activities, somewhat dangerous, with 5.5 murders for every 100,000 residents.

Photographs of New York City Lower Manhattan, New York (1908) by Detroit Publishing Co.Original Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Alma Mahler recalling their arrival in New York, October, 1909
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Alma Mahler. Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, edited by Donald Mitchell. Read by Nishi Badhwar.

Carnegie Hall exterior (1894) by Carnegie Hall ArchivesCarnegie Hall

A hall for music

Carnegie Hall had opened in 1891 through the vision of Andrew Carnegie. "The man who dies rich, dies disgraced," said the noted industrialist, who put his money where his mouth was. The millionaire gave away much of the unrivaled fortune he had amassed. Among the beneficiaries was New York through the music hall that bears his name, which put the city on a par with European cultural capitals.

When Mahler arrived at the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall had already been the Orchestra's home for 17 seasons (and would remain so until 1962).

New York Philharmonic bassoonist Benjamin Kohon recalling life with Mahler at Carnegie Hall
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William Malloch's “I Remember Mahler,” New York Philharmonic: The Mahler Broadcasts, 1948–1982

Photographs of New York City Subway entrance and exit kiosks, New York City (1905) by Detroit Publishing Co.Original Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The subway

New York City during Mahler's years still had more horse cars than automobiles, trolleys crowded the streets, and the subway was not yet five years in operation. The subway, opened in 1904 and operated by the Interboro Rapid Transit Company (IRT), began at City Hall and divided into two lines at West 96th Street. In 1908 a new line was added, connecting the existing subway with a tunnel travelling under the East River into Brooklyn as far as Atlantic Avenue.​

Columbus Circle (circa 1913) by Irving UnderhillOriginal Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

To go to Philharmonic performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Mahler walked from Carnegie Hall to the Columbus Circle stop at 59th Street, paid his nickel fare, and arrived in Brooklyn — if you believe the advertising at the time — in 15 minutes.

Photographs of New York City Atlantic Avenue Subway Entrance (1910/1920) by Detroit Publishing Co.Original Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

New York Philharmonic bassoonist Benjamin Kohon spotting Mahler on the subway
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Atlantic Avenue Subway Station, where Mahler would have disembarked for rehearsals at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

William Malloch's “I Remember Mahler,” New York Philharmonic: The Mahler Broadcasts, 1948–1982

Photographs of New York City Lake and Bridge, Central Park, New York (1903) by Detroit Publishing Co.Original Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Majestic New York

After the completion of an elevated railway line along Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1879, the neighborhood grew quickly. In 1884 the Dakota — named for its then-remote location — opened on Central Park West at 72nd Street. It was quickly followed by the Hotel Majestic (left), the Mahlers' first New York residence during the season in which he performed at the Metropolitan Opera, 1908–09.

Photographs of New York City Hotel Majestic, N.Y. (circa 1903) by A. LoefflerOriginal Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Alma Mahler on the influence of New York's sound on her husband's music
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The Mahlers' suite on the 11th floor of the Hotel Majestic included a giant salon, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two pianos, and a fine eastward view over Central Park.

Alma Mahler. Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, edited by Donald Mitchell. Read by Nishi Badhwar.

Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Ninth Street, New York City (1903) by Geo. P. Hall & SonOriginal Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives

Mahler's Fifth Avenue
By the fall of 1909 the Mahlers had moved across the park to the Hotel Savoy (left), on fashionable Fifth Avenue next to the hotels Netherland and Plaza.

Alma Mahler recounts Mahler's beginnings at the Philharmonic
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Alma Mahler. Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, edited by Donald Mitchell. Read by Nishi Badhwar.

Plaza Hotel; Vanderbilt Residence (1911)Original Source: Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library

Mahler's neighbors: the Vanderbilts (left) and Plaza Hotel (right)

Gustav and Anna Mahler (1909)Original Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives

Alma Mahler on life in New York with Gustav Mahler
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Alma Mahler. Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, edited by Donald Mitchell. Read by Nishi Badhwar.

Photographs of New York City The Mall, Central Park, New York (1900) by Detroit Publishing Co.Original Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Central Park

Central Park reinvented the notion of the public sphere. Opened in 1859, Central Park’s 843 acres made clean air and open space available to everyone, free of charge and virtually without restriction.

In the beginning a broad cross-section of the population visited the park. When fashionable homes were built on Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, poorer people stopped frequenting it, and years passed before widely diverse groups would again made Central Park their own.​

Central Park was a pleasure ground and a refuge from stress for the Mahlers, just as it was for all other New Yorkers.​

Anna and Gustav Mahler in Central Park (1910)Original Source: Kaplan Foundation

Anna Mahler describing life with her father in New York City
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William Malloch's “I Remember Mahler,” New York Philharmonic: The Mahler Broadcasts, 1948–1982

Doyer Street, Chinatown, N.Y.C. (1909) by Stereo-Travel Co.Original Source: Library of Congress

Downtown excursions

The difference between newly built mansions uptown and the tenements downtown was vast. The seedy and dangerous reputation of the Lower East Side, especially to those who didn't know it, was luring. Despite this reputation — or perhaps because of it — it was not uncommon for middle- and upper-class New Yorkers to go "slumming" in these "exotic" areas of the city. Seeking such a thrill, Alma and Gustav Mahler joined others, including the millionaire Otto Kahn, on one Lower East Side visit in 1909.

[Séance with the Medium Eusapia Palladino]The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Alma Mahler recalling an eerie séance led by Eusapia Palladino
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Eusapia Palladino leading a séance in New York

The Mahlers, invited by the Kahns of The Metropolitan Opera, visited a medium — a popular attraction of the time.

Alma Mahler. Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, edited by Donald Mitchell. Read by Nishi Badhwar.

Opium Den (1908)Original Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives

Alma Mahler on her visit to a New York opium den
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Alma Mahler floridly recounts a visit to an opium den with Gustav Mahler and the Schirmers, owners of the music publishing house.

Alma Mahler. Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, edited by Donald Mitchell. Read by Nishi Badhwar.

Gustav Mahler (circa 1900) by New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital ArchivesOriginal Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives

More on Mahler's New York

Mahler's First Symphony

Mahler as Interpreter

Mahler and Women

Mahler and Musicians

Walking Mahler's New York: A Digital Walking Tour

Mahler's New York: A Digital Festival from the New York Philharmonic

Credits: Story

Created by the New York Philharmonic Archives
Gabryel Smith, Director, Archives & Exhibitions
Sarah Palermo, Assistant Archivist
Bill Levay, Digital Archivist

Adapted from original exhibit Mahler in New York
Curated and written by: Barbara Haws and Bob Sandla
Music Commentary on First Symphony: Charles Z. Bornstein
Biographies: Kristen Houkom
Text Readers: Nishi Badhwar, Forrest Buckman, Marion Cotrone, Erin Roy, Brendan Timins
Audio Engineer: Lawrence Rock

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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