Composers Datebook®

Mahler's First in Budapest and New York

Composer's Datebook - Nov. 20, 2022


Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was first heard on this day in Budapest in 1889, with the 29-year-old composer conducting.

Originally billed as a “symphonic poem,” a newspaper in Budapest even printed a detailed program, obviously supplied by Mahler himself. For subsequent performance in Europe, Mahler quickly withdrew these Cliff’s Notes to his Symphony.

Twenty years later, in December of 1909, Mahler conducted its American premiere at Carnegie Hall, during his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

The symphony drew mixed reviews:

The New York Times wrote, “There are matters in it, that as absolute music, have no evident significance, and that serve merely to puzzle and perplex.” The critic for the Sun took a dislike to the symphony’s finale, suggesting (quote) “when the weather is bad in Tyrol, it is beyond the power of language to characterize.”

Mahler’s own reactions are recorded in a letter he sent from New York to Bruno Walter back in Europe: “The day before yesterday I did my First Symphony here, without getting much reaction. However, I myself was fairly pleased with that youthful effort… The audiences here are very lovable and relatively better mannered than in Vienna. They listen attentively and very sympathetically. The critics are the same as anywhere else. I don’t read any of them.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) Symphony No. 1 in D Minnesota Orchestra; Edo de Waart, cond. Virgin 61258

On This Day


  • 1873 - American composer Daniel Gregory Mason, in Brookline, Massachusetts;

  • 1942 - American composer and singer Meredith (Jane) Monk, in Lima, Peru;


  • 1518 - French-Flemish composer Pierre de la Rue, age ca. 66, in Courtrai (Kortrijk);

  • 1758 - Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman, age, near Kalmar;

  • 1894 - Russian composer Anton Rubinstein, age 64, in age 64; Peterhof (now Petrodvorets), near St. Petersburg (Julian date: Nov. 8);

  • 1927 - Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, age 56, in Stockholm;

  • 1950 - Italian opera composer Francesco Cilea, age 84, in d'Varazze, near Savona;


  • 1805 - Beethoven: opera "Fidelio" (1st version, with the "Leonore" Overture No. 2), in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien;

  • 1866 - Brahms: String Sextet in G, Op. 36, in Zürich, Swizterland (European premiere); The Brahms biographer and scholar Jan Swafford says the work's world premiere public performance occurred a few days earlier in Boston, at a concert by the Mendelssohn Quintet Club on November 11 that same year;

  • 1889 - Mahler: Symphony No. 1, by the Budapest Philharmonic, with the composer conducting;

  • 1891 - Loeffler: “Les Veilees d l’Ukraine” Suite, by the Boston Symphony, Arthur Nikisch conducting;

  • 1911 - Mahler: "Das Lied von der Erde"(posthumously) in Munich, conductor Bruno Walter;

  • 1925 - Copland: "Music for the Theatre," by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1949 - Vaughan Williams: "An Oxford Elegy," in Dorking;

  • 1952 - Roy Harris: Symphony No. 7 (first version), by the Chicago Symphony, with Rafael Kubelik conducting;

  • 1964 - Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos. 9 and 10, in Moscow, by the Beethoven Quartet;

  • 1986 - Michael Torke: “Green,” by the Milwaukee Symphony, Lukas Foss conducting;

  • 1987 - John Harbison: String Quartet No. 2, at Jordan Hall in Boston, by the Emerson String Quartet;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®