Composers Datebook®

Mahler's musical love letter?

Composers Datebook - March 9, 2024


On today’s date in 1902, composer Gustav Mahler, 41, married Alma Schindler, 22. Mahler was the famous director of the Vienna Court Opera, and by 1902 had written four symphonies. Schindler was considered one of the most beautiful women in Vienna, and also independent, unpredictable and remarkably free-spirited.

Perhaps that, as much as her beauty, appealed to Mahler, but many of the composer’s longtime friends did not approve and predicted disaster. One of them even suggested the composer convert to Protestantism, which would make getting a divorce easier in ultra-Catholic Vienna.

On today’s date in 1902, a large crowd of curious onlookers gathered in Vienna’s majestic Baroque Karlskirche at 5:30 p.m., the time the wedding was thought to take place, only to discover the couple had been married hours earlier in the privacy of its sacristy with just the immediate family present.

The next symphony that Mahler wrote, his Fifth, contains a lovely adagietto movement that Mahler’s friend Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg claims was inspired by Alma.

“It was his declaration of love. Instead of a letter, he confided it in this manuscript without a word of explanation,” Mengelberg said. “She understood. He tells her everything in music.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Symphony No. 5; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Riccardo Chailly, cond. London 458 860

On This Day


  • 1737 - Bohemian composer Josef Mysliveczek, in Ober-Sarka; He was a friend and colleague of Mozart;

  • 1839 - Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (Gregorian date: Mar. 21);

  • 1910 - American composer Samuel Barber, in West Chester, Pa.;

  • 1930 - American composer and jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, in Forth Worth, Texas;


  • 1706 - Burial date of German composer Johann Pachelbel, age c. 52, in Nuremberg;


  • 1740 - Handel: oratorio L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato, and Organ Concerto in Bb, Op. 7, no. 1, in London (Julian date: Feb. 27);

  • 1748 - Handel: oratorio Joshua, in London at the Covent Garden Theater; The event possibly included the premiere of Handel's Concerto a due cori No. 1 as well (Gregorian date March 20);

  • 1842 - Verdi: opera Nabucco (Nabucodonosor), in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala;

  • 1844 - Verdi: opera Ernani in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice;

  • 1849 - Nicolai: opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (after Shakespeare's play The Merry Wives of Windsor), in Berlin at the Königliches Opernhaus;

  • 1868 - Thomas: opera Hamlet, (after Shakespeare's play Hamlet) at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1877 - Tchaikovsky: symphonic-fantasy Fancesca da Rimini, in Moscow (Julian date: Feb. 25);

  • 1924 - Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 5 (first version), in Paris, by the composer; A revised version of this sonata premiered in Alma-Ata (USSR) on February 5, 1954, by Anatoli Vedernikov;

  • 1930 - Weill: opera Die Aufsteig und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny), in Leipzig at the Neues Theater;

  • 1941 - Cowell: Symphony No. 2 (Antropos), in Brooklyn;

  • 1951 - Honegger: Symphony No. 5 (Di tre re), by the Boston Symphony, Charles Munch conducting;

  • 1980 - Earle Brown: Caldar Piece, for percussionists and mobile, in Valencia, California;

  • 1982 - Berio: opera La vera storia (The True Story), in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala;


  • 1831 - Italian violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini makes his Parisian debut a the Opéra; Composers in the audience include Meyerbeer, Cherubini, Halvéy; and Franz Liszt (who transcribes Pagnini's showpiece La Campanella for piano); Also in attendance are the many famous novelists and poets, including George Sand, Victor Hugo, Alfred de Mussset and Heinrich Heine.

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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®