"Polemic in the Concert Hall": the title of Richard Heuberger's article in the Neue freie Presse refers in no uncertain terms to the uproar surrounding Mahler's performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Vienna. The two performances, on 18 and 22 February 1900, used Mahler's own orchestral re-touchings of Beethoven's work, and Mahler's biographers have often identified these concerts as the first sustained attacks by the press, attacks that would, over time, only continue to increase in severity and frequency. When these concerts are placed into the context of reactions to Mahler's other Philharmonic concerts, however, this narrative of a "fall from grace" proves impossible to sustain. Not only was Mahler denounced for reorchestrating other works from his very first concert with the Vienna Philharmonic, but the language used to do so remained consistent throughout Mahler's tenure. Mahler, as a Jew, was not perceived as having the "right" to "improve" Beethoven--or any other composer for that matter. Although not overtly anti-Semitic, the language of the reviews resembles that found in Wagner's essay "Das Judentum in der Musik," where he outlines the Jewish composer's supposed handicaps: an emphasis on detail to the detriment of the whole, the prevalence of intellect over feeling, and an understanding of culture as merely "learnt" but never "mother tongue." An examination of the critical reactions points out these similarities while also suggesting that, particularly given Wagner's own suggestions (in 1873) for the reorchestration of Beethoven's symphony, the uproar had very little to do with what anyone heard.
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