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William Ritter, Etudes dArt tranger

Mahlers Fourth Symphony
Translated by Colin Roust

The Fourth Symphony had its premiere in Autumn 19011 at Munichs Kaim Saal,
under the direction [272] of the composer. Mr. Weingartner,2 who has a lot of wit,
judiciously accompanied this splendid sin, this Bal des QuatrezArts of the seven deadly
sins,3 with the candid and trifling essay in which the kid Mozart had amused himself a
century ago by imitating the donkeys hee-haw,4 a prank to which Mahler in turn submitted
in the Scherzando of his Third Symphony. That evening was my unforgettable initiation
into Mahlers music. Or rather, it began in the morning. I left the rehearsal revolted,
declaring to anybody who would listen that I never believed that anyine was capable of
writing such dishonest music. It seemed to me that I had indulged in an undeniable way in
some sort of musical Black Mass; and never had Satan, and all his works, and all his pomps
taken up residence in an orchestra to better effect.5 At the evening performance, there was
a tempest: we found ourselves whistling. The whistles began again in certain German cities.
People said that once even the courageous Weingartner, who undertook a tour on this
battle horse, hid from the publics anger at the end of the first movement.6 This episode
made me reflect. What blinded us, my friends and me, was that we took everything in there
for a crude publicity stunt and for a continual appeal to the basest instincts of the crowd; it
was all of the latent sensuality in each of us being so expertly caressed and awakened and
incited to rejoice;7 it was the wind of [273] contagious madness that pushed us to burst out

1 Specifically, on November 25, 1901.
2 Felix Weingartner (18631942), Austrian composer and conductor, who in 1908
succeeded Mahler as the conductor of the Vienna Hofoper. From 1898 to 1903, he directed
the concerts in the Kaim Saal. The full program for the concert included a Mozart
symphony, Weingartners Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar, the premiere of Mahlers Fourth
Symphony, a set of Lieder, and Beethovens Egmont Overture.
3 The Bal des QuatrezArts was a famously scandalous ball organized from 18921966 by
the students of the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Each year, the students designed
outrageous costumes around a central theme.
4 This would seem to be a reference to the second movement Rondo of Mozarts Horn
Concerto No. 1 in D Major.
5 The last clause here parodies the Catholic Renewal of Baptismal Vows, which in one form
is said: I reject Satan, and all his works, and all his pomps [or empty promises], and I
pledge myself to Jesus Christ forever, Amen.
6 Following the premiere, Weingartner led the Kaim Orchestra in performances of the
symphony in Nuremburg, Darmstadt, Franfurt, Karlsruhe, and Stuttgart. Ritter evaluation
of the tour exaggerates a bit. The piece was booed in Stuttgart, but was more favorably
received in the other cities. During the concert in Karlsruhe, Weingartner evidently fell ill
during the concert; when he returned to the podium some forty-five minutes later, he
conducted only the Finale of the Fourth Symphony.
7 Ritter writes sesbaudir, an archaic form of the verb sbaudir (to rejoice). The literary
effect brings an ironic, even troubling aspect to the joy that Ritter felt.


laughing; it was the constant stuffing, the caulking8 of an enticing melody with every effect
big and small; it was the balancing of the sublime and the ridiculous which seemed to be
trying to please everybody, the noble and the wicked; it was our Christian spirit that this
Jewish and Nietzschean mind defied with its sacrilegious trivelinades;9 it was our loyalty
toward the past exasperated by all our artistic principles being blown to smithereens. It
was from a creator, yes, but with Heines ironies increased a hundredfold,10 this grotesque
parody of the holiest and grandest things from the most idolatrous art; it was the buffoons
in the temple, the circus in the cathedral. And so we noticed nothing of the symphony itself,
except for the sublime, despairing beginning of the third movement, which we took as one
more profanation when we saw it shake itself into delirium. We took the stage for the true
spectacle; the made-up clowns of the sideshow and the curtain savagely painted with
ferocious beasts, for the drama. Many of our reservations remain and we will continue to
imagine Mr. Mahler as one of the most dangerous adversaries of our aesthetic faith and of
our national aesthetics, but we soon had to recognize that under his grimaces, the musician
is tremendous and a thoroughbred horse harnessed for tightrope walking. And besides
that, we see well the course that he will run. I am looking forward to it in Paris! Also, his
[274] supporters invited usand they were right since their position is implacableto
speak only of absolute music. Thus we set about studying the orchestral score and the four-
hand reduction for the entire year that followed. Then it was necessary to concede his
mastery and bury our face.
Hearing the Third Symphony, the abend-fllende [evening-filling], of which I just
spoke, again under the direction of the composer in Prague, confirmed our hatred and
reservations and, at the same stroke, our enchantment. The only thing left to strike back
against was its pleasure. The ear thoroughly enjoyed itself, the mind condemned. This
dislocation ended with the hearing of the Fifth. There again everything could be discussed
relentlessly! Ah! What matters most is that the result was achieved, that is to say, my soul
was shaken, tortured, and charmed in a way that I no longer imagined was possible at my
age, and by music more recent than that of my outdated grand enthusiasms. It doesnt
matter that this comes with cheap raki deeply adulterated by the alembics of Galicia or the
ghettos of Germany,11 whether or not there is Satanism in the case of this sensational and
magical music, it is made of all the corruptions of our time, it goes with the century; the
music represents it faithfully. It goes with the work of Rops.12 If one played it in some
architecture by Wagner, decorated by Klimt and Kolo Moser, it would [275] symbolize

8 Ritter uses the obsolete word patarassage, which refers to the use of an iron wedge to jam
caulk into the gaps between boards in a ships hull.
9 Trivelinades refer to Trivelino, a commedia dellarte character who, like Arlecchino, is a
buffoonish servant.
10 Heinrich Heine (17971856), German romantic poet whose poems frequently feature
sudden, sharply biting injections of irony in their final lines.
11 Raki is an anise-flavored liqueur from Turkey. The historical region of Galicia was, at the
time, the northeasternmost province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today it is part of
western Ukraine and southeastern Poland.
12 Flicien Rops (18331898), decadent Belgian printmaker whose work often combines
images of death, eroticism, and Satanism.


modern Vienna.13 The work of Bruckner and that of Hugo Wolf close the artistic testament
of the good old Austria of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven. In other words, as a sign
of the times, I do not approve the work of Mr. Mahler, but I passionately enjoy it. Must I be
ashamed of this?


This Fourth Symphony14 is presumed to be humorous and paradoxical. To say
infernal would be better. The first movement could have been Daniel in the lions den,
Orpheus torn to pieces by the Maenads, the genius delivered to the animals.15 It is only
acrobatics and the performance of a leotard-clad woman in a menagerie. It is a
menagerie, was the first impression, the heartfelt cry from one of us upon hearing these
comical sounds, which one after another strive their utmost throughout this first
movement, ideally pretty, fresh and gracious in the piano reduction, which doesnt let one
suspect anything prodigious and clownish that happens in the orchestra. [276] It is the
continual head-over-heels dance of Salom at the entrance of the Rouen Cathedral. And one
imagines with what astonishment the old Haydn, who knew a little bit about jokes and
musical jests, would have heard this formidable renewal of his ancient childish symphony
built on copies of fowls peeping and beasts crying.16 We might also ask ourselves what the
harsh and sane genius that conceived of the Pastorale would have thought of this
bacchanal.17 I mention as a significant fact of our regrettable whistles (at Munich!) that
from the beginning of the performance to the end, giggles passed throughout the rows of
seats. At one point, a voice cried grossartig [magnificent] and the man who shouted this

13 Otto Wagner, (18411918), Gustav Klimt (18621918), and Koloman Moser (1868
1918) were all prominent members of the Vienna Secession.
14 [Ritter:] We indicate the composition of the orchestra this time, since we have the
possibility of doing it: 4 flutes (the third and fourth double piccolo); 3 oboes (the third
doubles English horn); 3 clarinets, in B-flat, A and C (the second doubles clarinet in E-flat
and the third bass clarinet); 3 bassoons (the third doubles contrabassoon); 4 horns in F; 3
trumpets in F (or in B flat); timpani, bass drum, triangle, sleigh bells, glockenspiel, cymbals,
tam-tam; 1 harp; first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, contrabasses (these require the
double-bass C string).
15 The Biblical story of Daniel in the lions den is told in Dan. 6:128. Orpheuss death at the
hands of the Maenads is recounted in Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.184. The final image here
seems to be a reference to Hippolyte Taines 1885 Les origins de la France contemporaine,
in the second volume of which he describes the execution of Andr Chenier during the
Reign of Terror. In referring to the surviving transcript of Cheniers interrogation, Taine
uses the exact same phrase: Lisez-le, si vous voulez voir un homme de gnie livr aux btes,
des btes grossires, colriques et despotiques, qui ncoutent rien, qui ne comprennent
rien, qui nentendent pas mme les mots usuel, qui trbuchent dans leurs quiproquos et
qui, pour singer lintelligence, pataugent dans lnerie (459460; emphasis added).
16 Franz Joseph Haydn (17321809), Austrian composer regarded as the Father of the
17 Ritter refers here to Ludwig van Beethoven (17701827), whose Sixth Symphony is
nicknamed Pastoral.


burst out laughing. In the middle of this croaking duck pondthe symphony begins as if
with a toad-bell [grelot de crapaud]an absolutely delicious waltz motive seems nasal and
parodied, even though played very simply by an ordinary violin; it comes under the
influence of the surroundings! The grand role in all of these aural surprises is played by the
stopped trumpets, of which Mr. Lavignac declares the properties unknown and anyways
they can only produce a bad tone.18 The cymbal is struck with a mallet padded with sponge.
The harp is written with harmonics and their way of resonating an octave higher
sometimes acquires a ravishing sweetness. The oboes, clarinets, violins, and cellos are most
often divided. The changes of meter [277] and tempo are constant. 27 measures before the
end, ralentissement; at the twelfth, lent; at ten, trs retenu; at the seventh, poco a poco
stringendo; at the fourth, the final allegro.19
And so it was that, for the first time in our life, we whistled! May God and Mahlerif
they belong together?!pardon me for it! And we whistled again after the second
movement, which dies so sweetly20 of consumption, then recovers so frenetically in
paroxysms. At this moment, the singer of the fourth movement comes bravely to bow and
to sit next to the conductors podium, to cut short the tumult, we thought. But this was
not the oil that calmed the storm, but rather oil thrown on the fire. With the most complete
absence of chivalry, we were outraged at this means of shutting us up. And our animosity
redoubled. The humble truth was that the third movement is welded without interruption
to the fourth!
What a magnificent Adagio (Ruhevoll) the third movement is! It is only a set of
variations, as with Beethoven or Haydn, but free, interrupted, sometimes without an
intermediary, without preparation. Here are sudden and surprising changes and the
indications andante subito doubling those ganz pltlich (all at once), and so on.
[278] Finally here is the famous alto song that we tookupon its introduction by
sleigh bells, horns, clarinet, oboe, accompanied by violins struck with the wood of the
bowfor the definitive and final parody, and which, however, only wants to be an
expression of childish gaiety:
We enjoy the celestial joys;

18 Albert Lavignac (18461916), French musicologist and theorist. The passage cited by
Ritter is found in Lavignacs textbook La Musique et les Musiciens (Paris: Charles Delagrave,
1895) in his description of the natural trumpet: Les sons bouchs lui sont inconnus et ny
produiraient dailleurs quune mauvaise sonorit (137).
19 Ritters tempo markings are not entirely accurate here, nor are they as thorough as they
might have been. At 27 measures before the end, Mahler marked Ruhig und immer ruhiger
werden (become quieter and always quieter); at twenty measures Allmhlich zurckhaltend
(gradually restrained); at fourteen measures subito a tempo, followed immediately by
accel., rit., and molto rit.; at twelve measures, Langsam (slowly) followed by rit.; at ten
measures Sehr zurckhaltend (very restrained) and molto riten.; at nine measures a tempo,
Sehr langsam und etwas zgernd (very slowly and hesitatingly), Grazioso, and
zurckhaltend (restrained); at seven measures poco a poco stringendo; and at four
measures Allegro.
20 [Ritter:] Before the reprise of the theme in the horns, the violins extinguish themselves
over a ppppp, the cellos and contrabasses in their turn play ppppp, finishing with only two
at the same stand.


This is why we avoid the earthly.
No worldly noise
Is heard in Heaven.
Everything lives in the sweetest peace!
We lead an angelic life!
Nevertheless we are very gay!
We dance and leap
Skip and sing! Saint Peter in Heaven watches us.

(Slowing of the orchestra, almost a chorale. And suddenly a restatement of
the beginning above strings, struck with the wood of the bow.)

Saint John lets the little lamb go,
The butcher Herod watches for it.
We lead a patient, innocent,
A tender little lamb to death.
Saint Luke slaughters the ox,
With neither scruples nor reflection.
The wine doesnt cost a farthing,
In the heavenly cellar.
The little angels make the bread.

(Same choraleit is in the spirit of Henri Heine21and the same ritornello
in the English horn, clarinets, bassoons, horns, stopped trumpets, and wood
of the bow on the violins. Only four measures, some rest.)

Some good vegetables of all sorts grow in the heavenly garden!
Good asparagus, beans. And all that we want!
Plates full as you like await us!
Good apples, good pears, and good grapes!
[279] The gardeners allow everything to be taken.

(Cymbals struck with the sponge mallet. And let it ring.)

Do you want roebuck, hare?
On the open roads
They run up!
If there was by chance some festival day
All the fish arrive by themselves. There is Saint Peter, who is already
hurrying with nets and bait. . .

(Accompaniment of violas, second violins, and cellos struck with the wood of
the bow.)

21 See footnote 6.


. . .on the edge of the heavenly fishpond.
Saint Martha must be the cook.

(Same chorale slowly, 9 measures; and even livelier restatement of the
beginning, 7 measures, ending on four parallel fifths in the cello. All that
follows is soft and mysterious, mutes on the violins.)

No music on Earth
can compare to ours!
Eleven thousand virgins dare to dance!
Saint Ursula herself laughs with them!

(These four lines could serve as an epigraph for all of Mahlers music.)

Saint Cecilia and her kin
Are excellent court musicians!
The angelic voices
Revive the senses!
May all awaken with joy!

And this setting into motion of all the humoresque-covered capitals, tympana, and
friezes sculpted in a German cathedral, over these verses worthy of Hans Sachs (not
Wagners, the real one),22 finishes with only six instruments: English horn, clarinets, horn,
harp, cellos, and contrabasses. Over an English horn sound, a great [280] bell from the
harp dies to ppp on the same E that the contrabasses play below.
I declare myself powerless to render the impression of madnessfor lack of a
better wordthat such a symphony awakens. It is not a consolation for me to think that
the sort of revulsion operating in my soul on hearing this work was experienced by a good
half of the calm and serious Germany, which cheers on musicians who are safe, not to
mention easy, of the value of Mr. Friedrich Klose, Mr. Ernest Bhe, Mr. Max Schillings, Mr.
Hans Pfitzner, and Mr. Max Reger, and so on.23 Nevertheless, if one could only see such a
celebration of Beethovenor even Berlioz?

22 Hans Sachs (14941576), German Mastersinger and poet who was an early supporter of
Martin Luthers Reformation. He is also a central character in Richard Wagners 1868 music
drama Die Meistersinger von Nrnberg.
23 Friedrich Klose (18621942), Ernst Boehe (18801838), Max Schillings (18681933),
Hans Pfitzner (18691949), and Max Reger (18731916).