The Solitary One in Autumn


“But it’s peculiar, as soon as I am in the midst of nature and by myself, everything that is base and trivial vanishes without trace. On such days nothing scares me; and this helps me again and again.”

Thomas Mann said of Mahler: ‘the man who, as I believe, expresses the art of our time in its profoundest and most sacred form’ (in a letter Mann wrote to Mahler after listening to first performance of his Eight Symphony).

Mahler with Klaus Pringsheim and the disputed presence of Mann (according to Pringsheim’s son), for the premiere of Mahler’s 8th in Munich.

A towering genius and a consummate work, whose enthralling pieces are like composed landscapes, as he famously said “Don’t bother looking at the view – I have already composed it“, was kept relatively isolated after his death until after about 50 years. Leonard Bernstein spoke of the reasons why:”First his own imminent death, of which he was acutely aware. Second, the death of tonality, which meant for him the death of music as he knew it and loved it. Finally, his third and most important vision: the death of society, of our Faustian culture.” It is that last vision he states which hypnotizes and engrosses the listeners into a wilting humanity, which is questioned in Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game:  “The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness”. And it is that factor which doesn’t constrict him to a specific end-of-era, but to all times, a universal endeavor.


To belatedly commemorate his birthday, I had decided to make Marillenknödel, but sadly, I couldn’t find any apricots, so I opted for an apple strudel, a staple of the Viennese Café Landtmann, frequented by Mahler, Kálmán, Altenberg and Freud, among others. It went wonderfully alongside a strong cup of coffee and Klimt’s Tree of Life.


The song of sorrow shall ring laughingly in your soul.
When the sorrow comes, blasted lie the gardens of the soul,
wither and perish joy and singing.
Dark is life, dark is death!

from Das Lied von Erde (The Drinking Song of the Earth’s Sorrow, by Li Bai)


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