Controversy Behind Kindertotenlieder
Wed, 17 Jan 2018

On Monday we began the story of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. How is this work controversial? After his marriage to Alma in 1902, Mahler took another two years to complete his orchestral song cycle. Though Alma believed it was understandable that her husband began the work as a single man in 1901, she insisted that he was tempting fate by continuing a composition related to dying children now that he was a husband and father. Three years following the completion of his song cycle, Mahler’s daughter died of diphtheria and scarlet fever. Was Alma right? Did Mahler tempt fate by insisting upon completing his Kindertotenlieder?

I had the pleasure of chatting with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director Louis Langree in the WGUC studio about this piece. When asked whether or not Mahler tempted fate by completing Kindertotenlieder, the Maestro immediately responded with a fascinating story. At one point in his past, he had agreed to conduct this very piece for an orchestra several years in advance. Before the concert date arrived, however, the birth of his daughter caused him to reconsider. Though certainly not one to cancel appointments, Langree said he felt “scared” of the Mahler “curse” and felt that he would be taking a real “gamble” if he followed through with the commitment. He confirmed that he is not typically the superstitious type but still could not bring himself to conduct this fateful piece of music.

Did Mahler tempt fate? What would you have done in Maestro Langree’s situation? Let me know your thoughts!


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