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  Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860 – May 18, 1911) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and conductor.

Mahler was best known during his own lifetime as one of the leading orchestral and operatic conductors of the day. He has since come to be acknowledged as among the most important late-romantic composers, although his music was never completely accepted by the musical establishment of Vienna while he was still alive. Mahler composed primarily symphonies and songs; however, his approach to genre often blurred the lines between orchestral Lied, symphony, and symphonic poem.

from 'Mahler' by Kurt Blaukopf, Vienna, 1969 (translated by Inge Goodwin):

Through the Academic Wagner Society [Akademische Wagnerverein - Vienna University, founded 1873] he must have obtained a copy of Wagner's essay 'Religion and Art' soon after its publication in 1880 [it occupied the entire October 1880 issue of Bayreuther Blatter], for in November of that year he wrote to a friend:

"For the last month I have been a strict vegetarian. The moral effects of this regime are immense, owing to the voluntary subjugation of the flesh and the resulting absence of desires. You will appreciate how full I am of this idea when I tell you that I expect it to work the regeneration of mankind. I advise you to change over to a natural way of life, with proper nourishment (wholemeal bread), and you will soon feel the benefit."

The comment about 'the regeneration of mankind' is straight out of Wagner. Mahler took up a conducting appointment in Olmütz, Moravia, from January 11 to March 17, 1883. Blaukopf states:

At the inn where the singers met in the evening, he invited ridicule by drinking water instead of wine or beer. Refusing meat, he asked for spinach and apples, and loudly declared his allegiance to Richard Wagner's vegetarian principles, throwing in a plea for woollen underwear for good measure. The citizens of this little town were agreed that he was a very queer specimen. Mahler spurned the food they offered him, and went hungry for the sake of his convictions.

from 'The Master Musicians - Mahler' by Michael Kennedy, 1974:

. . . It is also true that he belonged to a Vienna Socialist-vegetarian group in 1880.
. . . In Hamburg in 1894 his pricipal literary proccupations were Dostoyevsky and Schopenhauer

From unconfirmed extracts elsewhere it would appear that he was eating meat again by the time he was working in Budapest, 1888-90. It shouldn't be too surprising if he gave up vegetarianism out of expediency - he later gave up being Jewish and converted to Roman Catholicism simply to get the job wanted in Vienna. However, the indication that he was reading Schopenhauer in 1894 shows that he was still interested in of the issues that had led Wagner to promote vegetarianism, also influenced by Schopenhauer. It is also clear from biographies that Mahler remained concerned about the relationship between humanity and the natural world for the rest of his life, and this was often reflected in his music. We also have quotes that in later life, having returned to smoking cigars, drinking alcohol and, apparently, eating meat, he did so in very deliberate moderation.

It would seem that Mahler ultimately rejected Wagner's reasons for vegetarianism, but that also should come as no surprise to anyone reading Wagner's articles today. Whilst there are many valid reasons for being vegetarian, Wagner's interpretations were not the most realistic. Many others who were initially influenced by Wagner went on to discover a more genuine form of vegetarianism.

an extract from an online blog by 'Calvin' posted Feb 3, 2006 (Symphony #1 was composed between 1888 and 1894) :

The third movement of Gustav Mahler's 1st Symphony is vegan. It is described as a funeral march based on the children's song "Frere Jacques" (or "Bruder Martin" to Mahler) interrputed at times by carnival type music. Mahler stated that it was based on a woodcut made by Moritz von Schwind in 1850 called the "The Hunter’s Funeral Procession." Mahler wrote

"The external stimulus for this piece of music came to the composer from the parodistic picture, known to all children in Austria, “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession,” from an old book of children’s fairy tales: the beasts of the forest accompany the dead woodsman’s coffin to the grave, with hares carrying a small banner, with a band of Bohemian musicians, in front, and the procession escorted by music-making cats, toads, crows, etc., with stags, roes, foxes, and other four-legged and feathered creatures of the forest in comic postures."

Another commentator explains it this way

"The woodcut to which Mahler refers comically inverts the structure of power normally operating in the forest. Animals lead the body of a hunter toward his grave: the hunter and the hunted, the powerful and the powerless, have switched positions. Such satirical inversions of domination – carnivals, as Mikhail Bakhtin calls them—enact mock reversals of social power structures, temporarily liberating marginalized social groups from the prevailing truth of an oppressive social hierarchy (Bakhtin 1-58)."

Heavy stuff man, but surely it's vegan. : ) Come on, you gotta love it. The animals in faux-solemnity about the Hunter's death, marching to bury him him but they can't help themselves, they periodically start whooping it up—to them its a celebration: the bastard trying to kill us is dead!


Some of the info comes from] (scroll to paragraph 19)

Image of the Woodcut (from

The music itself, from the BBC (might require Real Player)

The BBC website describes it this way:

"The huntsman's funeral is evoked by a bleak, minor-key version of the children's round ‘Frère Jacques', first played by a solo double bass above muffled drum-beats. Pairs of oboes and trumpets offer a mock-sentimental commentary. A dreamlike central interlude arrives, with muted violins murmuring a melody from Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ('Songs of a Wayfaring Lad', 1896). The march returns, and a sudden spurt of pace speeds the huntsman towards his grave."

Some overlaps with other vegetarian musicians:

In his student days, around 1880, Mahler shared lodgings, and his vegetarianism with Hugo Wolf.

In 1892 Mahler made his only visit to England, conducting Wagner's Ring and Tristan at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Four of the five performances were reviewed by George Bernard Shaw, and in the audience for the last one was the young Gustav Holst.

In 1907 when Mahler left the Vienna Opera, amist some arguments, "Lilli Lehmann, (the great soprano who was vegetarian at that time) who did not always see eye to eye with Mahler . . . wanted it known that the hostile utterances of the press 'with their frequent immoderate tone were not a true expression of public opinion.':