This week’s Music Monday is inspired by New York’s classical music radio station WQXR and a fun article they posted on their blog the other day. It was a map of locations in New York City that were once home to famous composers. George Gershwin spent most of his life living on the Upper West Side, from W 110th to 103rd and then Riverside Drive. Sergei Rachmaninoff was also a West Sider. From 1926 – 1943 he resided at 505 West End Avenue. But the East Side had its share of music luminaries as well. Samuel Barber lived on Fifth Avenue, Leonard Bernstein had a 15 room duplex at 895 Park Avenue, and Kurt Weill’s home was on East 62nd Street.
I’ve chosen to highlight the residence of Gustav Mahler during his Upper West Side days. He lived on Central Park West and 72nd Street, an intersection that, for some people, instantly brings to mind the famous Dakota building. But Mahler’s residence was the building directly across the street. Back then it was called the Hotel Majestic and was originally constructed in 1894 in an opulent style. But by the time the Great Depression came along the Majestic, like many of the old 19th century New York hotels, had been converted and redesigned as more modest apartment units. The Majestic still exists today in that second incarnation, a 29 story art deco structure with two rising towers overlooking Central Park. Famous past residents of the Majestic include Milton Berle, newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, Conan O’Brien, and a slew of mob gangsters, among them Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Frank Costello was shot in the lobby of the Majestic by Vinny “The Chin” Gigante. An informative page on the history of the Majestic can be found at the NYC Architecture website.
The only place I was able to find an image of the old original Hotel Majestic was in the digital gallery of the New York Public Library. They have a remarkable collection of images, by the way. Start browsing their archives and you’ll be wondering where the time went! Here is the Hotel Majestic as it existed during Mahler’s residence, in a beautifully illustrated postcard:
Mahler’s days at the Majestic carry an interesting anecdote. According to his wife Alma, Mahler heard the muffled sound of a beating bass drum in the street outside their 11th floor window. It was a funeral procession rolling down Central Park West to honor a fallen firefighter. Mahler was so moved by the emotional weight of the drumming sound he incorporated it into the fifth movement of his Tenth Symphony which he composed three years later.
A photo of Gustav Mahler, a befittingly serious looking man who composed profoundly serious music:
Like many creative types – artists, composers, writers – Mahler quickly grew fond of New York City and its inhabitants. “People here are unbelievably vigorous”, he wrote. Immersing themselves in the New York scene, Gustav and Alma thoroughly enjoyed the city and all its offerings, had dinner at the Madison Avenue home of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and even traveled out to Oyster Bay to visit Laura Roosevelt, cousin of Teddy. For more on Mahler in New York, check out this terrific article from PlaybillArts. A great read.