Mahler at the Majestic

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.

10 thoughts on “Mahler at the Majestic

  1. Dave Rudin says:

    I was looking at that WQXR map, too! My favorite composer who lived here was probably Antonin Dvorak – an east sider! LOL

  2. violinhunter says:

    Not to start a debate or anything of the sort, but I think I am one of the few people around who dislikes Mahler’s music. I actually find it rather immature and childish. Stravinsky once said that Richard Strauss’s music was banal. Dallapiccola didn’t appreciate Vivaldi. Thomson didn’t appreciate Heifetz. It might be a matter of taste. Maybe I just don’t “get” Mahler’s music. However, I found your blog post very interesting. 🙂 By the way, Mahler’s niece died in a concentration camp – the violinist Alma Rose.

    • Dave Rudin says:

      While I like Richard Strauss’ orchestral music, I cannot for the life of me understand why his operas are so popular. I WANT to like his operas, but after seeing seven of them, I believe, the only one I’d want to see again is “Arabella” – and after seeing that one I couldn’t remember one single melodic line after I left the theater. “Der Rosenkavalier”? Yes, I finally saw that one a few years ago, and while it was okay, with some nice waltz music (instrumental, of course), it’s just too damn long. The other good piece I liked was the (instrumental) music to the Dance of the Seven Veils in “Salome.” (Well, that and seeing Karita Mattila naked, if only for a second or two – when it comes to opera.something readers of this blog should appreciate…LOL) In short, when it comes to opera, give me Verdi or Puccini any day of the week.

      • violinhunter says:

        I am absolutely with you on Verdi and Puccini – two great, great masters of drama and music. As a pit musician, I have often thought it ironic that some of the most difficult parts of their operas come in the final acts – when fatigue starts to set in among the orchestra players. It takes intense focus and reserves of adrenalin to get these works to the finish line properly. It is immensely rewarding work and then we get paid on top of that. I would like to do Salome one of these days and am hoping to see the dance done fully nude for at least the last thirty seconds – haha. It will never happen.

        • artmodel says:

          Dave and violinhunter,

          Thank you both for this wonderful music discussion! It demonstrates how passionate classical music fans are about their favorite works, composers.

          violinhunter, you are definitely not alone in your feelings about Mahler. I’ve known several people who Just can’t connect with his music. I like his 9th Symphony. But I would listen to Beethoven any day over Mahler. Actually I’d listen to Beethoven any day over ANYBODY!

          Dave, you offer very interesting assessments of opera. Puccini is hard to beat. Tosca and Madame Butterfly are probably my favorites. But you know who I’ve always felt wrote fantastic operas? Mozart. I really enjoy them. I believe Mozart once said that he preferred to compose opera more than any other musical form.

          And on a final note, I am more than willing to dance Salome’s Seven Veils in the nude 😉

          Thanks for the comments!

          Claudia

          PS – Check this out:

          • violinhunter says:

            Mozart’s music is so many things – majestic, sublime, noble, intelligent, intriguing, inspiring, intense, sad, delirious – the list goes on. You know so much Claudia!!! You really do. As for your Salome nude dance offer, well… Great. Go talk to James at the MET and suggest it to him. It will create a storm of protest of course, but then, he has nothing to lose by doing it. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Just tell him you know me and I approve. 🙂

            • Dave Rudin says:

              Hey, I love silent films! You know, this reminds me of the “Get Smart” episode in which Max and 99 have to meet their contact at a night club. They’re told that they’ll know which table the contact will be at by the number of veils the dancer will remove in the Dance of the Seven Veils. If she removes one veil, the person will be at table one; if two veils, it’s table two; and so on, up to table six.

              “What if the person is at table seven?” Max then asks.

              “Well,” he’s told, “then the cops come in and close the place down!”

              Speaking of which: Claudia, I would be happy to do a series of motion study photographs with you doing the Dance. Just ask.

            • Dave Rudin says:

              The very first opera I saw at the Met was Verdi’s “Macbeth.” It featured a topless dancer who I think was supposed to be the Queen of the Night, or someone like that.

              Yes, Mozart was a superb opera composer. I like to say that the three greatest opera composers were an Italian, an Austrian and a German – but perhaps not who you might think. The Italian is Giuseppe Verdi. Puccini was great, but not Verdi.

              The Austrian is Mozart. It took a while for me to get into his music, but I think I understand it better now. I’d thought that his music was more surface than substance, but that was just the style of the Classical period. If only he’d lived long enough to fully enter the Romantic period, as Beethoven did. His 40th symphony already showed signs of that.

              The German? Well, obviously I don’t think it’s Richard Strauss. Most people would, of course, say Richard Wagner, but no! I am not a fan of him, either. My German is Georg Friedrich Haendel (aka George Frederick Handel). He was the master of the baroque opera, wrote some fantastic music and deserves to be up there with the other two.

              Violinhunter, where have you played? At the Met? It’s not quite the same, but I’ve performed about 50 times on stage at the Met. No, I can’t sing, I can’t dance and the only musical instrument I can play well is the stereo. However, I can hold a spear as well as anyone. I made my debut as a super(numerary) in 2001 in “Aida,” with Pavarotti as Radames. I was also in Pavarotti’s farewell performance of “Tosca” in 2004, I believe. Others I did were “Don Carlo,” one night on New Year’s Eve in “La Boheme” and my favorite to be in (and my favorite Puccini),”Turandot.” In some ways I still miss doing it, as there’s nothing like being surrounded by the soloists, chorus and orchestra that way – not to mention the thrill of being in a live performance in front of thousands. (I can tell you a few stories…LOL)

              Finally, about Dvorak, he’s best known for his 9th symphony, “From the New World,” but many consider his 7th to be his best, so do try to give that a listen. His cello concerto may be the best one ever written for that particular instrument, and his violin concerto, I believe, is unjustly neglected because it too is gorgeous!

              Enough from me.

              Dave

          • Bill MacDonald says:

            I’m very disappointed. I thought that I was going to see a video of you dancing Salome’s Seven Veils in the nude — maybe with a little Mahler playing in the background. Oh well 🙂

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