Mahler in China (1907)


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This page was last edited on 21st October 2020 

Author’s note:

Unfortunately because of the availability of sources it has not been possible to complete this online article on schedule. I plan to do so by the end of 2020 at the latest. My apologies to all potential readers.


In late 1907, a few months before Gustav Mahler began work on Das Lied von der Erde, one of his settings of Friedrich Rückert’s poetry was performed at a symphony concert in Tsingtau (Qingdau) in the Shandong province of China by Hans Jobst (baritone) and the band of the Third Marine Battalion of the German Navy conducted by O.K. Wille (1876–1962). The opening section of the article offers an account of the some of the circumstances that led to this conjunction of events. The acquisition of the leased territory of Tsingtau is set with German Imperial colonial policy in the late nineteenth century, and the formation, function, repertoire and concert tours of the band discussed within that context.

The second section offers a broad view of the impact of the acquisition of Tsingtau on German literary responses to Chinese poetry, and in particular the adaptations by Hans Bethge (some of which Mahler set in Das Lied von der Erde). The roles the artist Emil Orlik (1870–1932) and the sinologist Friedrich Hirth (1845–1927) in the development of Mahler’s awareness of Chinese art and music are explored.

The last two sections are epilogues to these opening discussions. The first surveys the last years of Mahler’s career (1908–11) and inter alia revisits the significance of his Eighth Symphony in his own creative career, and the impact of its first performance (1910) in Germany. The final section, based on the enhanced online availability of primary sources, traces the later history of the Tsingtau Orchestra following the capture of Tsingtau by the Japanese in 1914. This account substantially revises earlier narratives, and documents the band’s travel to the USA in 1915, its various concert tours there in 1915–17, its performances at the internment camps at Hot Springs SC and Fort Oglethorpe GA, and its eventual repatriation in 1919. It concludes by noting O.K. Wille’s appointment in 1922 as the conductor of the municipal orchestra in Teplitz, and his renewed engagement there with the music of Mahler.

The article also includes the following Appendices:
Appendix I: Reviews and reports on music in Tsingtau and performances by the Kapelle des III Seebataillons published in Die Musik, 1903–1914
Appendix II: Partial list of members of the Kapelle des III Seebataillons, 1902‒1917
Appendix IIIa: Repertoire of the Kapelle des III Seebataillons, 1905‒1914
Appendix IIIb: Partial Calendars of Concerts given by the Kapelle des III Seebataillons, 1905‒1914 and the Tsingtau Orchestra/Band, 1915‒1919
Appendix IV: Conductors Conducting Mahler, 1900/01‒1909/10
Appendix V: Mahler’s Repertoire of new Orchestral and Choral Works, 1885–1911
Appendix VI: Recordings of the Kapelle des III. Seebataillons, New York, 1916