Home > Forum > Tchaikovsky and Mahler

Tchaikovsky and Mahler

I have heard it claimed that Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony was directly inspired by Tchaikovsky's Sixth. Bearing in mind Mahler's admiration of the Russian composer, and the obvious similarities - in both structure and emotional content - between the two symphonies, I think this claim is not implausible. But is there any documentary evidence to support it?

Michael Porter

Though Mahler did conduct the Pathetique he was critical of the composer in other ways....however Tchaikovsky was the first to end a symphony with a slow movement.....Mahler's Third symphony also ends in a adagio.....and the end of the unfinished 10th also ends the same way...I dont think there is a connection between Mahler's Ninth and the Pathetique other than that the two end in adagios...both symphonies can be seen as meditations on death and our mortality.....that the Pathetique did influence some of Mahler's music is apparent in some passages from his Fifth symphony for example...also the last opera Mahler conducted at the MET in NY was "Queen of Spades".,,,,which was not revived again for decades....

AL Gasparo

Thanks. It's pleasing to know though, isn't it, that T recognized Mahler's genius so early in his career? And Mahler liked him, even if he didn't admire him... Don't you think there's at least a resemblance in mood between Mahler's Rondo Burlesque in his Ninth, and the triumphant march in the Pathetique, both of them coming as they do directly before the valedictory final movements?

Michael Porter

Tchaikovsky got to hear Mahler conduct Eugene Oneigin......and was struck by his mastery as a conductor both in that piece and the following evening in Tannhauser...and considered him to be a genius....this was about this time Mahler had only written his First symphony and a few songs...Mahler was later to conduct the premiers of Queen of Spades and Iolanthe in Germany....Tchaikovsky was never to know Mahler as a composer....however both symphonies, the Pathetique and Mahler's Ninth are reflections on the various aspects of life....the two movements you mention are not unlike each other....

Al Gasparo

And each symphony opens with a gloomy and uneasy testament featuring a passionate, yearning theme and the sudden descent of the composer into a sort of personal hell. And in the second movements Mahler dances a weird, distorted Ländler, and Tchaikovsky dances a kind of ghostly 'limping waltz'... But enough. The two symphonies are equally fine even if they're not directly connected. Petr Il'ch Tchaikovsky was just as significant a composer in his own way as the phenomenal Gustav Mahler...

Michael Porter

Dear Friends:

About Mahler and Tchaikovsky it s an outdated topic to consider tchaikovsky a lesser genius than the former. Only snobs outlook Tchaikovsky's superiority in melodic invention symphonic ideas and even orchestration.

Mahler of course has a deeper more profound message but that s'an extramusical fact.

Mahler admired Tchaikovsky promoted and imitated him with respect.

Alberto Saenz Enriquez

I agree with you almost totally, Alberto, though I think I would have to concede that Mahler's contrapuntal skills surpass Tchaikovsky's. In the Rondo-Burleske of his Ninth Symphony, Mahler employs those skills to staggering effect, and it's significant that with characteristic irony, even sarcasm, he marked the autograph score 'To my brothers in Apollo.' Similarly, in the Allegro molto vivace of his Symphonie Pathétique, Tchaikovsky puts his skills on display, celebrating his glorious career with typical panache. As for musical snobs, there are still plenty of those around, seeking to belittle Russia's greatest composer, calling him tormented and neurotic, incapable of developing his 'voluptuous' melodies, unable to stop whining about his wretched fate and so on... Often their motives are frankly homophobic. To hell with them!


Michael Porter

Do not you find that some tunes (Final) of Mahler's First Symphony, "are"Tchaikovsky ..? And 'interesting to recall that this composition of Mahler in 1888 is the year of Tchaikovsky's Fifth. Of course, Mahler did not look favorably on Russian musician: Remember what the director Ken Russellin his film about Mahler makes him say, while the plan mentions the music of Russian? "Ah, this music, if one has good taste, not the sounds ..."Mahler was inconsistent. Puccini also expressed harsh judgments while watching "Tosca" ... But both lost no opportunity to give the first anywhere, as his duty as director and manager required ...


Antonio Garganese

An addition to my intervention.

"It seems to me that Tchaikovsky had a definite influence on Mahler, one thinks, for example, the numbers from 16 to 21 in the fourth movement of the 'First Symphony' Mahler and the number 21 ahead in the fifth movement of the 'Second Symphony'."

(Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft-,'Conversations with Stravinsky', 1959..., Italian edition 1977: pp. 134-135) [in: Ferruccio Tammaro, 'Come ascoltare Tchaikovsky ..’, 2008, p. 309].


"... The dramatic structure-or dramaturgical-the 'Second Symphony' of Mahler (particularly the beginning of the 'Totenfeier') [...] is hardlyconceivable without the precedents of the 'Fourth' and 'Sixth Symphony'of Tchaikovsky "

(R: Taruskin, 'Defining Russia Musically, 1997, p.306) [in FeruccioTammaro, as above].


Example from the "First Symphony" Mahler: 

(about 3 minutes from start)

(Sorry for my English...)


Antonio Garganese


Thank you for the interesting quotations and references, and for the YouTube link.

I listened to the opening movement of Mahler's First Symphony, and you are quite right, the section you drew my attention to does bear a startling resemblance to Tchaikovsky, and in fact it would not sound out of place in several of Tchaikovsky's actual works. Tchaikovsky most definitely influenced the younger composerr to some degree.

I'm obliged to you. I'll listen to the Totenfeier later.

(Your Engkish is better than my Italian!)

Michael Porter

Mahler was contradictory. Critics Tchaikovsky. Puccini critical but interprets their work first if possible. Not infrequently it is influenced.

At the first performance of "Boheme" (Theatre "an der Wien," October 5, 1897) laughs with irony from a stage-box [Eugenio Gara, 'Puccini's Correspondence', 1958, p. 206] -

After a performance of "Tosca" abroad with his wife Alma writes:"Before shooting I got up and went away ... Everything is written with skill to master ... Today every" scalzacane "(" incapable ") knows orchestrating an excellent ... "[Ernesto Napolitano, 'Mahler and Italian opera', pp.9-10]: 

But...:“Only one bar of Puccini, is better of all Leoncavallo” [Ernesto Napolitano, as above, p.9].

Antonio Garganese
Prato, Florence

Yes, Mahler was certainly contradictory, and Tchaikovsky.was too. Take his comments about Verdi for example. In one of his critical reviews he complains that the Italian composer had "polluted the whole world with his tasteless barrel-organ melodies." Yet in a later review he refers to him as "old Verdi, that genius." It's difficult to know what to make of this inconsisteny. It would be fascinating if a forum contributor with an understanding of psychology could explain the motivation behind the two-faced attitude shown by Tchaikovsky towards almost all his fellow composers.

(I've taken both the quotations above from the article on Verdi in the "People" section of this website.)

Michael Porter

Dear Michael!

You are absolutely right. If you read the opinions written by Tchaikovsky, there are several contradictions, even if we consider it more equitable (equanimous) of other colleagues. He loved "Un Ballo in Maschera" (love duet of Act II), was impressed by '"Othello" in Naples, and Verdi judged a musician can develop, even though he had almost 80 years ...

Tchaikovsky saw in Florence for two nights in a row (Pagliaro Theatre) "Aida," but he went out at the end of the second act (!!!).

I agree with you: a psychological investigation (style "Mosco Carner") would be helpful. But with caution. The music over all. I found an essay, very famous, Michel-R. Hofmann (Hofmann, Michel-Rotislav, Tchaikovsky, Edition du Seuil, Paris, 1959) where Tchaikovsky is treated with love, but not forgetting the sides "ambiguous" ...

Even Ferruccio Tammaro (Ferruccio Tammaro, Tchaikovsky. The musician, symphonies, Milan, Mursia, 2008) was a serious student (in Turin) who wrote about the taste of Tchaikovsky.

Othello: "Fantastically beautiful, even at times brilliant ..." (P.17)
And elsewhere: "Many things he will be forgiven in the name of this undeniable talent ..." (P.17)

But, finally, remember that there were only two Tchaikovsky's "Saints of Music": Glinka and Mozart in particular ...

A valuable contribution alltro Italian (I hope I translated in English as above)

Nicastro, Aldo, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Edizioni Studio Tesi, Pordenone 1990


Antonio Garganese

Regarding the Mahler issue....Mahler's favorite composers were Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner....that is as opera conductor he chiefly conducted their operas....the Italian and French school were usually relegated to other is true he conducted the premiers of some of Tchaikovsky operas...and he did conduct a select few of his orchestral works...but he also always was interested in airing the works of the lesser acclaimed composers of his day....this got him in trouble when he came to conduct the NY Philharmonic where he got into conflict with the board of directors who were more conservative in their far as Puccini goes I do remember reading that he said in effect regarding Puccini....just because some people have skill as a orchestrator doesn't mean they are good opera composers....there are some similarities between Mahler and Tchaikovsky....such as skill as great orchestrators and the resounding emotional pull of both composers..and in some of the turns of some of his melodies..he also got this from 1883 age 23 when he visited Bayreuth to hear Parsifal he found this to be a life changing epiphany...

Regarding Tchaikovsky I dont remember him saying much about Verdi one way or the other..nor was he much preoccupied by Verdi's music...he just did not bother much with it...he did mention however that as a youth he was much taken by the operas of the bel, Bellini and Donizetti...which he later described as semi music....however the flow of Tchaikovsky's melodies has an Italianate manner about those early experiances stayed with him....Mozart of course was his favorite composer....

Hope this gives some light on this subject...

Al Gasparo

In addition I would also like to add...regarding Mahler's remarks on Puccini...."one bar of Puccini is better than all of Leoncavallo" is undoubtedly true that Puccini is the far better composer than Leoncavallo who only left behind a one act so so opera.....that does that mean that he admired Puccini....Mahler regarded Puccini as a skilled orchestrator but not a great opera composer per se...on the other hand Puccini was a new force in the music world, who knows what Mahler would have thought if he had lived another ten or twenty must be remembered that Mahler thought of himself as a German composer and of the German tradition and extolled German music above all others..

As far as Tchaikovsky and Verdi go, people do change their mind in the course of their could be as simple as that....

Al Gasparo

Unfortunately my very poor knowledge of English will not let me write at length and in detail.

However I totally agree on everything.

The notes here on Tchaikovsky Research 

(as wrote by Michael Porter in the Forum), say the malicious judgments about Verdi, but they also say (and Al Gasparo has scored well) that there were objective grounds to criticism (in order Verdi was dominates in Italy and abroad).

And after all, the time changes many things, in men and in their minds.

"What a complicated machine is our body [...] How to draw the confines between the intellectual and physiological events of our life?"

Tchaikovsky, to Von Meck in 1880 [in Ferruccio Tammaro, Tchaikovsky.The musician, symphonies, Milan, Mursia, 2008]

This book can be read with profit the first three chapters, especially the first: "Tchikovsky of a thousand souls."


Antonio Garganese

Brett Langston has pointed out to me that Tchaikovsky's comments about Verdi which I quoted were made many years apart.

The first, the sneer about barrel-organ melodies, was made in a review Tchaikovsky wrote in 1872.

His remark about "old Verdi, that genius" comes from his account of a European tour he undertook in 1888. By that time he could well have heard Otello, or at least studied the score. Maybe that's what caused him to change his mind?

Michael Porter

I've just noticed Antonio Garganese's comment that T actually did hear Otello, in Naples.

But Antonio didn't say WHEN Tchaikovsky heard it!

Michael Porter

I think Signor Garganese is possibly  mistaken, as Tchaikovsky's last visit to Naples was in 1882, which was five years before Otello was first staged.

Brett Langston

Dear Michael, Dear Mr.Langston!

I'm disappointed. Usually control the sources, but I had confidence in my memory. Naples is not evidently has nothing to do ...

The "Places" on this site is accurate 

Tchaikovsky wrote the phrase that I reported on Verdi's Othello: "fantastically beautiful, even at times brilliant ..." In a letter to his brother Modest: 1-13.1.1888  (Tchaikovsky, Modest Ilyich: Zhizn 'Ĉaikovskogo Pyotr Ilyich (The Life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky), 3 vols., Moscow, 1900-02; first Western version in German, Paul Juon, 2 vols., Moscow and Leipzig, 1901-04, II, 449-50) where he criticized the figure of Iago, because

"Overly obnoxious. People like him do not exist."

Quote from: Ferruccio Tammaro, Tchaikovsky. The musician, symphonies, Milan, Mursia, 2008 (p.17)

The world premiere of "Otello" at La Scala the Feb. 5, 1887.

Abroad (see "Wikipedia"):

  • Hamburg, January 31, 1888
  • New York, April 16, 1888
  • London, July 5, 1889

etc. (European dates of course)

In the journal (number six, (June 1887-September 1887), Tchikovsky from Tiflis, wrote (June 6, Old Style)

"Looked over Verdi's Othello at home."

(Lakond, Vladimir, ed, The Diaries of Tchaikovsky, Second Edition, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1976, (reprint of the 1945 American edition, WW Norton & Company, Inc., New York) (Original Russian edition by Ippolit Ilyich Tchaikovsky, PI Dnevnik Čajkovskogo, Moscow, 1923) (pp. 180-1)

Tchaikovsky made his first tour abroad as an interpreter at the end of 1887 and early 1888.

In his diary (number seven, December 1887-March 1888), December 31 (in Lubeck), writes:

Performances at the Stadt-theater. Barnay played in 'Othello'. In places, I was enraptured by his unsurpassed acting, but what a tragic work!!! And what a villain is Jago , especially played so abominably as yesterday.

(Above, p. 222)

In Prague (where he met Dvorak) listened to "Othello":

"At night, the work performance of 'Othello'. Infinity presentations and compliments ..."

(Complete Works, Correspondence, 1958-1981, XIV, 401 [to his brother Modest])

in: Anatol'evna Alexandra Orlova, Tchaikovsky. A self-portrait, Oxford University Press, New York, 1990, (Italian edition by Maria Rosaria Boccuni) EDT, Torino 1993, p.329 (undated in this book, of course as below).

In his diary (January 31, 1888) ( I read now with my eyes from a copy of this book) Tchaikovsky noted only: "Performance at the Opera" (see above, p. 230).

See note 1 on this site Tchaikovsky Research 

I hope I was clear this time ... But everything is possible ...


Antonio Garganese

To be consistent with my last post in this discussion, I pointed out (had escaped me) that Orlova (see above,same step) actually it is written:

"On Sunday 12 I started to go to Prague with Ziloti ..."

The date is in European style, then: 12.2.1888/31.1.1888.

The book is in the form of Orlova especially as they knowthe fans of Tchaikovsky. First of all, for writing (like a diary,taking from different sources). Dates for the Old Style is used when we are in Russia, the New Style (or both) when we are in Europe (see introduction, p. xxiii).



Antonio Garganese

This discussion is closed and has been archived, but you are welcome to try our new forum at:

Please note that we are not responsible for the content of external web-sites

This page was last updated on 05 November 2013