Toblach: Gustav Mahler’s composing cabin is once again giving rise to discord and recriminations. Between the owners of the property on the one hand, and those who want to turn it into a shrine on the other.
"It's unbelievable, simply unbelievable, what's going on there!“ Josef Lanz, who has served as artistic director of the Gustav-Mahler Festival in Toblach for the last ten years, cannot conceal his disappointment. Lanz is convinced that the way the composing cabin issue is being handled, or not handled, is "a problem that Toblach alone will not be able to solve". He is not trying to start a revolution, but neither can he remain silent. There has been absolutely no progress in the matter, for years, "The situation has become more and more convoluted", he regrets. There has been no movement at all, neither forwards nor backwards.
A pile of lumber. The uninitiated might take the cabin for a simple wooden toolshed, at first glance. The fact that the hut stands in the middle of a wildlife preserve does not help to correct this false impression, nor does it give any hint that this is the cabin in which the famous Bohemian composer Gustav Mahler composed his last symphonies.
Mahler spent the summer months of 1908 to 1910 on the Trenker farm in Altschluderbach near Toblach. In order to be able to compose in peace and quiet, he had the cabin built. Here in the seclusion of a pine forest he found solitude and tranquility. And proceeded to write "Das Lied von der Erde" and his ninth symphony.
Mahler's reaction to Toblach in 1909: "This is a wonderful place to regenerate body and soul".
But today things have changed. "It is inconceivable that Mahler would set foot in this cabin today", Lanz maintains. On the contrary, Mahler would pack his bags and leave, at the thought of having to compose surrounded by wild boars and other animals who were constantly sticking their noses into his business.
And the director of the Mahler Festival is not alone with this critical opinion. Every year musicians from all over the world make the pilgrimage to this village of 3000 inhabitants in the Hochpustertal, to visit the idyllic surroundings in which Mahler lived and composed. However many of them are more shocked than they are delighted. They talk about "intolerable conditions" and "bitter disappointment". Mahler wanted solitude and silence, not this!
In the same place where a composer once wrote great music in tranquil solitude, now animals are grazing and grunting. Whoever wants to visit the composing cabin must walk through the wildlife preserve to get there, after paying an admission charge to visit the animals. Even the Mahler fans and experts who only want to see the cabin must buy a ticket for the animal park. "It's just a tourist rip-off“, Lanz complains. Not worth a penny.
Future plans. For years there have been ideas and plans for improving the situation, such as separating the composing cabin from the wildlife preserve by means of fences, and creating a special entrance for the cabin. "Nothing but discussions and ideas which never came to fruition," says Hansjörg Viertler, president of the Gustav Mahler Committee. Even mayor Bernhard Mair assures all concerned that the community is very much in favor of seeing that "the matter is finaly resolved". So why is nothing done?
Part of the problem is that park and cabin are privately owned. "And we cannot exercise control over private property", says the mayor. Even if there were plans for a solution, the owners of the property would have to give their approval. And that is not so easy, since there are two property owners involved, not just one.
Twenty years ago, the Toblach hotel owner Herbert Santer acquired the wildlife preserve as a tourist attraction, including the composing cabin. Joint owner was the Trenker family, who operate the "Gustav Mahler Stube" in Altschluderbach, the farm where Mahler lived. The room in which Mahler and his wife lived is open to tourists today. Part of the animal park belongs to Trenker, and the other part — with the cabin — is on Santer's portion of the property. Santer denies all accusations that he is to blame for the present situation. Claims that the animals are in the way, or that the atmosphere of the location has been destroyed, "are nonsense", says Santer. "Whoever says that doesn't know what he is talking about." Santer does not feel that the problems are his fault. He claims to have done all in his power to repair the cabin. The state once offered Santer and Trenker compensation if they would cede a portion of their land for a new entry path, but they considered the amount offered to be insufficient. "Besides, I have my own plans for the building", Santer explains. He says that he even had discussions with Mahler's granddaughter, but nothing ever was settled.
Santer has his own plans for a solution, together with the Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer, who has also composed music in the cabin. "And the animals never bothered him at all", observes Santer. He wants to restore everything to look as it did in Mahler's day. "We are aware of the great cultural importance of this building." More time is needed to raise the necessary funds. But Lanz worries that time is running out. Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Mahler festival. And the great Mahler biographer Henry Louis de La Grange has already indicated that he may not attend. "Because of the sad state of affairs with the composing cabin. That says it all."