Journey of the Mahler-Rosé Collection

Published on March 29, 2018

Manuscript of Gustav Mahler's First Symphony

The earliest surviving manuscript of Gustav Mahler's First Symphony, with annotations by Mahler, circa 1888-1889.

Nearly 80 years ago, Alma Rosé and her father Arnold fled Vienna, Austria and the Nazi Anschluss, taking with them valuable family papers that would one day find their home at Western.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was an Austrian composer and eminent conductor, leading the Vienna Court Opera, the New York Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic. Arnold Rosé (1863-1946) was a violinist, concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and leader of the Rosé String Quartet. He married Mahler’s sister, Justine. Arnold and Justine’s children, Alfred and Alma Rosé, were also musically gifted.

Alma Rose

Alma Rose, 1936 program.

Arnold and his daughter Alma escaped from Vienna to England in 1938. Realizing that her father’s finances would not sustain them, Alma left to resume her solo career as a violinist in Holland. While attempting to flee to Switzerland, she was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was conscripted to lead the Women's Orchestra. Sadly, Alma perished in the concentration camp.

Following Arnold’s death in 1946, his son Alfred inherited the collection of family and professional papers from the Mahler and Rosé families. Alfred was a conductor, composer, pianist, and music therapist who became a professor at Western. His widow, Maria Rosé, donated the collection in the 1980s and 1990s, establishing the Gustav Mahler-Alfred Rosé Collection at the Music Library.

Henry-Louis de la Grange, a French musicologist and biographer of Mahler, described the Collection as “the finest surviving collection of information about Mahler’s early career.” It remains one of the jewels in Western Libraries’ special collections.

“What makes this collection extraordinary is the insight it offers into both the early achievements of Gustav Mahler and, a generation later, the devastation World War II wrought on European music as seen in the tragic story of the Rosé family,” said Brian McMillan, Director of the Music Library.

The collection comprises 600 letters and postcards (509 in Mahler’s hand), as well as over 100 documents, objects, and musical scores related to the personal and professional lives of Mahler and the Rosé family. Highlights include the earliest surviving manuscript of Mahler’s First Symphony, an Auguste Rodin bust of the composer, and letters written by Alma while trapped in the Netherlands.

With funding from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Western Libraries will make significant progress this year in making the collection more accessible to researchers and students. Plans include creating a finding aid that will improve the discoverability of items in the collection. By digitizing key items, including family correspondence, photographs, and Alma Rosé materials, we will improve access to researchers around the globe.