I taught Mahler today in my 19th-century harmony class. I never teach Mahler without teaching Hans Rott. Rott (1858-1884) was a fellow student of Mahler’s at Vienna Conservatory, and for a time Mahler’s roommate. Rott went mad and died at the age of 25, after completing a symphony that sounds remarkably like Mahler. Rott wrote his symphony in 1878-1880; Mahler’s First Symphony dates from 1884-1888. If you heard the scherzo of Rott’s symphony without identification, you would swear it was some unknown Mahler work: it is identical in style, orchestration, and melody to the scherzos of Mahler’s First and Third Symphonies. The long introduction to Rott’s final movement has much in common with the finale of Mahler’s Second. Mahler inherited the manuscript of Rott’s symphony after his friend died. Mahler later called Rott
a musician of genius … who died unrecognized and in want on the very threshold of his career. … It is completely impossible to estimate what music has lost in him. His First Symphony soars to such heights of genius that it makes him – without exaggeration – the founder of the New Symphony as I understand it. To be sure, what he wanted is not quite what he achieved. … But I know where he aims. Indeed, he is so near to my inmost self that he and I seem to me like two fruits from the same tree which the same soil has produced and the same air nourished. He could have meant infinitely much to me and perhaps the two of us would have well-nigh exhausted the content of new time which was breaking out for music.