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The day Gustav Mahler met the President of the USA

Who’d have guessed? Mahler makes one reference in a letter to the freedoms he found in America – one of which was the right of every man to greet the President if he met him on the street, or walk on by. But no record of such a meeting has ever come to light

Now, that assiduous Mahler researcher Michael Bosworth, based in Hanoi, Vietnam, has come up with documentary proof of a dinner where Mahler shared a table with the 27th President of the US, William Howard Taft. It took place at the Press Club on January 21, 1911, a day after Mahler conducted his fourth symphony at Carnegie Hall. The president was said to be ‘in jovial mood’.  The press chorus sang an ode to ‘our handy, dandy, candy President Taft – Bill Taft!’.

Michel Bosworth assumes that Mahler was placed at the President’s table because he was due to take the New York Philharmonic to Washington DC three days later.

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  1. That would have been something to see. Taft at 400 lbs and Mahler at about 110. However, documentary proof that ‘assumes’ is no proof at all.

  2. James Brinton says:

    I can imagine the conversation between the Zeppelin-like Taft and the string-bean Mahler.
    Taft: You gonna eat that?
    Mahler: Nope, go ahead.

  3. Michael Bosworth says:

    I need to make a correction here–in my notes to this find I clearly point out that Mahler was to take the NY Philharmonic to Washington, D.C. just 3 days after this dinner, which he did. This could be the reason he was invited to the Press Club event. Mrs. Taft and her daughter attended the Philharmonic concert of 24 Jan. 1911 in Washington, and Mahler may have met them on that occasion. Surprisingly, nothing seems to be known of the activities of Mahler and the Philharmonic during their admittedly short stay in the nation’s capital, beyond performing at the concert.

    Mahler conducted for the last time on 21 Feb. 1911, exactly one month after the NY Press Club Dinner. The two later Washington concerts of that season were conducted by his concertmaster, Theodore Spiering.

    • Thanks, Michael. But Mahler never made it to DC, did he? At any rate, as far as I could ascertain while writing Why Mahler? I also wasn’t aware that Mrs Taft attended his concert.

  4. Michael Bosworth says:

    Norman, I thought I made quite clear in my previous comment that Mahler went to Washington D.C. and conducted the NY Philharmonic there (at the New National Theater) on 24 January 1911. Mrs. Taft and Miss Taft attended and sat in the President’s box.

    • Apologies, I misread your note. Martner in the latest edition of Mahler’s Concerts confirms those dates. The afternoon concert at the New National Theater in Washington on Jan 24, 1911 was an all-Wagner program, a repeat of the Jan 23 concert in Philadelphia.

      • Zoltan Roman says:

        As, of course, has been there to read for all these twenty-some-odd years in my ‘American’ book for all them that has cared to look (Document No. 519). Ah, the fickle finger of fame…. (As for Gus and Bill supping, speculative hobnobbing with Mrs. and Miss – that’s all news to me.)

  5. MARY SOILEX says:

    Mahler Schmaler. i say TAFT was a lightweight und Mahler was an angel und a genius. How could Mahler possibly eat with any gusto when a gluten like that was beside him. I say Mahler had more in his pinkee than Taft ever dreamed of having in his entire 44o pounds und ounces, Thats what I say!

    • Zoltan Roman says:

      Gut for you, Maria! And I bet Mahler did not share his “Marienknoedel mit…” mit the Dickleib!

  6. Michael P. Scott says:

    I think James Brinton has the makings of a GREAT contest — how many other fat politicians and skinny musicians can we list.

    I’ll start: New Jersey Governor Chris Crisco — oh, excuse me for stealing from Bill Maher — Christy and pianist James Rhodes (or YuJa Wang, but I’d prefer to keep her out of this for the moment, hoping that something will pop up that absolutely demands that we make another reference to her short short short short red skirt).


  7. Stanley Slome says:

    What publication or documentation recorded the alleged Press Club meeting of President Taft and Mahler?

    • Michael Bosworth says:

      At least four New York newspapers note Mahler’s presence at the Press Club Dinner. Three of them place him together with Taft at the “guest table”, which was presumably for special invitées who were not members of the Club.

  8. Gareth Davies says:

    The LSO also met Taft in Washington in 1912, the day before the general election. According to the diary of the timpani player Charles Turner, he was a ‘splendid gentleman’! You can follow the orchestras progress 100 years later on Twitter @lsoontour1912 for more diary entries

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