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Home > Orchestra : Orchestra

 

Das Philharmonische Tagebuch

Tue, 16. March 2010

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In Memoriam Professor Franz Mailer

The world of musical research has lost a meritorious and charismatic personality, and the Vienna Philharmonic mourn a friend who shared in an important part of its history. On January 15, 2010, Professor Franz Mailer died at the age of 90 in Waidhofen/Ybbs.

Professor Franz Mailer in the
offices of the Vienna Philharmonic
at the presentation of the
Franz Schmidt Gold Medal, 1990
(Historical Archives of the
Vienna Philharmonic)

Franz Mailer was born in Vienna on September 21, 1920, and following the completion of his high school diploma studied Art and Music History at the University of Vienna. In 1946 he joined the "Osterreichischen Kulturvereinigung (Austrian Cultural Association)", which, among other things, organized the first post-war performances of the Vienna Burgtheater in Lower Austria. Mailer additionally worked as chorus conductor and organist. One year later he made a career change and become a journalist, eventually advancing to department manager, working with the "Kurier", "Kleines Volksblatt", and "Neues Österreich". Beginning in 1951 he was employed by the Austrian Radio, where  over the course of the next four decades he produced many successful program series, such as "Die Soirée", "In der Opernloge", "Nichts als Freude mit Musik" (approximately 500 episodes) and  "Perpetuum mobile" (56 episodes about Johann Strauss).

In 1963 Franz Mailer made the risky decision to become a freelance writer and moved to Starnberg, where he produced approximately 200 productions for the Bavarian Radio and  the West German radio in Cologne, among others. The main emphasis of his work had to do Austria. With productions such as "Geschichte des Wienerliedes", "Geschichte des Wiener Kabaretts", Wiener Komödienlieder", and individual programs about Ralph Banatzky, Philipp Fahrbach, Fritz Kreisler, Oscar Straus, the Strauss dynasty, Peter Altenberg, Egon Friedell, Anton Kuh, Alfred Polgar and Helmuth Qualtinger, as well as the Empresses Maria Theresia and Elisabeth, he demonstrated his abilities as a first-class researcher and versatile author.

He returned to Austria in 1972, settled down in Waidhofen/Ibbs, the birthplace of our first concert master, Rainer Küchl, and produced series for the ORF which are still remembrered by large numbers of viewers today, such as "Von Tänzern und Geigern", "Unter dem Doppeladler", and "Gold und Silber". By this same time he was also a recognized book author, the logical consequence of his many years of research. The subject matter of his first work was the "Waltz King". "Das kleine Johann Strauß-Buch," appeared in 1975, and was re-printed several times and translated into several languages. "Genie wider Willen", a biography about Josef Strauss - the sensitive and, according to his brother Johann, the more talented member of the family, was published two years later. This was followed by "Johann Strauß, Briefe und Dokumente" (10 volumes, 1983-2009), "Oscar Straus, Weltbürger der Musik" (1985), as well as the annotated catalogues of the works of Johann and Josef Strauss, "Freuet Euch des Lebens" and "Mein Lebenslauf ist Lieb' und Lust". These have since become standard texts for any substantiated research of these two composers, being based on Professor Mailer's scientific creed by which it is impossible to correctly comprehend the music of the Strauss dynasty apart from a thorough understanding of its musical, cultural and political context.

Riccardo Muti and Franz Mailer at a
rehearsal for the New Year's Concert
2004 (Historical Archives
of the Vienna Philharmonic)

Additional milestones occurred of their own accord. Franz Mailer reproduced, in a detailed and consistent manner, hand-written scores of the Strauss brothers, and contributed greatly to the complete recording of their oeuvres. He became president of the Johann Strauss Association in Vienna in 1992 and initiated the founding of the "Strauß-Edition Wien", in which the first entire collection of the compositions of Johann and Josef were published. A by-product of Franz Mailer's ceaseless endeavours was the creation of an impressive private archive detailing cultural life in Vienna between 1815 and 1914. His music library includes not only works of Johann and Josef, but also those from the first "Waltz King", Johann Strauss, Sr.

The list of awards which Franz Mailer amassed is hardly recountable: professional title of Professor" (1975), "Honorary Cross of Science and the Arts" (1981), Silver Honorary Medal of the City of Vienna (1983), "Culture Prize of Waidhofen/Ybbs" (1992), "Honorary Gold Medal of Service to the City of Vienna (1999), " Honorary Gold Medal of Service to the Province of Lower Austria (2000), and, along with these, numerous honorary memberships in international Strauss associations.

One particular award that was proudly mentioned by Professor Mailer in private conversation, as well as on official occasions, was the Vienna Philharmonic's Franz Schalk Medal in Gold, which had been presented to him following a vote of the entire orchestra in 1990. This grateful gesture was to acknowledge Mailer's work in conjunction with the Strauss dynasty, and above all, with the New Year's Concert. In 1979 he became the orchestra's consultant in regard to the program selection for this major musical and media event, the beginnings of which he was one of the last eyewitnesses. On December 31, 1939, he and his mother attended the very first concert tribute to Strauss which was conducted at the turn of the year by Clemens Krauss. This concert, which originally transpired on New Year's Eve, was moved to New Year's Day in 1941 and in the meanwhile can now be seen and heard in television and radio in over 70 countries. Mailer served for nearly thirty years as the one responsible for the New Year's Concert programming, establishing lasting standards regarding its internal structure, always striving for a balance between well known and lesser known compositions, and moved ever gradually toward the inclusion of composers with connections to the Strauss dynasty living and observing historical anniversaries.

Descriptions of his monumental life's work, his close association with our orchestra, and all of the numerous medals and awards of honour he received fail to convey the rich personal experience which every meeting with Professor Mailer provided. In the latter years, when he was forced to endure great limitations due to ill health and misfortune, which only his devoted wife Christa could help make bearable, he still remained fascinating in every conversation, maintaining his detailed knowledge and complete recollection, which was always permeated with broad-minded thinking in cultural and historical dimensions, and youthful fervour characteristic of the way he embraced any question put to him. After experiencing the way he could sing a melody from even the least known Strauss polkas or waltzes at the drop of a hat, every professional musician could only be amazed and offer acknowledge unconditional respect. His charismatic personality mesmerized the greatest musical interpreters. Unforgettable remain open discussion filled with great reverence between Mailer and Nicolaus Hanoncout in regards to the program of the New Year's Concert, or the deeply moving personal affection exhibited between him and Riccardo Muti, or the regard that Mariss Jansons demonstrated in his presence, or the admiration shown him by Lorin Maazel, or the combination of shyness and veneration manifested by Carlos Kleiber in Mailer's presence.

Two weeks following the New Year's Concert 2008 with Georges Pretre, for which Professor Mailer had managed to deliver the first draft of the program selections, but was physically unable to continue to make his usual contribution to the project, he wrote to acknowledge that he would have to end his activities with the Vienna Philharmonic. With the unsentimental detachment of a researcher fully aware of his physical limitations he expressed his fondness for our orchestra and quoted from the opera " Rosenkavalier", "…wenn eine Sach' ein End hat (when something is over, it's over) ".  With this quote Franz Mailer bade us farewell, but the standards he set will remain valid as long as the Vienna Philharmonic performs its New Year's Concerts.

-- Dr. Clemens Hellsberg 

 

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