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  • Anna Bahr-Mildenburg

    by Karin Martensen
    Die Sängerin Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, Rollenbild von Julius Weisz, o. J.
    Anna Bahr-Mildenburg
    Birth name: Marie Anna Wilhelmine Elisabeth Bellschan von Mildenburg
    b in Wien, Österreich
    d in Wien, Österreich

    In „Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart“, 2. Auflage, wird als Geburtsname ‘Mildenburg von Bellschau’ angegeben; dies ist aber mit Blick auf den Taufeintrag vom 22. Dezember 1872, nach dem der Geburtsname der Künstlerin ‘Bellschan von Mildenburg’ lautet, offensichtlich unrichtig.
    Singer, singing teacher, opera director, journalist, organiser of lectures, testamentary executor (as regards the estate of her husband, Hermann Bahr), nurse (during the First World War), actress (in works of her husband and in productions by Max Reinhard)
    Characteristic statement:

    "Anna von Mildenburg was the first person through whose artistry Mahler was able to show the great female figures of the music drama in their entire shattering power: Brünnhilde and Isolde, Ortrud and Elisabeth, Fidelio, Gluck's Clytemnestra and Donna Anna; and also Amneris and Amelia, Milada in Dalibor, Pfitzner's Minneleide and Santuzza. A woman's suffering has never been presented, not even by Duse, in such magnitude as by this singer, in whom all the dark forces of tragedy have come alive. There is no greater tragic artist in our time."

    (Richard Specht: Gustav Mahler. Berlin 1913, quoted from Franz Willnauer: Gustav Mahler. "Mein lieber Trotzkopf, meine süße Mohnblume". Briefe an Anna von Mildenburg. Vienna: Zsolnay, 2006, p. 439 ff)


    Thanks to her brilliant voice (highly dramatic soprano), her vocal and personal expressive powers and her dramatic intelligence, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was, in the eyes of Gustav Mahler (to whom she was also bound in a lengthy love relationship), the ideal "singing tragedian" who fulfilled his demands for emotional depth in music-dramatic interpretation. In the Bayreuth of the era of Cosima Wagner, she was a brilliant and convincing interpreter of the ideal of the "German belcanto" as adopted by Richard Wagner. She also attained great fame as a teacher with the then completely new method of supplementing customary vocal training with music-dramatic instruction, and encouraging her pupils to display true stage presentation. In both music and staging, she anticipated a great deal of what eventually became accepted after 1951 as the new Bayreuth style, both in staging and in music. Her stage direction of persons - forming the basis of her productions - was controversial.

    Cities and countries

    After her sensational debut as Brünnhilde in Richard Wagner's “Walküre” ("Valkyrie") in 1895 at the former Hamburg State Theatre (today Hamburg State Opera) under the direction of her mentor, Gustav Mahler, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg continued to celebrate major successes (some of which were guest performances) in Bayreuth and Vienna, then in London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Berlin, Augsburg, Brussels, Paris and Moscow. She was active in Munich, Berlin, Salzburg and Vienna as a teacher of dramatics, professor of voice and operatic performance and opera director, and at the Salzburg Festival as an actress.


    Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, born on 29 November 1872, was born into an officer's family initially residing in Vienna, later in Klagenfurt. Conspicuously musical, she received piano lessons beginning at age seven and vocal instruction later on. She is said to have inherited her talent from her maternal grandfather, a famous singer in his youth. In Anna Bahr-Mildenburg's eighth year, the family moved from Klagenfurt to Görz (located near Trieste). The singing lessons that she had already received in Klagenfurt from Karl Weidt were continued in Görz by Helene Rieckhoff-Pessiack. But it was only with the help of the comedy writer Julius Rosen, who lived in a neighbouring flat, that she was able to win her parents' support in fulfilling her wish to become a singer. Upon the request of her singing teacher Helene Rieckhoff-Pessiack, and probably also due to her father's (an Imperial and Royal Major) good connections, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was granted an audition for the then Vienna Court Opera director Wilhelm Jahn, who in turn recommended her to Rosa Papier-Paumgartner. Due to her modest financial situation, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg received a scholarship at the famous opera school and developed so well there, as a singer, that she was initially engaged by the Leipzig Opera director Max Staegemann already at the end of her first year of study. Through the mediation of Rosa Papier-Paumgartner, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was also able to sing for Bernhard Pollini, the director of the former Hamburg State Theatre (today Hamburg State Opera), who was so enthusiastic over her ability that he telegraphed to Staegemann, enticed her away from him and signed her on at the Hamburg Opera for three years beginning on 1 September 1895. Already during her period of study with Rosa Papier-Paumgartner, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg did not allow people to address her by the family name "Bellschan von Mildenburg", but only by "von Mildenburg" – simply because Rosa Papier-Paumgartner found that this was easier to remember.

    Having been vocally well trained, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was nonetheless an absolute novice on the operatic stage when she started out in Hamburg. This notwithstanding, as Gustav Mahler later wrote to Natalie Bauer-Lechner, "her musical and dramatic genius already radiated from everything." For these singing abilities, she found in Gustav Mahler an ideal mentor to whom she also soon became bound in an intensive love relationship. It cannot be gathered with any certainty from the surviving correspondence whether or not they were engaged to be married (the singer's letters of reply were destroyed either by Mahler himself or by his later wife Alma Mahler; the only surviving letters are those written by Anna Bahr-Mildenburg to Mahler beginning in about the spring of 1902 when he was the opera director.) It is evident from Mahler's letters to Anna Bahr-Mildenburg that the relationship had already cooled again before Mahler began his engagement as director of the Court Opera in Vienna (the later State Opera) in 1897. Nonetheless she was engaged as an ensemble member in Vienna on his recommendation beginning on 1 June 1898, even though she had to "refrain from all personal dealings" with Mahler, as stated in a letter from him to her in July 1897; from the informal address in the letters, "Liebste Anna" (“Dearest Anna”), he returned to the formal pronoun "Sie" of the beginning of their acquaintance. The reason for the rupture of the relationship cannot be clarified due to lack of documentation.

    Shortly after her definitive separation from Mahler, from about the beginning of 1898 (Mahler's "internal" separation, in Willnauer's opinion, can perhaps be placed in the summer of 1896), Anna Bahr-Mildenburg entered into new relationships, first with one of Mahler's Hamburg friends, the well-to-do lawyer Dr. Hermann Behn, which probably ended in the winter of 1899/1900. Moreover, whilst still with Behn, she had a relationship with the critic Ludwig Karpath, Mahler's friend from Budapest days. Shortly thereafter she then became the partner of Siegfried Lipiner, also Mahler's friend of many years' standing. According to her diary, she also had a briefer relationship with Alfred Roller, Mahler's colleague and an ingenious set designer in Vienna.

    Anna Bahr-Mildenburg remained at the Vienna Court Opera until 1917 and celebrated great successes there, including her role debut as Isolde in Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" on 13 February 1900. Her career was also boosted by the fact that, in 1896, Mahler had already recommended her to Cosima Wagner, who rehearsed the role of Kundry in Wagner's "Parsifal" and later of Isolde. Anna Bahr-Mildenburg made her debut as Kundry at the Bayreuth Festival in 1897 and appeared there again in 1909, 1911 and 1914. Guest appearances led her to London in 1910 and 1913, to Amsterdam in 1911 and to Brussels in 1914.

    Through her instruction from Mahler and Cosima Wagner (who regularly rehearsed Wagner roles with young singers and also directed in Bayreuth), Anna Bahr-Mildenburg acquired a mature dramatic competence; she especially perfected her talent for interpreting music-dramatic procedures with impressive acting.

    It is nonetheless striking that, alongside this ability, the condition of her voice was a frequently discussed subject in the Mildenburg reception from the very outset. According to Willnauer, for example, the files of the Court Opera report Anna Bahr-Mildenburg's unusually frequent requests from the "most esteemed Herr Director Mahler" and especially, later on, from his successor Felix von Weingartner, that she be permitted to take a holiday for the care or recovery of her voice or that she would have to cancel performances, or they would have to be sung by someone else (see Willnauer, see above, p. 234 and p. 442). Parizek notes that there were more remarks in concert reviews beginning in about 1907 attesting to the artist's "exhausted voice" or calling her a "vocal ruin" (see also the remarks in the dissertation by Gabriele Parizek "Anna Bahr-Mildenburg: Theaterkunst als Lebenswerk". Dissertation, University of Vienna, 2007, pp. 56ff). On the other hand, her husband Hermann Bahr, at a performance of “Götterdämmerung” on 22 June 1908 at the Vienna Court Opera, reported having experienced "utterly preposterous ovations" for his wife (source: http://www.univie.ac.at/bahr/chronological table without any further verification). Anna Bahr-Mildenburg herself also confronted this problem in a large number of diary entries, writing that these (in her opinion) untrue press reports had become an obstacle to further appearances. She also wrote in her diary: "I […] had many other beautiful performances, but my enemies were unrelenting and remained so, not upholding the beauty that I had so far given them but invoking the performances where I must have done poorly due to my physical condition. And they refer to this and do not forgive me and damn me to remain silent and they gradually succeeded in convincing the entire world that it was all over with me. And all sorts of people who really are washed up, who always sing wrong notes, can perform, make guest appearances, participate here and there and I, whose voice is of an utterly inexpressible beauty, must remain silent; and I always see on all those faces either pity over my misfortune with my voice, or contentedness and reassurance that I have now been put to silence and no longer stand in the way of purity and lack of talent." (Diary of June 1920, Box 79 – Diaries 1912–1920 –, shelf number: IV / 12, 16) In addition, she polemicised with emotionally laden words against those who – as she expressed – wanted to take away her life's content from her. In her diary, she called those who did not invite her to perform as a singer, "murderers, stranglers, withholders of my art", for example, and wished that "God should bring them to justice". (Diary 1928, shelf number: V / 1, 6)

    The fact is that she had to sing extremely often from the beginning of her career in Hamburg onwards (see also the compilation of Bahr-Mildenburg's appearances in Hamburg in Willnauer, see above, pp. 482ff). According to this, the singer had to perform 19 times just from September until the end of 1895 during her first season. She appeared in all three Brünnhilde roles, also as Leonore ("Fidelio"), Elisabeth ("Tannhäuser"), Senta (“Der fliegende Holländer”/"The Flying Dutchman"), Aida ("Aida"), Rezia ("Oberon") and as the Countess (“Die Hochzeit des Figaro”/"The Marriage of Figaro"). The enormous vocal demands of the (Wagner) roles in which Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was cast are also undeniable; these roles, also in the opinion of present-day experts, entail per se an overtaxing of the voice. The singer herself recognised the dangers to her voice as a result of the excessive demands made by the many challenging roles, but she must have felt unable to undertake anything effective against them. This can be gathered from a letter of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg to Nina Spiegler of 11 September 1901. She writes literally: "This constant work on Wagner roles must ruin an artist; I sense clearly that I must, by no means, overexert my energies again as I did last season. I cannot tell you how horribly I feel when I think of having to continue working like that. The exclusive work in Wagner roles does not allow for any artistic singing, the only thing that conserves the voice; for a long time, after tasks such as Isolde, Brünnhilde, Ortrud, etc. the vocal chords are in a condition that does not permit a study of the refinements of vocal technique. Therein lies the secret of this downright horrifying vocal degeneration." (Willnauer, see above, pp. 307 ff. Source: Manuscript Collection of the Austrian National Library, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg No. 207 / 76–5) Up to the present day, scholars continue to speculate as to whether the reasons for Mildenburg's vocal problems are to be found in a possibly incorrect training by her teacher – Hermann Bahr hypothesised this in one of his diaries (see "Meister und Meisterbriefe um Hermann Bahr. Aus seinen Entwürfen, Tagebüchern und seinem Briefwechsel mit Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Max Reinhardt, Josef Kainz, Eleonora Duse und Anna von Mildenburg", ed. Joseph Gregor, Vienna 1947, p. 212) – or whether she was "burnt out" by the Hamburg director Pollini (Willnauer, see above, p. 8) or, due to a vacancy in Hamburg, was used from the very beginning in a vocal range that did not at all suit her (this hypothesis is stated, at any rate, by Jens Malte Fischer in his Mahler biography - "Gustav Mahler. Der fremde Vertraute". Vienna: Zsolnay, 2003, p. 290).

    It can no longer be verified today, due to the passage of time since her death in 1947 and the lack of documentation, whether or not the statements concerning the singer's vocal health are based on facts. It appears, however, that an area of projection arose that served to depict a stereotyped image of the singer. It was not the flawlessness of her voice through which Bahr-Mildenburg impressed her listeners, but her "demonic gift for characterisation". Willnauer, for example, reports on her interpretation of Clytemnestra as follows: "Mildenburg used this role - in which the essential thing is not vocal beauty but a 'demonic gift for characterisation' - to create a grandiose psychological study with which she gave brilliant performances for over twenty years on many stages of Europe and has meanwhile gone down in the history of theatre in the 20th century" (see above, pp. 445ff). Rebecca Grotjahn pointed out that this kind of classification in the discourse on singers served the purpose of spreading clichés (Grotjahn, "Angelica Catalani – Das Bild der Diva", in: Viva voce No. 57 / 58, p. 9). Because her vocal abilities were in doubt, it was suggested that the singer's effect was not based on her artistic work, but on mere appearance (Grotjahn, see above, p. 12). Ultimately the singer does not appear as an artist to be taken seriously, but as a "diva".

    Repeatedly interrupted by shorter or longer absences from the operatic stage due to hoarseness or colds, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg also enjoyed major successes as a singer during the ensuing years. Not only must the major Wagner roles be mentioned in this connection (including Ortrud in Wagner's "Lohengrin", with which Anna Bahr-Mildenburg made her debut in Vienna in August 1898, Elisabeth in "Tannhäuser" and Brünnhilde in "Twilight of the Gods"), but also the role of Donna Anna in Mozart's "Don Giovanni", in which she became a "singing tragedian ranking with Eleonore Duse", as her later husband Hermann Bahr enthusiastically judged (see Willnauer, as above, p. 364). Her debuts in the title role of Verdi's "Aida" and as Senta in Wagner's “Fliegender Holländer” ("Flying Dutchman") were just as brilliant. She also had great success as Isolde ("Tristan and Isolde") in January 1900. In 1901, after having belonged to the Court Opera for just three years, the honorary title of Imperial and Royal Kammersängerin was bestowed upon her. In 1905 Anna Bahr-Mildenburg made a guest appearance as Isolde at the German Provincial Theatre in Prague and in June 1906 in London (she enjoyed such a great success with this performance that she was offered a guest contract at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which she refused). "Great artistic deeds" during the 1904/05 season were Beethoven's "Fidelio" as well as participation in the new production of the “Ring des Nibelungen” ("Ring of the Nibelung") that Mahler had prepared in cooperation with Alfred Roller. After Mahler's departure from the Viennese stage in late 1907, the performance of Clytemnestra in "Elektra" of Richard Strauss was surely one of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg's most outstanding successes. On 24 March 1909 she appeared in this role for the first time; it was with this role that she then bade farewell to the stage of the Vienna Court Opera in 1916. After the end of the First World War, she was a guest at the Vienna State Opera (as the Court Opera was called from then on) only sporadically, primarily in the role of Clytemnestra. With this role, she then took her definitive leave from public stage life at the Augsburg Opera Festival.

    On 22 August 1909 Anna von Mildenburg married the author, director and dramaturge Hermann Bahr and called herself Bahr-Mildenburg from this time onwards. The couple first lived in Vienna, then a few years in Salzburg and in Munich beginning in 1922, where the artist had held a professorship at the State Academy of Music (today Music Academy) since 1920.

    Beginning in 1922, the dream of becoming an actress, already formulated earlier in her diaries, was fulfilled in the grand style. After she had so far "only" appeared in the works of her husband, she could now appear at the Salzburg Festival by invitation of Max Reinhardt, in the role of the "world" in Reinhardt's production of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's “Großes Salzburger Welttheater” ("Great Salzburg World Theatre"). She also played the Abbess under Reinhardt's direction in Karl Vollmöller's “Das Mirakel” ("The Miracle").

    When the Vienna Court Opera remained closed starting on 1 September 1914 due to the events of the war, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg made herself available for the care of wounded soldiers from the Front. As a voluntary helper, she worked at Salzburg Hospital and then recorded her experiences in two reports ("Weihnachten unserer Verwundeten", in: Erinnerungen No. 25, Vienna, Berlin: Wiener Literarische Anstalt, 1921, pp. 204 ff, and in: Salzburger Volksblatt, 2 January 1915; "'Dienen, dienen'", in: Erinnerungen No. 23, see above, pp. 179 ff) and a novelette ("Hacin", in: Erinnerungen No. 24, see above, pp. 191 ff) as well as in diary entries of the years 1914/15 that have not so far been published.

    During the 1900/01 season, after Mahler had already assigned a portion of the scenic rehearsals with her colleagues to Anna Bahr-Mildenburg (as an assistant), she could only later realise her own production ideas. In 1920 she directed the premiere performance of "Der Unmensch" (“The Brute”), a play by her husband, at the Berlin Kammerspiele. She also directed a number of times at performances by her pupils in her capacity as voice teacher at the Munich Academy of Music, for example Mozart's "Bastien and Bastienne" and “Der Schauspieldirektor” ("The Impresario").

    Having been invited by Bruno Walter during the 1921/22 season, she also directed Wagner's complete “Ring des Nibelungen” ("Ring of the Nibelung"), performed at the Opera Festival at the Munich National Theatre and at the Prince Regent's Theatre. Opinions of this production in the press varied greatly. Gabriele Parizek quotes several very positive reviews in her dissertation (see above., pp. 337 ff), Franz Willnauer, on the other hand, reported that the production was largely rejected by the press (see above, p. 457). It remains to be verified which press opinion predominated. In any case, it appears to have been irrelevant for these quite varied verdicts that here – atypically for that time - a woman had appeared as director. It was reported in this way by Anne Rose Katz, at any rate, in her article of 18 March 1987 in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung": neither the daily newspapers of that time nor the Munich Theatre newspaper commented on this "sensation". For all that, this activity of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was thoroughly unusual, for she was initially only engaged as a “Vortragsmeisterin”. Accordingly, she was not responsible for the overall production, but only for the rehearsals with the soloists. When disagreements arose between her and the resident producer of the National Theatre, Willi Wirk, concerning the new production, the overall production was assigned to her (and not Wirk) by the general artistic director (Anne Rose Katz: "Eine Frau inszeniert den Ring des Nibelungen". "Süddeutsche Zeitung", 18.3.1987, No. 64, p. 17). It was possible that Bruno Walter wanted to fill the gap created by the advanced age of the head director, Anton von Fuchs. Of some significance may also have been the fact that Walter did not exactly get on brilliantly with Wirk. The question as to whether or not any additional activities of Bahr-Mildenburg as a director were planned, must remain unanswered due to a lack of documentation. In any case, no such plans materialised, due to changed circumstances at the National Theatre. When Hans Knappertsbusch became Bruno Walter's successor as general music director in late 1922, a quarrel with Anna Bahr-Mildenburg apparently took place. She wrote in a letter to Knappertsbusch: "I no longer wish to give my name under any circumstances [...] for performances for which I cannot claim responsibility before my artistic conscience [...]" (see Katz, above). The precise reasons for the quarrel can no longer be established. Since Knappertsbusch accepted Bahr-Mildenburg's resignation in his letter of 15 December 1923, referring to "circumstances of the times" and "financial reasons", it can be presumed that the budget was to be considerably reduced for the artists' rehearsals. Supporting evidence for this is found in the fact that Bahr-Mildenburg speaks of "temporally limited circumstances" in her above-cited letter which, in her view, would lead to "mere improvisation". This would have violated her conception of art, however, according to which the individual work with the singers belonged to the elementary foundations of her work. For this reason, she probably had the impression that the production now "no longer corresponded to her Bayreuth education" and her "conceptions of a Bayreuth work of art", as she formulated it in the aforementioned letter. It is evident from the documents of the Prince Regent Theatre that all four parts of the "Ring" were played between August 1922 and September 1923, naming Anna Bahr-Mildenburg as the director. When the work was revived one year later, Max Hofmüller was named as the director; he was responsible for the course of the staging until 1928. One year later there was yet another change: Hofmüller was no longer the director, but instead Kurt Barré, who was responsible for the course of the staging until 1933. It was only for the 1934 Festival that there was a new staging, for which Kurt Barré is once again indicated as having been the director.

    It was only much later that Anna Bahr-Mildenburg directed again: in 1940 in Otto Nicolai's “Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor” ("The Merry Wives of Windsor") and in 1941 in Albert Lortzing's “Zar und Zimmermann” ("Tsar and Carpenter"), both at the Salzburg Provincial Theatre. Three weeks prior to the beginning of the 1933 Salzburg Festival, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg had resigned the directorship in "Tristan and Isolde" "[...] for reasons of natural loyalty to the state that I serve, namely the unified German Reich under the leadership of Adolf Hitler [...]" (she was living as an Austrian citizen in Munich at this time; the National Socialist Party was prohibited in Austria). From her professional correspondence, one can gather that she tried to secure more directorial assignments a number of times, but that all corresponding projects failed for various reasons.

    She was also working as a singing teacher. Beginning in February 1920, initially as a "teacher of dramatics", then from 21 July 1921 as a full professor at the Academy of Music in Munich, she passed on to her pupils her knowledge of scenic role formation until she was pensioned in 1937. For her entire life, she firmly adhered to the ideal of genuine stage presentation out of the spirit of the music, as she had learned it from Mahler and Cosima Wagner, or as she understood it. She explained her working method at numerous lectures, summer courses, demonstration concerts and seminars (at which she performed next to her pupils) as well as in many newspaper articles. For her, the gestures of the singer on stage had to "listen" to the music, and had to be "taken from the music" (see also: The Wagner Gesture: Introduction to the Lecture "Music and Gesture", held on 8 May 1925 in the small Festival Hall of the University of Vienna. Published by the Central Council of the Intellectual Workers of Austria. Printed Music Collection of the Austrian National Library, Eleonore Vondenhoff Collection). She required from her pupils, she wrote, "that the gestures are not mechanical, but have an inner justification. [...] It is only through inwardness that one becomes comprehensible." Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was thus very meticulous and intellectual in her work as a director, imparting to them her approach that it is not sufficient to merely embody one finger on stage and to mechanically "work off" a minimal repertoire of gestures. Rather, as is evident from her stage directions, she worked with her actors and pupils on each detail of the role with great precision, inspired and guided by the concepts with which she had become familiar with Gustav Mahler and Cosima Wagner, and then made her own.

    With this attitude, however, she did not only earn praise. On the one hand, she was called "the most faithful of the faithful, as far as the legacy of Wagner is concerned" (newspaper review of 13 August 1922 about her "Ring", quoted by Gabriele Parizek, see above, p. 337). On the other hand, it is reported that her working method in accordance with the motto "the original is always the most original one" had failed to recognise that each artist must work out his/her own presentation profile and that a work can always be created anew through new directors' interpretations. The assessment that Bahr-Mildenburg's production "failed primarily due to the director", as Schläder/Braunmüller opine ("Tradition mit Zukunft. 100 Jahre Prinzregententheater München“, Feldkirchen 1996, p. 67) appears problematic, however. It must be asked whether the stylistic and aesthetic inconsistency of the production was not, in fact, due to its time. Ultimately, research must be conducted into the conditions of directing around 1920 in order to attain a balanced verdict in this manner (see my Dissertation, p. 59 ff.).

    Already in 1918 she had taken over a course in music dramaturgy as an instructor at the New Vienna Conservatory, followed by the directorship of the "opera school" during the academic year 1919/20. Nonetheless, her suggestion that she herself create such a facility at the Vienna State Opera came to nought. Nor did her attempt to start a "style formation school" at the Vienna Academy of Music and the Performing Arts meet with success. Instead, she gave music-dramatic courses in Salzburg from 1934 to 1942, at the same time as her teaching activities as a professor at the Music Academy in Munich. Nevertheless, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg did not abandon her wish to also teach in her native city of Vienna. She only succeeded in doing so during the Nazi period. Five more years elapsed after receiving her pension in Munich before she was allowed to carry out such activities in Vienna. She repeatedly had to defend herself against the suspicion that she was not "Aryan". In the newspaper "Der Stürmer", she was even accused of being "the intimate friend of the Jew Gustav Mahler her whole life long" and that her husband Hermann Bahr "had disgraced his name by standing up for the Jewish Bolshevist chief Ernst Toller". She was therefore "henceforth unsuitable to show German talents the path that leads upwards to the heights of art. She lacked the ultimate greatness: the truth." After Anna Bahr-Mildenburg had tacked an open letter on the wall of her classroom in May 1933, according to which she "[could] safely affirm that my whole life is and was a fulfilment of that which our Führer proclaims today as the first condition for the recovery of our people" (it must remain open whether she wrote this out of political calculation or due to her unrealistic, escapist artistic nature) and the "Führer" had received her, she was considered rehabilitated. Anna Bahr-Mildenburg's aforementioned cancellation at the Salzburg Festival 1933 surely contributed to this assessment as well. In November 1942, on her 70th birthday, she was awarded the "Greater German Goethe Medal for Art and Science". In late autumn of the same year, she moved to Vienna and gave a course there in dramatic operatic presentation at the Reich Academy of Music during the winter semester of 1942/43 as well as special courses at the Vienna Music School. Beginning in 1944 she was permanently employed there as a full-time teacher; in addition, she was an instructor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg during the summers of 1943 and 1944. She also continued to give private voice lessons until her death.

    During her last years, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was also intensively occupied with the complete edition of the works and letters of her husband, who had died on 15 January 1934. In addition, she began to organise both Hermann Bahr's estate and her own archive.

    Anna Bahr-Mildenburg died in her flat on Gumpendorfer Straße 25 in the sixth district of Vienna on 27 January 1947. The 75-year-old had passed away in her sleep. After a funeral service in the foyer of the Vienna State Opera, her mortal remains were taken to Salzburg and buried next to those of her husband in the municipal cemetery.


    Anna Bahr-Mildenburg attained great recognition as a talented and intelligent singer, and from her instruction from Gustav Mahler and Cosima Wagner; she was famous not only for the emotional depth of her music-dramatic interpretations, but also for her perfect vocal achievements. In addition, in her music-dramatic teaching, she contributed to the fact that she as well as her pupils - according to all contemporary statements - stood out compared to many other Wagnerian singers during this period because of their authentic stage presentation. For a long time, scenically and musically, there was no artistic personality who even came close to attaining Anna Bahr-Mildenburg's exceptional ranking in the area of Wagner. Her style of presentation also continued to be path-breaking for Wagner productions after 1951.

    Alma Mahler depicted a problematic image of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg in her memoires. In them, she designates herself as the "natural enemy" of Bahr-Mildenburg and believes that the love of the singer for Mahler was "very self-serving". Moreover, she insinuates that Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was the reason why Mahler left Hamburg (quoted in F. Willnauer, see above, p. 388). The fact that this is incorrect is shown by the documents published by Franz Willnauer which prove that the singer occupied an important place in Mahler's life for a long time, not only as a singer but also as a human being. For example, hardly anyone else knew about the creation of Mahler's Third Symphony as accurately as she did (Mahler had regularly reported to Anna Bahr-Mildenburg in his letters on the progress of his new work), and hardly anyone else was informed as early, and as well informed in great detail, about Mahler's plans for moving from Hamburg to Vienna as she was.

    Opinions are divided concerning the question as to whether Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was able to comprehend Mahler's compositional ambitions. In his Mahler biography, Jens Malte Fischer writes that she "[understood Mahler] because of her own artistic gifts, as a musician, as a creator of music" (see Fischer, above, p. 295). Franz Willnauer and Henry-Louis de La Grange before him arrive at the opposing view. Willnauer believes that Mahler's letters allow one to infer "a rather profound disappointment concerning his partner in this fundamental area of his personality" (Willnauer, see above, p. 429). De La Grange writes in his Mahler monograph that "Mildenburg, completely preoccupied with herself and her art, only had a superficial interest in her lover's work and was probably also confused by the style of his music" (quoted in Willnauer, see above, p. 430). Only more exact research can show which of these assessments is correct. The fact is that Mahler reported to her, as already mentioned, the progress of his Third Symphony in the greatest detail and would surely not have done so if he had not been able to presume musical and artistic empathy on her part.

    It is remarkable that Anna Bahr-Mildenburg meticulously wrote down her thoughts, feelings and activities throughout her entire life. Numerous diaries – unpublished so far – are in the Austrian Theatre Museum in Vienna. Unfortunately, as Franz Willnauer has stated, the years between 1889 and 1906 in the series are missing, so that the letters of Mahler to his colleague and lover must serve as a mirror of her personality image for this period.

    Anna Bahr-Mildenburg was incredibly productive as a feuilletonist and author after her marriage to Hermann Bahr. In these documents (to be processed in detail) she depicts not only her experiences as a nurse (during the First World War) and as a singer, but also reports on her work with Gustav Mahler and Cosima Wagner. Above all, she promoted her conception of art in these articles. These documents are therefore of considerable importance for the history of opera and contemporary history.


    Except for the small circle of the specialist public, it is evident that the name of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg is hardly known today, not even amongst opera connoisseurs. Even present-day "Wagnerians" are not aware that she received eulogistic recognition as an artist and singer in countless reviews during her lifetime. This may also be due to the fact that her voice can only be heard on a single work on a very old recording. This is the recitative of the aria "Ozean, du Ungeheuer" from "Oberon" by Carl Maria von Weber, made in 1904.

    In addition, a friend of the artist reported that there must be "recordings of Anna's Valkyrie"; however, these have apparently not reached the market (see F. Willnauer, above, p. 468).

    It is also unknown that Anna Bahr-Mildenburg's work as a director and teacher provoked many (thoroughly conflicting) reactions in the press during her time. According to research carried out so far, Anne Rose Katz appears to be the only person who has taken note of these activities of the artist in a newspaper article.

    Neither during her lifetime nor today has there been a comprehensive scholarly treatment of her life story, artistic career and contribution to the history of the theatre.

    In the master's thesis by Candida Kraus on "Richard Wagner and Anna Bahr-Mildenburg" written in 1946, which thus appeared during the artist's lifetime and was designated by the author as a "dissertation", she conducted research into the singer's relationship with the work of Richard Wagner as a singer, teacher and director, whilst also attending her class. Biographical details are given according to the "memories" of the artist. Information regarding the role formation of the artist is based on her work in the directorial treatment of Isolde; in addition, the author presented "various role images, film strips and gramophone records" loaned to her by the artist, the location of which, however, could not be clarified as yet. Finally, she refers to various essays by the artist written between 1920 and 1940, without specifying these in any greater detail.

    In addition, Gabriele Parizek concerns herself with the artist in her dissertation "Anna Bahr-Mildenburg: Theaterkunst als Lebenswerk" written in 2007 and especially embracing her estate (diaries from the years 1888-1889 and 1906-1947 as well as the remaining unpublished archive material: role editing, essays, manuscripts, newspaper reviews on her performances) preserved in the Austrian Theatre Museum in Vienna.

    The correspondence between Anna Bahr-Mildenburg und Alma Mahler is published in its entirety in the work of Franz Willnauer (see Literature). The controversy of the two women concerning the publication of Mahler's letters was so far only documented in scholarly specialist literature (Helga Scholz-Michelitsch: "Eine Korrespondenz über eine Korrespondenz. Anna Bahr-Mildenburg und Alma Mahler zur Edition von Briefen Gustav Mahlers". In: Studien zur Musikwissenschaft, Beihefte der Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich, Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1994, pp. 365–374).

    List of works




    Thanks to the work of Franz Willnauer (see Literature), it has been possible to newly date approximately 200 letters and telegrams, stored in the manuscript department of the Austrian Theatre Museum in Vienna, from Mahler to Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, and to thereby place them in chronological order. In addition, this work can be credited with completely listing the appearances of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg in Hamburg and Vienna for the first time. In addition, the author delivers a quite comprehensive biographical summary on the singer alongside an extensive, if not complete literature list of the writings of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg and those about the artist (see repertoire and the annotations concerning this).

    A perusal of the complete estate of Anna Bahr-Mildenburg would be required for an exhaustive scholarly treatment; it is located in the Theatre Museum in Vienna in numerous cartons. The aforementioned dissertation by Gabriele Parizek ("Anna Bahr-Mildenburg. Theaterkunst als Lebenswerk", 2007) has recently undertaken steps in this direction.

    Further sources, according to the information of Gabriele Parizek (see Literature), are to be found in the Academy of Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna, which houses a special file entitled "Anna Bahr-Mildenburg. Special Course in 'Dramatic Operatic Performance' 1942".

    As for the cooperation between Gustav Mahler and Anna Bahr-Mildenburg during the Hamburg period, according to Franz Willnauer (see Literature) there is research material in the following: Hamburg State and University Library (Centre for Theatrical Research / Hamburg Theatre Collection); Hamburg State Archive; Hamburg State Opera, Archive; Richard Wagner Museum in Bayreuth; Berlin State Library, Journal Archive; Berlin Provincial Archive; Berlin Municipal Museum Foundation, Theatrical Department; Library of the Institute for Musical Research, Berlin, Pictorial Archive; German State Opera in Berlin.

    For the singer's years in Vienna and Salzburg, according to Willnauer's information there is research material in the following: Austrian State Archive, House, Court and State Archive, War Archive; Austrian National Library, Manuscript, Autograph and Estate Collection, Music Collection, Pictorial Archive, Journal Archive; Austrian Academy of Sciences, Archive, Phonogram Archive; Vienna Museum; Music University (formerly: Academy of Music and the Performing Arts), University Library; Vienna Municipal and Provincial Library; Municipal Association of Salzburg; Augsburg Municipal Archive; Carinthian Provincial Archive in Klagenfurt.

    A few letters from and to Anna Bahr-Mildenburg and other documents on the artist's work in Bayreuth are also to be found in the Archive of the Richard Wagner Museum in Bayreuth.

    Additional manuscript documents are to be found, according to Kalliope, in the following libraries and archives:

    Bavarian State Library, Munich

    German Literature Archive, Marbach, Neckar / Manuscript Department

    Freies Deutsches Hochstift (Goethe Museum), Frankfurt, Main

    Hessian Provincial Library, Wiesbaden

    Institute for Theatrical, Film and Television Scholarship, Cologne / Theatre Collection

    Munich Municipal Library / Monacensia

    State Institute for Musical Research, Berlin

    Foundation Archive of the Academy of Arts

    Johann Christian Senckenberg University Library, Frankfurt, Main

    Centre for Theatrical Research, Hamburg

    Finally, mention must be made of the (not very extensive) material of the Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna, and the Eleonore Vondenhoff Collection, housed in the Austrian National Museum in Vienna.

    Need for research

    A comprehensive processing of the artist's estate and a scholarly classification of her life's work have so far been lacking. In her dissertation, Gabriele Parizek (see Literature) has taken on the diaries of the years 1888-1889 and 1906-1947 and the remaining unpublished archive material (role editing, essays, manuscripts, newspaper reviews of her performances) but arrives at problematic conclusions in some places.

    The aforementioned master's thesis of Candida Kraus is a highly interesting document from the standpoint of contemporary history, even though the treatment of sources and statements of the artist herself remain uncritical.

    Franz Willnauer's work is written from the standpoint of a Mahler researcher, which is why the means of a montage of other documents could be helpful, in this case, in obtaining a complete picture of the singer.

    Finally, the artist's self-representation, as it finds expression in her journals, for example, must be confronted with representation by others (resulting, for example, from newspaper reviews and contemporary reports), in order to be able to provide the most comprehensive possible biographical picture of the artist.

    The author of this article is currently preparing several essays which will perform these tasks. A dissertation on the artist's aforementioned production of the “Ring des Nibelungen” ("Ring of the Nibelung") in Munich, which appraises the available documents about this event for the first time, was published in May 2013 (see Literature).


    Virtual International Authority File (VIAF): 76580387
    Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (GND): 118646370
    Library of Congress (LCCN): n84097719


    Karin Martensen, 14. Mai 2008 / 3. Oktober 2008 / 19. Oktober 2016

    Translation: David Babcock


    Redaktion: Regina Back und Silke Wenzel
    Zuerst eingegeben am 19.12.2008
    Zuletzt bearbeitet am 24.04.2018

    Empfohlene Zitierweise

    Karin Martensen, Artikel „Anna Bahr-Mildenburg“ (English version, translated by David Babcock), in: MUGI. Musikvermittlung und Genderforschung: Lexikon und multimediale Präsentationen, hg. von Beatrix Borchard und Nina Noeske, Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, 2003ff. Stand vom 24.4.2018
    URL: http://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Anna_Bahr-Mildenburg