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Social Science Jewish Studies

Mahler's Forgotten Conductor

Heinz Unger and His Search for Jewish Meaning, 1895-1965

by (author) Hernan Tesler-Mabé

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2020
Jewish Studies, General, Historical
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2020
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2020
    List Price

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Heinz Unger, born in Berlin, Germany, in 1895, was reared from a young age to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. However, after attending a 1915 Munich performance of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) conducted by Bruno Walter, Unger decided to devote the rest of his life to music and particularly to the dissemination of Gustav Mahler’s music.


This microhistory explores how the double strands of German and Jewish identity converged in Unger’s lifelong struggle to grasp who he was. Critical to this understanding was Mahler’s music – a music that Unger endowed with exceptional meaning and that was central to his Jewish identity. This book sets this exploration of Unger’s “performative ritual” within a biographical tale of a life lived travelling the world in search of a home, a search that took the conductor from his native Germany to the Soviet Union, England, Spain, and, finally, Canada.

About the author

Hernan Tesler-Mabé is a part-time professor of History at the University of Ottawa, Vice President of the Association for Canadian Jewish Studies, and a founding member of the University of Ottawa Holocaust Research Group.

Hernan Tesler-Mabé's profile page


  • Winner, Canadian Jewish Literary Awards - Biography

Editorial Reviews

"A useful contribution to Jewish studies, this monograph is a microhistory, a contextual biography of German conductor Heinz Unger."


"It is exciting to learn about Unger’s eventful, unjustly forgotten life and archive, buoyed by Tesler-Mabé’s passion for reconstructing the conductor’s story."

Canadian Jewish Studies Vol. 31

"This is a worthy tribute to a long-forgotten conductor and devoted Mahlerite, whose evangelistic zeal did much to promulgate the composer's music. This in-depth coverage of Unger's life fills a void and, hopefully, paves the way for some trawling of the archives and release of some of the artist's live performances."

MusicWeb International

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