The Fifth is the most Jewish of all Mahler’s symphonies. The first movement takes usto the unmistakable mood of Jewish lamentation, the finale to the childlike visionof messianic joy.As we know, Mahler converted to Catholicism. Views may differ as to whether hisdecision was opportunistic or a question of religious conviction. Christianity plays animportant part in much of Mahler’s music, though not in this particular work.Perhaps I may take the liberty of referring briefly to my own family. My ancestors(like Mahler’s) were merchants in a small shtetl in the Habsburg Empire. They wereobservant Jews. My grandfather, three years older than Gustav Mahler, decided toleave this religious lifestyle behind him when he went to study in Vienna. My fatherand his brothers were brought up without any religious education. They adoredGoethe, Mozart, Beethoven and Richard Wagner. One of the four brothers convertedto Catholicism when he married a daughter of a converted family. Later, underNazi occupation, when it seemed for a while that converting might help them avoiddeportation, two of my uncles and an aunt became Catholics; the other members of thefamily did not.Whether or not these decisions were opportunistic was never discussed in myfamily. Nobody cared – these were considered unimportant, personal decisions, partlydictated by circumstances. Converts or no converts, nobody practised any religion andeverybody adored culture. And they all hummed tunes like those in Mahler’s FifthSymphony.Iván Fischer.