Natalie Bauer-Lechner (9 May 1858 – 8 June 1921) was a viola-player who is best known to musicology for having been a close and devoted friend of Gustav Mahler in the period between the break-up of her marriage in 1890 and the start of his to Alma Schindler in 1902. During this period, she kept a private journal which provides a unique picture of Mahler's personal, professional and creative life during and just after his thirties, including an exclusive preview of the structure, form, and content of his third symphony.
Natalie Bauer-Lechner was the eldest child of three born to a Viennese bookshop owner; she was educated privately and ultimately studied at the Vienna Conservatory. It was at the Conservatoire that she met Mahler for the first time: though she had graduated in 1872 and Mahler was a student from 1875–1878, she appears to have been able to use the Conservatoire's facilities while her sister Ellen was still a student there.
As a professional musician, Natalie Bauer-Lechner became viola-player of the all-female Soldat-Röger String Quartet, whose leader was the Joachim-pupil Maria Soldat-Röger. Being a trained professional musician, Natalie Bauer-Lechner was better equipped than many another persons would have been to grasp the technical and aesthetic content of Mahler's conversation—and the fact that she was clearly besotted with him meant that his numerous statements on music, literature, philosophy and life are frequently recorded at some length and apparently verbatim. While Mahler may well have known that "dear, merry old Natalie" was keeping a record of what he said and did, and might therefore have seen her as a valuable ally in carrying his views to the future, the fact remains that he could find her attentions oppressive or irksome: in the summer of 1894 he specifically requested that she not be invited to join his family on holiday.
In her later years, Natalie Bauer-Lechner became an outspoken feminist, and in 1918 appears to have written an article on war and the need for female suffrage which led to her arrest and imprisonment. The experience seems to have precipitated a collapse in her health. She died in poverty.
The publication history of her principal work is complicated. The source is a bulky collection of notes entitled Mahleriana, apparently deriving from some thirty diaries which no longer exist. During her life, brief extracts were published in two journals: anonymously in 'Der Merker' (April 1913), and under her own name in 'Musikblätter des Anbruch' (April 1920). Erinnerungen an Gustav Mahler was published in 1923, and represents an edited selection from the available materials—as does the later English volume Recollections of Gustav Mahler (1980).
Currently owned by Mahler-scholar Henry-Louis de La Grange, the Mahleriana manuscript is not intact: numerous pages have been torn out by unknown hands, and there is no indication of what they might have contained. During her life, Natalie Bauer-Lechner was in the habit of loaning her manuscript to friends and acquaintances (E.H. Gombrich reports that his parents had it in their possession for some time), and it is presumably this practice that allowed material to be removed.
A collection of notes recording conversations with Mahler's long-standing friend Siegfried Lipiner is understood to have once existed among her papers. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
- Bauer-Lechner, Natalie: Fragmente: Gelerntes und Gelebtes (Vienna, 1907).
- Bauer-Lechner, Natalie: Erinnerungen an Gustav Mahler (Leipzig, 1923)
- Bauer-Lechner, Natalie: Recollections of Gustav Mahler (tr. Dika Newlin, ed. Peter Franklin; London, 1980)
- Bauer-Lechner, Natalie: Erinnerungen an Gustav Mahler (ed. Herbert Killian; Hamburg, 1984)