See his letters ed. by A. Mahler and D. Mitchell (3d ed., tr. 1973); biographies by B. Walter (tr. 1941, repr. 1970), K. Blaukopf (tr. 1972), N. Lebrecht, ed. (1988), and J. Carr (1997).
(born July 7, 1860, Kalishacektehacek, Bohemia, Austrian Empire—died May 18, 1911, Vienna, Austria) Austrian-Jewish composer and conductor. He attended the Vienna Conservatory, where he studied piano and composition. He wrote his first significant work, the cantata Das Klagende Lied (1880), as he was eking out an existence by giving lessons. In 1880 he became a conductor, and though his dictatorial manner was disliked and critics found his interpretations extreme, by 1886 he had achieved success in Prague. He also began the first of his 10 symphonies (1888–1910), his main compositional legacy. In 1897 he was named director of the Vienna Opera; his stormy reign there was acknowledged as an artistic success. He moved to the Metropolitan Opera in 1908 and the New York Philharmonic in 1909–10. Ill with heart disease and mourning his daughter's death, he wrote the masterly orchestral song cycle Das Lied von der Erde (1908–09) and his ninth symphony. His orchestral songs Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1892–98) and Kindertotenlieder (1904; Songs on the Deaths of Children) are frequently performed. His emotionally charged and subtly orchestrated music drew together many different strands of Romanticism. Although his music was largely ignored for 50 years after his death, he was later regarded as an important forerunner of 20th-century techniques of composition.
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Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was a composer and conductor, born in Bohemia (formerly part of the Austrian Empire, currently located in the Czech Republic), and identified throughout his life as a German-speaking Austrian.
Mahler was best known during his own lifetime as one of the leading orchestral and operatic conductors of the day. He has since come to be acknowledged as among the most important late-romantic composers, although his music was never completely accepted by the musical establishment of Vienna while he was still alive. Mahler composed primarily symphonies and songs; however, his approach to genre often blurred the lines between orchestral Lied, symphony, and symphonic poem.
Gustav Mahler was born into a German-speaking, Ashkenazic Jewish family in Kaliště (in German, Kalischt), Bohemia, then in the Austrian Empire, today in the Czech Republic, the second of fourteen children, of whom only six survived infancy. His parents soon moved to Jihlava (in German Iglau), where Mahler spent his childhood. Having noticed the boy's talent at an early age, his parents arranged piano lessons for him when he was six years old.
In 1875, Mahler, then fifteen, was admitted to the Vienna Conservatoire where he studied piano under Julius Epstein, harmony with Robert Fuchs, and composition with Franz Krenn. Three years later Mahler attended Vienna University, where Anton Bruckner was lecturing. There he studied history and philosophy as well as music. While at the university, he worked as a music teacher and made his first major attempt at composition with the cantata Das klagende Lied. The work was entered in a competition where the jury was headed by Johannes Brahms, but failed to win a prize.
In 1897, Mahler, then thirty-seven, was offered the directorship of the Vienna Opera, the most prestigious musical position in the Austrian Empire. This was an 'Imperial' post, and under Austro-Hungarian law, no such posts could be occupied by Jews. Mahler, who was never a devout or practising Jew, had, in preparation, converted to Roman Catholicism. As a child, he had been a chorister in a Catholic Church where he had also learned piano from the choir master. As the years passed Mahler found much to attract him in Catholicism, and Catholic influences are observable in his music, for example his use of the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus" in his Eighth Symphony. Still, there is ample evidence of a Jewish spirit manifest in his works, as in the Klezmer-like theme of the third movement of the first symphony.
In 1899 and 1910 he conducted his revised versions of Schumann's Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4.
In ten years at the Vienna Opera, Mahler transformed the institution's repertoire and raised its artistic standards, bending both performers and listeners to his will. When he first took over the Opera, the most popular works were Lohengrin, Manon, and Cavalleria rusticana; the new director concentrated his energies on classic operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and, in collaboration with the painter Alfred Roller (Brno 1864-Vienna 1935), created shadowy, transfixing productions of Fidelio, Tristan und Isolde, and Der Ring des Nibelungen.
In Mahler's day Vienna was one of the world’s biggest cities and the capital of a great empire in Central Europe. It was home to a lively artistic and intellectual scene. It was home to famous painters such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Mahler knew many of these intellectuals and artists.
Mahler worked at the Opera for nine months of each year, with only his summers free for composing at various komponierhäuschen (composing huts). These summers he spent mainly at Maiernigg, on the Wörthersee and in that idyllic setting he composed his fifth through eighth symphonies, the Rückert Lieder and Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), both based on poems by Friedrich Rückert, and Der Tamboursg'sell, the last of his 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' settings.
In June 1901, he moved into a new villa on the lake in Maiernigg, Carinthia. On 9 March 1902, Mahler married Alma Schindler (1879 –1964), twenty years his junior and the stepdaughter of the noted Viennese painter Carl Moll. Alma was a musician and composer, but Mahler forbade her to engage in creative work, although she did make clean manuscript copies of his hand-written scores. Mahler did interact creatively with some women, such as viola-player Natalie Bauer-Lechner, two years his senior, whom he had met while studying in Vienna. But he told Alma that her role should only be to tend to his needs. Alma and Gustav had two daughters, Maria Anna ('Putzi'; 1902 – 1907), who died of diphtheria at the age of only four, and Anna ('Gucki'; 1904 – 1988), who later became a sculptor.
The death of their first daughter left Mahler grief-stricken; but further blows were to come. That same year he was diagnosed by Dr. Emanuel Libman of New York's Mount Sinai Hospital with a heart disease (infective endocarditis) and was forced to limit his exercising and count his steps with a pedometer. At the Opera, his obstinacy in artistic matters had created enemies, and he was also increasingly subject to attacks in anti-Semitic portions of the press. His resignation from the Opera, in 1907, was hardly unexpected.
Mahler's own music aroused considerable opposition from music critics, who tended to hear his symphonies as 'potpourris' in which themes from "disparate" periods and traditions were indiscriminately mingled. Mahler's juxtaposition of material from both "high" and "low" cultures, as well as his mixing of different ethnic traditions, often outraged conservative critics at a time when workers' mass organizations were growing rapidly, and clashes between Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and Jews in Austro-Hungary were creating anxiety and instability. However, he always had vociferous admirers on his side. In his last years, Mahler began to score major successes with a wider public, notably with a Munich performance of the Second Symphony in 1900, with the first complete performance of the Third in Krefeld in 1902, with a valedictory Viennese performance of the Second in 1907, and, above all, with the Munich premiere of the gargantuan Eighth in 1910. The music he wrote after that, however, was not performed during his lifetime.
The final impetus for Mahler's departure from the Vienna Opera was a generous offer from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He conducted a season there in 1908, only to be set aside in favor of Arturo Toscanini; while he had been enormously popular with public and critics alike, he had fallen out of favor with the trustees of the board of the Met. Back in Europe, with his marriage in crisis and Alma's infidelity having been revealed, Mahler, in 1910, had a single (and apparently helpful) consultation with Sigmund Freud.
Having now signed a contract to conduct the long-established New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Mahler and his family travelled again to America. At this time, he completed his Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), and his Symphony No. 9, which would be his last completed work. In February 1911, during a long and demanding concert season in New York, Mahler fell seriously ill with a streptococcal blood infection, and conducted his last concert in a fever (the programme included the world premiere of Ferruccio Busoni's Berceuse élégiaque). Returning to Europe, he was taken to Paris, where a new serum had recently been developed. He did not respond, however, and was taken back to Vienna at his request. He died there from his infection on 18 May 1911 at the age of 50, leaving his Symphony No. 10 unfinished.
Mahler's widow reported that his last word was "Mozartl" (a diminutive, corresponding to 'dear little Mozart'). He was buried, at his request, beside his daughter, in Grinzing Cemetery outside Vienna. In obedience to his last wishes, he was buried in silence, with the gravestone bearing only the name "Gustav Mahler." Mahler's good friend Bruno Walter describes the funeral: "On 18 May 1911, he died. Next evening we laid the coffin in the cemetery at Grinzing, a storm broke and such torrents of rain fell that it was almost impossible to proceed. An immense crowd, dead silent, followed the hearse. At the moment when the coffin was lowered, the sun broke through the clouds" (Walter 1957, 73).
Alma Mahler quotes Gustav as saying "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed." However, this is astonishingly close to a remark written by Anton Rubinstein in the 1860s or 1870s, and may therefore have been adapted, for its appositeness, by Mahler (or indeed Alma).
Alma outlived Gustav by more than 50 years, and in their course, she was active in publishing material about his life and music. However, her accounts have been attacked as unreliable, false, and misleading.This constitutes the Alma Problem. For example, she tampered with the couple's correspondence and, in her publications, Gustav is often portrayed more negatively than some historians might like.
Keenly aware of the colourations of the orchestra, the composer filled his symphonies with flowing melodies and expressive harmonies, achieving bright tonal qualities using the clarity of his melodic lines. Among his other innovations are expressive use of combinations of instruments in both large and small scale, increased use of percussion, as well as combining voice and chorus to symphony form, and extreme voice leading in his counterpoint. His orchestral style was based on counterpoint; two melodies would each start off the other seemingly simultaneously, choosing clarity over a mass orgy of sound.
Often, his works involved the spirit of Austrian peasant song and dance. The Ländler – the Austrian folk-dance, which developed first into the minuet and then into the waltz – figures in several symphonies, as indeed do the minuet and the waltz. (All three historical stages – Ländler, minuet, and waltz – are represented in the 'dance movement' of the Ninth Symphony).
Mahler combined the ideas of Romanticism, including the use of program music, and the use of song melodies in symphonic works, with the resources that the development of the symphony orchestra had made possible. The result was to extend, and eventually break, the understanding of symphonic form, as he searched for ways to expand his music. He stated that a symphony should be an "entire world". As a result, he met with difficulties in presenting his works, and would continually revise the details of his orchestration until he was satisfied with the effect.
He was deeply spiritual and described his music in terms of nature very often. This resulted in his music being viewed as extremely emotional for a long time after his death. In addition to restlessly searching for ways of extending symphonic expression, he was also an ardent craftsman, which shows both in his meticulous working methods and careful planning, and in his studies of previous composers.
Although the symphonies in the 'second period' have no vocal component, the world of Mahlerian song is hinted at in the first movement of Symphony No. 5 and the slow movement of the Symphony No. 6, in which phrases from one of the Kindertotenlieder are briefly heard, and in the finale of Symphony No. 5, which incorporates material from the 1896 Wunderhorn song 'Lob des hohen Verstandes.'
Few composers freely interconnected their work so completely as did Gustav Mahler. Musical interconnections can be heard to exist between symphonies and symphonies, and between symphonies and songs, that seem to bind them together into a larger 'narrative.' For example, material heard in Symphony No. 3 recurs in the finale of Symphony No. 4. An idea from the first movement of Symphony No. 4 opens Symphony No. 5. And a 'tragic' harmonic gesture repeatedly heard in Symphony No. 6 (a major chord declining into a minor) makes a striking reappearance in Symphony No. 7. The same gesture can 'prophetically' be heard at the end of the first movement of Symphony No. 2. Furthermore, a theme heard in Symphony No. 1 is restated in the first movement of Symphony No. 9, the last complete symphony Mahler wrote.
Leonard Bernstein, who was instrumental in championing Mahler's music after his lifetime, portrayed the Symphony as the prophetic musical statement of the 20th century crisis in classical music. Not only did Mahler know he would not live long after the work was completed in 1908, but (according to Bernstein) he also "prophesized" through the music that the death of major/minor tonality was soon at hand. A further extension of that idea also implied that the death of Faustian culture and perhaps the entire human race (the rumblings of World War I were already apparent) would soon be at hand.
Mahler's unfinished tenth symphony was later orchestrated by Deryck Cooke, with the apparent blessings of Alma Mahler. While Leonard Bernstein never performed or recorded this "realization," other conductors appreciated the work, both performing and recording it.
During a concert tour to Finland in November 1907 Mahler told fellow composer Jean Sibelius that "the symphony should be like the world: it must embrace everything" ("die Symphonie muss sein wie die Welt. Sie muss alles umfassen"); putting this philosophy into practice, he brought the genre to a new level of artistic development. Increasing the range of contrasts within and between movements necessitated an expansion of scale and scope (at around 95 minutes, his six-movement Symphony No. 3 is the longest in the general symphonic repertoire; his Symphony No. 8 premiered with some one thousand performers) – while the admission of vocal and choral elements (with texts drawn from folk-poetry, Nietzsche, Goethe, Chinese literature, and Medieval Roman Catholic mysticism) made manifest a philosophical as well as autobiographical content. Neglected for several decades after his death, Mahler's symphonies and orchestral songs are now part of the core repertoire of major symphony orchestras worldwide.
For Alban Berg, younger still, Mahler was a musical influence rather than a personal one (the tragic Symphony No. 6 was "the only Sixth, despite the Pastoral"), and Mahlerian elements can be heard in many of his works. For example, the two hammer blows (three in the original edition) in the finale of the Mahler Sixth find their echo in Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces, which features seven hammer blows in its final movement as well as thematic material of a decisively Mahlerian cut.
In the case of Anton Webern, who, in his early professional life, had conducted performances of Mahler symphonies, one may detect a Mahlerian concern with total textural clarity, although the small scale and rhetorical sparseness of Webern's later pieces means that the most overt 'Mahlerisms' are more identifiable in his youth. Parallels have also been drawn between Webern's and Mahler's love of nature, particularly the Carinthian countryside.
The earliest significant non-contemporaries to register the impact of Mahler were perhaps Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, both of whom identified with elements of Mahler's personal and creative character as well as with aspects of his musical style. Britten, who had first come to know Mahler's Symphony No. 4 while still a student, produced a 'reduced orchestra' version of the second movement of Symphony No. 3 and during his life performed Mahler's music as both a piano-accompanist and conductor. Both Britten and Shostakovich came to hold Das Lied von der Erde in special regard, and undeniable references to it are found in such works as the former's Phaedra and the latter's Fourth and Tenth symphonies. In the United States, Aaron Copland's development of an authentically 'American' sound was influenced by Mahler, most notably in his Clarinet Concerto, written for Benny Goodman.
As well as Shostakovich, Britten and Copland, Mahler's music also influenced Richard Strauss, Ernst Krenek, Feruccio Busoni, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, the early symphonies of Havergal Brian, the music of Kurt Weill, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Malcolm Arnold, Luciano Berio and Alfred Schnittke. Alexander von Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony in particular seems to have been inspired by Das Lied von der Erde.
Among other leading composers, an aversion to Mahler can often be attributed to radically incompatible creative goals rather than to any failure to recognise his technical skill: to Stravinsky, Mahler was "malheur" (French for "misfortune"), while Vaughan Williams described him as a "tolerable imitation of a composer". By the late 20th century, however, Mahler's kaleidoscopic scoring and motivically independent lines in intense contrapuntal combination had become staples of modernism, and formerly shocking features of his music such as his radical discontinuities, his penchant for parody and quotation (including self-quotation) and his blunt juxtaposition of 'high' and 'low' styles were prominent features of postmodernism.
Ultimately, as commentators have noted, Mahler has influenced virtually every significant strand in twentieth century music, with the notable exception of the impressionism of Debussy. Pierre Boulez, himself a renowned Mahler conductor, has said that a study of Mahler's music "is indispensable to anyone reflecting today on the future of music."
Advocated by both those who had known him (prominently among them the composers Alexander von Zemlinsky and Arnold Schoenberg), and by a generation of conductors including the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, his works won over an audience hungry for the next wave of musical exploration. In the late twentieth century, new musicological methods led to the extensive editing of his scores, leading to various attempts to complete the tenth symphony, such as by Deryck Cooke, and improved versions of the others.
In 1974 Ken Russell made a biographical film entitled Mahler, very loosely based on the composer's life, with Robert Powell in the title role. There is a scene in the film where Mahler, waiting for the train to pull out of the station, observes a man who appears similar to Dirk Bogarde in Luchino Visconti's 1971 film of Death in Venice smiling at a blonde-haired boy dressed in a quaint sailor's uniform. The English playwright Ronald Harwood wrote a play in 2001 entitled Mahler's Conversion about the composer's emotional crisis on changing religion.
In the Japanese TV series Kekkon Dekinai Otoko, the main character Shinsuke Kuwano, a classical music and opera buff, plays the finale of Symphony No. 5 in his apartment frequently.
An Affinity with Gustav Mahler (ISBN 095287125-3)