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Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

Country of origin: Austria
Birthday: July 7, 1860
Date of death: May 18, 1911

About Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler, Austrian composer and conductor, important conductor and symphonic composer of the Late Romantic era.

Mahler studied at the Vienna Conservatoire with Robert Fuchs (*1847, 1927), among others, and privately with Anton Bruckner. After conducting posts at Bad Hall, Laibach, Olmutz, Vienna and Kassel he took the post of second conductor at the Deutsches Landestheater in Prague in 1885 and in 1886 took the same position in Leipzig where he directed the Leipzig Opera for half a year (standing in for Arthur Nikisch). In 1888 he became director of the Budapest Opera and in 1891 chief conductor at the Hamburg Stadttheater. In 1897 he worked as a guest conductor in Poland and Russia, among others. The very same year Mahler first became conductor, then director of the Vienna Court Opera which he led to artistic heights unattained until then. From 1898-1901 he also conducted the Philharmonic Concerts. In 1902 he married Alma Maria Schindler (Mahler-Werfel, Alma). In autumn 1907 Mahler became conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and in 1909 was also appointed musical director of the New York Philharmonic Society.  

As a conductor, Mahler had a determining influence on Willem Mengelberg, Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, among others, due to his orchestral discipline and the strict faithfulness of his interpretations to the respective original work. In his capacity as opera director, he introduced numerous innovations, such as concentrated rehearsal work with singers and choir. Especially in collaboration with the painter and graphic designer Alfred Roller, he even achieved a fundamental reform of the scenic presentation and a new unity of production, setting and musical interpretation. Mahler also re-arranged several works (e.g. Carl Maria von Weber's operas »The Three Pintos«, »Euryanthe« and »Oberon« as well as Mozart's »Le nozze di Figaro«) to increase their theatrical effectiveness.
In his songs Mahler musically carried on where Schumann in particular had left off. Until 1899 he mainly used texts from the anthology »Des Knaben Wunderhorn« edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, then poems by Friedrich Rückert as a literary basis. The melody is characterized by a tendency toward dramatic expressiveness, the accompaniment by a symbolically and psychologically nuanced quality of expression, with folksong-like simplicity being closely combined with a strong differentiation. Many songs are available in versions for piano and for orchestra.
The close connection between song and symphonic work in Mahler's oeuvre shows in the fact that he incorporated songs into his first symphonies (even as instrumental transformation), e.g. »Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen« into Symphony No. 1 and »Wunderhorn-Lieder« into Symphonies Nos. 2-4. Whereas the instrumental technique connected with the lied goes back to Schubert, the incorporation of vocal parts into the symphony (apart from Symphonies No. 1-4 also into Symphony No. 8) and into »Lied von der Erde« refers to Beethoven (Symphony No. 9). The widening of the individual movements of the symphonies, the expansion of the symphonic framework to seven movements, the structure of the dynamic scherzo movements and the affective intensifications in the concluding cadences of the movements are reminiscent of Bruckner. In the programmatic explanations that Mahler included with some of his symphonies, he took up a line of development which can be traced back to Hector Berlioz's programme music. Even though Mahler withdrew these explanations later, they nevertheless refer to the philosophical and confessional character of his music which is characterized by a combination of quite different stylistic elements.
The melody ranges from folksong-like, simple phrases which sometimes deliberately do not shy away from banality, often as a contrast to more dramatic sections and, as such, of only feigned »naivety«, to highly elaborate shapes, from lyrical restraint to high emotionalism which can be commented on with irony. As regards the harmony, traditional diatonicism is juxtaposed with polyphonic and fugal passages, pentatonic scales and chromatic part-writing to the limits of atonality. The subtle instrumentation does justice both to the monumental nature of the symphonies (particularly of the "Symphony of a Thousand") and to the chamber music style of the late oeuvre. Many of these heterogenous features prove Mahler's compositions to be works of a transitional period between Romanticism and avant-garde. Not only do they refer back to tradition, they also strongly influenced harmonic and melodic means of New Music (especially Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern).

Symphonies: No. 1 in D major (188488, 1892 and 1894 performed as »Titan« according to Jean Paul, later again without title and programme); No. 2 in C minor (188894, for soprano, alto, mixed choir and orchestra); No. 3 in D minor (189396, for alto, female choir, boys' choir and orchestra); No. 4 in G major (18991901, for soprano and orchestra); No. 5 in C sharp minor (1901/02); Nor. 6 in A minor (1903/04); No. 7 in E minor (1904/05); No. 8 in E flat major (1907, for 3 sopranos, 2 altos, tenor, baritone, bass, boys' choir, 2 mixed choirs and orchestra, with the parts: hymn »Veni, creator spiritus« and final scene from Goethe's »Faust II«, called »Symphony of a Thousand«); Das Lied von der Erde (1908/09, symphony for tenor, alto, baritone and orchestra, based on Chinese poems in the translation of Hans Bethge); No. 9 in D major (1908/09); No. 10 in F sharp major (fragment: Adagio, 1910, »Purgatorio« extant as draft of the score and three other movements as short scores as well as sketches, reconstruction by Deryck Cooke, among others).
Songs with orchestra: 4 Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (188385, based on his own texts); songs from »Des Knaben Wunderhorn« (188899); Kindertotenlieder (190104, according to Friedrich Rückert); Sieben Lieder aus letzter Zeit (18991902).
Choral works: Das klagende Lied (187880, new versions 1892 and 1898, for soprano, alto, tenor, mixed choir and orchestra, text by Mahler based on fairy-tales by Ludwig Bechstein and the Brothers Grimm).
Songs with piano: Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit (1880-90).