Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Sierra Club


If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.


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Gustav Mahler (born July 7, 1860, Kalist (Kalischt, Kaliste), Bohemia, died May 18, 1911, Vienna, Austro - Hungary (now Austria) was best known in his own time as an Austrian conductor, but is now remembered as a composer.

Mahler's parents moved to Jihlava, Moravia in the first year of his life, and Mahler spent his childhood there. In 1875 he was admitted to the Vienna Conservatoire where he studied piano under Julius Epstein. Subsequently, Mahler attended lectures given by Anton Bruckner at Vienna University. His first major attempt at composition came with Das Klagende Lied which he entered in a competition as an opera (he later turned it into a cantata). However, he was unsuccessful, and turned his attention to conducting. After his first conducting job at Bad Hall, he took posts at a succession of increasingly larger opera houses; Ljubljana in 1881, Olomouc in 1882, Cassel in 1884, Prague in 1885, Leipzig in 1886 and Budapest in 1891. He then secured his first long-term post at the Hamburg Opera in 1891, where he stayed until 1897. While there, he took his summer vacations at Steinbach-am-Attersee, during which he concentrated on composition. He completed his Symphony No. 1 and the Lieder aus "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" in this period.

In 1897, Mahler converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism in order to secure a post as artistic director of the prestigious Vienna Opera (Jews were virtually prohibited from holding the post at that time). For the next ten years he stayed at Vienna, where he was noted as a great perfectionist. He ran the Opera for nine months of the year, spending the other three composing, mainly at Maiernigg, where he had a small house on the Worthersee. There he composed the Symphony No. 2 to the Symphony No. 8. He married Alma Schindler (1879-1964) in 1902. They had two daughters, the elder of whom died in 1907. In the same year he discovered he had a diseased heart, and lost his job at Vienna, hounded out by a largely anti-Semitic press after trying to publicise his own music, which was not well received on the whole. Indeed, not until the performance of his Symphony No. 8 in 1910 did Mahler have a true public success with his music. The pieces he wrote after that were not performed in his lifetime. After his expulsion from the Vienna Opera, Mahler found work at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He conducted a season there in 1908 and returned the next year to become conductor of the newly formed New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Around this time, he completed Das Lied von der Erde, and the Symphony No. 9, which turned out to be his last completed work. During his last visit to America in February 1911, he fell seriously ill and was taken back to Vienna at his request. He died there from blood poisoning in May 1911, leaving his tenth symphony incomplete. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Gustav Mahler.]

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