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Gustav Mahler

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Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860 - May 18, 1911) was best known in his own time as one of the leading Austrian conductors of his day, but is now remembered as an important composer linking the late romantic and modern music periods.

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Mahler was born in Kalist (Kalischt, Kaliste), Bohemia, and his parents moved to Jihlava, Moravia in the first year of his life, where Mahler spent his childhood. 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, Kassel 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 Wörthersee. There he composed his symphonies 2 through 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 heart disease, and he lost his job at Vienna, hounded out by a largely anti-Semitic press after trying to promote 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.

Mahler was coming under increasingly virulent anti-semitic attacks — in 1907 these became almost unbearable — when Mahler received an offer to conduct Metropolitan Opera in New York. He conducted a season there in 1908, only to be set aside in favor of Arturo Toscanini. Mahler returned to New York 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 in Vienna, Austro - Hungary (now Austria), leaving his tenth symphony incomplete.

List of works


Song cycles, song collections and other vocal works

  • Das Klagende Lied (original version as opera 1878-1880, final version as cantata 1896-1868)
  • Drei Lieder (three songs for tenor and piano, 1880)
  • Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jungendzeit (fourteen songs with piano accompaniment, 1880-1883)
  • Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (for voice with piano or orchestral accompaniment, 1883-1885)
  • Lieder aus "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" (for voice and orchestra, 1892-1896, two others from 1899 and 1901)
  • Rückert Lieder (for voice with piano or orchestral accompaniment, 1901-1903)
  • Kindertotenlieder (for voice and orchestra, 1901-4)
  • Das Lied von der Erde (for tenor, alto and orchestra, 1907-9)

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