Mahler, Gustav, great Austrian composer and conductor; b. Kalischt, Bohemia, July 7, 1860; d. Vienna, May 18, 1911. He attended school in Iglau. In 1875 he entered the Vienna Cons., where he studied piano with Julius Epstein, harmony with Robert Fuchs, and composition with Franz Krenn. He also took academic courses in history and philosophy at the Univ. of Vienna (1877–80). In the summer of 1880 he received his first engagement as a conductor, at the operetta theater in the town of Hall in Upper Austria. He subsequently he held posts as theater conductor at Ljubljana (1881), Olmütz (1882), Vienna (1883), and Kassel (1883–85). In 1885 he served as 2nd Kapellmeister to Anton Seidl at the Prague Opera, where he gave several performances of Wagner’s operas. From 1886 to 1888 he was assistant to Arthur Nikisch in Leipzig. In 1888 he received the important appointment of music director of the Royal Opera in Budapest. In 1891 he was engaged as conductor at the Hamburg Opera; during his tenure there, he developed a consummate technique for conducting. In 1897 he received a tentative offer as music director of the Vienna Court Opera, but there was an obstacle to overcome. Mahler was Jewish, and although there was no overt anti-Semitism in the Austrian government, an imperial appointment could not be given to a Jew. Mahler was never orthodox in his religion, and had no difficulty in converting to Catholicism, which was the prevailing faith in Austria. He held this position at the Vienna Court Opera for 10 years; under his guidance, it reached the highest standards of artistic excellence. In 1898 Mahler was engaged to succeed Hans Richter as conductor of the Vienna Phil. Here, as in his direction of opera, he proved a great interpreter, but he also allowed himself considerable freedom in rearranging the orchestration of classical scores when he felt it would redound to greater effect. He also aroused antagonism among the players by his autocratic behavior toward them. He resigned from the Vienna Phil, in 1901; in 1907 he also resigned from the Vienna Court Opera. It was in the latter year that he was diagnosed as suffering from a lesion of the heart. In the meantime, he became immersed in strenuous work as a composer; he confined himself exclusively to composition of symphonic music, sometimes with vocal parts; because of his busy schedule as conductor, he could compose only in the summer months, in a villa on the Worthersee in Carinthia. In 1902 he married Alma Schindler; they had 2 daughters. The younger daughter, Anna Mahler, was briefly married to Ernst Krenek; the elder daughter died at the age of 5. Alma Mahler studied music with Zemlinsky, who was the brother-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg.
Having exhausted his opportunities in Vienna, Mahler accepted the post of principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y in 1907. He made his U.S. debut there on Jan. 1,1908, conducting Tristan und Isolde. In 1909 he was appointed conductor of the N.Y. Phil. His initial appearances at the Metropolitan Opera and with the N.Y. Phil, were generally well received by both audiences and critics, but inevitably he had conflicts with the board of trustees in both organizations, which were mostly commanded by rich women. He resigned from the Metropolitan Opera in 1910. On Feb. 21, 1911, he conducted his last concert with the N.Y. Phil, and then returned to Vienna. The N.Y. newspapers publ, lurid accounts of his struggle for artistic command with the regimen of the women of the governing committee. Alma Mahler was quoted as saying that although in Vienna even the Emperor did not dare to order Mahler about, in N.Y he had to submit to the whims of 10 ignorant women. The newspaper editorials mourned Mahler’s death, but sadly noted that his N.Y. tenure was a failure. As to Mahler’s own compositions, the N.Y. Tribune said bluntly, “We cannot see how any of his music can long survive him.” His syms. were sharply condemned in the press as being too long, too loud, and too discordant. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that Mahler became fully recognized as a composer, the last great Romantic symphonist. Mahler’s syms. were drawn on the grandest scale, and the technical means employed for the realization of his ideas were correspondingly elaborate. The sources of his inspiration were twofold: the lofty concepts of universal art, akin to those of Bruckner, and ultimately stemming from Wagner; and the simple folk melos of the Austrian countryside, in pastoral moods recalling the intimate episodes in Beethoven’s syms. True to his Romantic nature, Mahler attached descriptive titles to his syms.; the 1st was named the Titan; the 2nd, Resurrection; the 3rd, Ein Sommermorgentraum; and the 5th, The Giant.The great 8th became known as “sym. of a thousand” because it required about 1,000 instrumentalists, vocalists, and soloists for performance; however, this sobriquet was the inspiration of Mahler’s agent, not of Mahler himself. Later in life, Mahler tried to disassociate his works from their programmatic titles; he even claimed that he never used them in the first place, contradicting the evidence of the MSS, in which the titles appear in Mahler’s own handwriting. Mahler was not an innovator in his harmonic writing; rather, he brought the Romantic era to a culmination by virtue of the expansiveness of his emotional expression and the grandiose design of his musical structures. Morbid by nature, he brooded upon the inevitability of death; one of his most poignant compositions was the cycle for voice and orch. Kindertotenlieder; he wrote it shortly before the death of his little daughter, and somehow he blamed himself for this seeming anticipation of his personal tragedy. In 1910 he consulted Sigmund Freud in Leiden, Holland, but the treatment was brief and apparently did not help Mahler to resolve his psychological problems. Unquestionably, he suffered from an irrational feeling of guilt. In the 3rd movement of his unfinished 10th Sym., significantly titled Purgatorio, he wrote on the margin, “Madness seizes me, annihilates me,” and appealed to the Devil to take possession of his soul. But he never was clinically insane. His already weakened heart could not withstand the onslaught of a severe bacterial infection of the blood, and he died at the lamentable age of 50.
Mahler’s importance to the evolution of modern music is very great; the early works of Schoenberg and Berg show the influence of Mahler’s concepts. An International Gustav Mahler Soc. was formed in Vienna in 1955, with Bruno Walter as honorary president.
syms.:No. 1, in D, Titan (1883–88; Budapest, Nov. 20, 1889, composer conducting; a rejected movement, entitled Blumine, was reincorporated and perf. at the Aldeburgh Festival, June 18, 1967), No. 2, in C minor, Resurrection, for Soprano, Contralto, Chorus, and Orch. (1887–94; Berlin, Dec. 13,1895, composer conducting), No. 3, in D minor, Ein Sommermorgentraum (1893–96; Krefeld, June 9, 1902, composer conducting), No. 4, in G (1899–1901; Munich, Nov. 25, 1901, composer conducting), No. 5, in C-sharp minor, The Giant (1901–02; Cologne, Oct. 18,1904, composer conducting), No. 6, in A minor (1903–05; Essen, May 27, 1906, composer conducting), No. 7, in E minor (1904–06; Prague, Sept. 19, 1908, composer conducting), No. 8, in E-flat, “Symphony of a Thousand,” for 8 Solo Voices, Adult and Children’s Choruses, and Orch. (1906–07; Munich, Sept. 12,1910, composer conducting), No. 9, in D (1909–10; Vienna, June 26, 1912, Bruno Walter conducting), and No. 10, in F- sharp minor (sketched 1909–10, unfinished; 2 movements, Adagio and Purgatorio, perf. in Vienna, Oct. 12,1924, Franz Schalk conducting; publ, in facsimile, 1924, by Alma Mahler; a performing version, using the sketches then available and leaving the 2 scherzo movements in fragmentary form, was made by D. Cooke; it was broadcast by the BBC, London, Dec. 19, 1960; further sketches were made available, and a full performing version was premiered in London, Aug. 13,1964; a final revision of the score was made in 1972; there are also other performing versions as well). vocal:Das klagende Lied for Soprano, Contralto, Tenor, Chorus, and Orch. (1878–80; ed. by R. Kubik and 1st perf. in Manchester, Oct. 12, 1997; rev. version 1896–98; Vienna, Feb. 17, 1901, composer conducting); Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit, 14 songs for Voice and Piano (1880–91); Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, 4 songs with Orch. (1883–85; Berlin, March 16, 1896, composer conducting); 14 Lieder from Das Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Orch. (1892–1901); 5 songs, to poems by Rückert (1901–03); Kindertotenlieder, 5 songs, with Piano or Orch., to poems by Rückert (1901–04; Vienna, Jan. 29, 1905, composer conducting); Das Lied von der Erde, sym. for Contralto or Baritone, Tenor, and Orch. (1907–09; Munich, Nov. 20, 1911, Bruno Walter conducting). Mahler destroyed the MSS of several of his early works, among them a piano quintet (perf. in Vienna, July 11,1878, with the composer at the piano) and 3 unfinished operas: Herzog Ernst von Schwaben, to a drama by Uhland; Die Argonauten, from a trilogy by Grillparzer; and Rübezahl, after Grimm’s fairy tales. He also made an arrangement of Weber’s Die drei Pintos (Leipzig, Jan. 20,1888, composer conducting) and Oberon (c. 1907); also arranged Bruckner’s 3rd Sym. for 2 Pianos (1878). Mahler made controversial reorchestrations of syms. by Beethoven, Schumann, and Bruckner, and a version for String Orch. of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, op.131.
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Meier, eschichtliche Signaturen der musik bei M., Strauss und Schöberg (Hamburg, 1992); A. Unger, Welt, Leben und Kunst als Themen der “Zarathustra-Kompositionen” von Richard Strauss und G. M.(Frankfurt am Main, 1992); F. Berger, G. M.: Vision und Mythos: Versuch einer geistigen Biographie (Stuttgart, 1993); F. Willnauer, G. M. und die Wiener Oper (Vienna, 1993); H.-L. de La Grange and G. Weiss, eds., G. M.: Ein Glück ohne Ruh’: Die Briefe G. M.s und Alma: Erste Gesamtausgabe (Berlin, 1995); P. Reed, ed., On M. and Britten: Essays in Honour of Donald Mitchell on his Seventieth Birthday (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1995); R. Samuels, M.’s Sixth Symphony: A Study in Musical Semiotics (Cambridge, 1995); M. Schadendorf, Humor als Formkonzept in der Musik G. M.s (Stuttgart, 1995); A. Stenger, Die Symphonien G. M.s: Eine musikalische Ambivalenz (Wilhelmshaven, 1995); G. Borchardt et al., eds., G. M., “Meine Zeit wird dommen”: Aspekte der M. Rezeption (Hamburg, 1996); M. Hansen, G. M. (Stuttgart, 1996); V. Karbusicky, M. in Hamburg: Chronik einer Freundschaft (Hamburg, 1996); P. Franklin, The Life of M.(Cambridge, 1997); S. Hefling, ed., M. Studies (Cambridge, 1997); D. Krebs, G. M.s Erste Symphonie: Form und Gehalt (Munich, 1997); M. Flesch, Hypothesen zur musikalischen Kreativität unter Berücksichtigung psychodynamischer Aspekte der Pathographie bei G. M. (1860–1911) (Frankfurt am Main, 1998); A. Nicastro Le sinfonie di G. M.(Milan, 1998); P. Petazzi, Le sinfonie di M.(Venice, 1998).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
In 1891 Mahler became chief cond. of Hamburg Opera, where he built up a co. of remarkable singers (whom he coached also to be singer-actors), and introduced many new works. He took the co. to London in 1892, his only visit, for perfs. of Wagner's Ring and Tristan, and Beethoven's Fidelio. His 2nd Sym. (Resurrection) was completed 1894 and perf. in Berlin 1895. For the rest of his life Mahler divided his time between comp. in the summer and cond. in the winter. His mus. met at first with hostility, but its quality was recognized by his contemporary Richard Strauss. In 1897, having converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, he became dir. of the Vienna Court Opera, inaugurating a glorious decade during which he set standards still scarcely surpassed and, with Alfred Roller and others, revolutionized the production, design, and lighting of operas. Built remarkable ens. of singers incl. Mildenburg, Gutheil-Schoder, Slezak, and Mayr. In 1902 he married Alma Schindler, also a musician, by whom he had 2 daughters (the elder died in 1907, aged 4). Between 1896 and 1907, when he resigned his post after controversy, he comp. his Syms. 3 to 8, the song-cycle Kindertotenlieder, and other songs with orch. Each of the syms. was on a huge scale, but perfs. were becoming more frequent throughout Europe, especially through the championship of Mengelberg.
Mahler made his Amer. début on 1 Jan. 1908 conducting Tristan at the NY Met. In 1909 he was appointed cond. of the reorganized NYPO. In 1910 in Munich he cond. the first 2 perfs. of his 8th Sym. (Symphony of a Thousand), returning to NY 2 months later. From 1907 he lived under the shadow of death from a heart ailment. This led in 1911 to a severe blood infection which caused his premature death on 18 May. He left 3 large posthumous works, the song-sym. Das Lied von der Erde and Syms. 9 and 10. Das Lied and the 9th were f.p. in 1911 and 1912 respectively cond. by Bruno Walter in Munich and Vienna. The 10th was long thought to be unfinished and only 2 movts. were pubd. and played until the Eng. scholar Deryck Cooke discovered in 1960 that the work was complete in short score and made a performing version.
Mahler's greatness as a cond. was never contested. But his comps. for many years were regarded with fanatical admiration by a handful of disciples and admirers and equally fanatical scorn by a larger section of musicians. However, the championship of certain conds. and critics led gradually in the late 1950s to a fervent revival of interest. His works were frequently recorded and entered the repertories of the world's leading orchs. to public acclaim. His mus. appealed both to those elements who cherished its romantic eloquence and to the avant-garde who recognized that it bridged the divide between the old and the new. Deeply personal in expression, the extreme chromaticism of works such as the 9th Sym. anticipates the innovations of Schoenberg. The unconventional form of the syms., their juxtaposition of popular elements with mystic passages, the concertante use of solo instrs., the complex and subtle instr. polyphony, the contrasts of irony, pathos, childlike simplicity, and psychological insight, all appealed to later 20th-cent. composers; and audiences found in his mus. a cogent and comprehensive expression of the anxieties and complexities of modern life. He championed the younger generation in his lifetime and became their idol after his death. Prin. works:OPERA: Completion of Weber's Die drei Pintos. F.p. Leipzig 1888, f.p. in England 1962.SYMPHONIES: No.1 in D major (1884–8, rev. 1893, 1896 reduced from 5 to 4 movts., and 1897–8; excluded movt., Blumine, restored in some 20th-cent. perf.). F.p. Budapest 1889, f.p. in England 1903. No.2 in C minor (Resurrection; 1888–94, rev. 1910), for sop., cont., ch., and orch. F.p. Berlin 1895, f.p. in England 1931. No.3 in D minor (1895–6), for cont., women's and boys’ chs., and orch. F.p. Krefeld 1902, f.p. in England 1947. No.4 in G major (1899–1900, rev. 1910), sop. solo in finale. F.p. Munich 1901, f.p. in England 1905. No.5 in C♯ minor (1901–2, rev. 1904–10). F.p. Cologne 1904, f.p. in England 1945 (Adagietto only 1909). No.6 in A minor (1903–5, rev. 1908), f.p. Essen 1906, f.p. in England 1950 (broadcast relay 1947). No.7 in B minor (1904–5, rev. 1909), f.p. Prague 1908, f.p. in England 1913. No.8 in E♭ major (1906–7), for 8 soloists, ch., boys’ ch., and orch. F.p. Munich 1910, f.p. in England 1930. No.9 in D major (1909–10). F.p. Vienna 1912, f.p. in England 1930. No.10 in F♯ major (1910). F.p. of Adagio and Purgatorio Vienna 1924, f.p. in England Adagio 1948, Adagio and Purgatorio 1955. F.ps. of Cooke version: London 1960 (scherzos incomplete), London 1964 (full perf. vers.), London 1972 (final rev.). Note that Mahler himself cond. the f.ps. of the first 8 syms. (Strauss did not conduct f.p. of No.2, as often stated).SONG-SYMPHONY: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) for cont. (or bar.), ten., and orch. (1907–9). F.p. Munich 1911; f.p. in Eng. 1914; f.p. in Amer., Philadelphia 1916.CANTATA: Das klagende Lied (The Song of Sorrow) for sop., cont., ten., bass, ch., and orch. (1878–80). Orig. in 3 parts. Rev. 1888 to 2 parts. Further rev. 1893–1902. F.p. Vienna 1901, f.p. in England 1956 (vers. with pf. acc. cond. Boult at Oxford, 1914). F.p. of complete 1880 version Vienna 1935, f.p. in England 1970.SONG-CYCLES: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) for v. and pf./orch. (1884, rev. c.1892, 1896). F.p. Berlin 1896, f.p. in England 1927. Kindertotenlieder (Songs of the Death of Children) for bar. (or cont.) and orch./pf. (1901–4). F.p. Vienna 1905, f.p. in England 1913 (pf.), 1924 (orch.).SONGS: 3 Songs for ten. and pf. (1880); 5 Songs for v. and pf. (1880–3), later (1892) pubd. as Book I of Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit (Songs of Youth). Books II and III (comp. 1888–91) are 9 settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn; Lieder aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn, 12 settings for v. and orch./pf. (1888–99); 3 songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freuden (1892; incorporated into finale of 4th Sym. 1899), Revelge (1899), Der Tamboursg'sell (1901); 5 Lieder nach Rückert for v. and orch./pf.: 1. Ich atmet' einen linden Duft (1901), 2. Liebst du um Schönheit (1902), 3. Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder (1901), 4. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (1901), 5. Um Mitternacht (1901). F.p. Vienna 1905 (excluding No.2).CHAMBER MUSIC: vn. sonata (1876); pf. quintet in A minor (1876); pf. qt. in A minor (1876).ARRANGEMENTS: J. S. Bach's Suite for Orch. in 4 movts. (1st and 2nd from Suite No.2, 3rd and 4th from Suite No.3). F.p. NY 1909; Schubert's Str. Qt. in D minor (Death and the Maiden), for str. orch., c.1894; Beethoven's Str. Qt. in F minor, Op.95, for str. orch. (f.p. Vienna, Jan. 1899) and Str. Qt. in C♯ minor, Op.131, for str. orch.; Bruckner's 3rd Sym. for pf. 4 hands (1878). Also re-orch. Schumann's 4 syms.
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) was a Bohemian-born Austrian symphonic composer whose sprawling sonic canvases were often concerned with death, either as a spur to life or as a tragic and inconsolable end. Mahler grappled with mortality in his personal life as well as in his art.
The desperately comic and the searingly tragic coexist in the composer's ten numbered symphonies and many song cycles. His childhood shows the genesis of this strange pairing. In the building where Gustav lived as a child, the tavern owned by his father was adjacent to a funeral parlor put to frequent use by the Mahler family—eight of his fourteen siblings died before reaching adulthood. Mahler's father was a self-educated, somewhat brutal man, and fights between him and his cultured, delicate wife were common. Piano lessons were a way out of the daily misery for little Gustav, and before long, he was making up distinctive pieces of his own. Mahler's mature output seems an elaboration of that early conflation.
At age fifteen Gustav entered the Vienna Conservatory, where he received a diploma three years later. The early failure of his own music to win recognition sparked a remarkable conducting career that took Mahler to all the great opera houses and concert halls of Europe. Conducting earned him a fortune, but it also meant that composing, his first love, was relegated to the off-season. Throughout much of his life, Mahler composed in isolation in summer cottages.
From the beginning, Mahler declared that his music was not for his own time but for the future. An agnostic, he apparently saw long-term success as a real-world equivalent of immortality. "Mahler was a thoroughgoing child of the nineteenth century, an adherent of Nietzsche, and typically irreligious," the conductor Otto Klemperer recalled in his memoirs, adding that, in his music, Mahler evinced a "piety . . . not to be found in any church prayer-book." This appraisal is confirmed by the story of Mahler's conversion to Catholicism in 1897. Although his family was Jewish, Mahler was not observant, and when conversion was required in order to qualify as music director of the Vienna Court Opera—the most prestigious post in Europe—he swiftly acquiesced to baptism and confirmation, though he never again attended mass. Once on the podium, however, Mahler brought a renewed spirituality to many works, including Beethoven's Fidelio, which he almost single-handedly rescued from a reputation for tawdriness.
In 1902 Mahler married Alma Schindler, a woman nearly twenty years his junior. They had two daughters, and when Mahler set to work on his Kindertotenlieder —a song cycle on the death of children—Alma was outraged. As in a self-fulfilling prophecy, their oldest daughter died in 1907, capping a series of unrelenting tragedies for the composer. In that same year, Mahler was diagnosed with heart disease and dismissed from the Vienna Court Opera following a series of verbal attacks, some of them anti-Semitic. Mahler left for America, where he led the Metropolitan Opera from 1907 to 1910 and directed the New York Philharmonic from 1909 to 1911.
While in Vienna during the summer of 1910, Mahler discovered that Alma was having an affair with the architect Walter Gropius. He sought out Sigmund Freud, who met the composer at a train station in Holland and provided instant analysis, labeling him mother-fixated. Freud later declared his analysis successful, and indeed Mahler claimed in correspondence to have enjoyed an improved relationship with his wife. But it did nothing to stop the deterioration of Mahler's health.
The Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange has effectively contradicted the popular image of Mahler as congenitally ill. A small man, Mahler was nonetheless physically active, an avid hiker and swimmer throughout most of his life. Nonetheless, he was a man drunk on work, and he grew more inebriated with age. His response to the fatigue and illness was often simply to work more. In 1901, for example, he collapsed after conducting, in the same day, a full-length opera and a symphony concert. He immediately set to work on his Symphony no. 5, which begins with a funeral march.
Mahler's symphonies divide into early, middle, and late periods, respectively comprising the first four symphonies; the fifth, sixth, and seventh symphonies; and the eighth and ninth, plus "Das Lied von der Erde" and the unfinished Tenth Symphony.
Symphony no. 1 in D is subtitled the "Titan," not after the Greek demigods but after a novel of the same name by Jean Paul Richter. The third movement turns "Frère Jacques" into a minor-mode funeral march. Symphony no. 2 moved the symphonic form into entirely new territory. It was longer and required more forces, including a chorus and vocal soloist, and its emotional range was vast. Though subtitled "Resurrection," its texts make no religious claims. Mahler's Symphony no. 3 remains the longest piece in the mainstream symphonic repertory. Its ninety-five minutes open with a massive movement that swiftly swings from moody loneliness to martial pomp, from brawling play to near-mute meditation. An ethereal final adagio is followed by four inner movements of contrasting content, including a quiet, nine-minute solo for mezzo-soprano to a text by Nietzsche extolling the depth of human tragedy. Symphony no. 4, slender by Mahler's standards, concluded Mahler's first period, in which song played an important role.
Mahler's next three symphonies were wholly instrumental. Symphony no. 5 is easily read as a backward glance at a man's life. It begins with the most magnificent of orchestral funeral marches, announced by a brilliant trumpet solo, and then slowly moves through movements of anguish and struggle toward the penultimate "Adagietto" (Mahler's most famous excerpt), a wordless love song, and finally to the last movement, filled with the promise of youth. Symphony no. 6, subtitled "Tragic," was formally the composer's most tightly structured, and no. 7, subtitled "Nightsong," is, in its odd last movement, the composer at his most parodistic. In no. 8, "Symphony of a Thousand," Mahler returned to the human voice as symphonic instrument, setting texts from the Catholic liturgy and Goethe.
For symphonists, nine is the number to fear. It took on special status for composers when Beethoven died after composing only nine symphonies. From Beethoven on, nine had mystical significance. Schubert died after writing nine symphonies, so did Dvorak and Bruckner. Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms did not get near that number before they shuffled off the mortal coil.
Mahler completed his Symphony no. 8 in 1906. In 1907 came his triple calamities: the death of his daughter, his unamicable separation from Vienna Opera, and the diagnosis of heart disease. It was not a good time to compose a symphony whose number cried death. Mahler thought he could skirt the issue by writing an unnumbered symphony that would function as his ninth without carrying the dreaded digit. Thus, Mahler composed "Das Lied von der Erde" ("Song of the Earth"), a massive song cycle for voices and orchestra, that was in every way—except the number—his Ninth Symphony.
Fate read his Symphony no. 9 as the last and would not allow him to finish a tenth. (The one movement he completed is generally performed as a fragment.) In February 1911 Mahler led the New York Philharmonic one last time at Carnegie Hall and then returned to Vienna, where he died three months later of bacterial endocarditis. The twenty-three minutes of the Ninth's last movement, which have been described as "ephemeral" and "diaphanous," weep without apology. Somewhere near the middle of this very slow (Molto adagio) movement comes a jittery harp figure that mimics the composer's coronary arrhythmia.
In length, the size of the forces required, and emotional scope, Mahler's symphonies have rarely been equaled and never surpassed. It is difficult not to see this inflation as the composer's struggle against mortality. If the world was temporary and afterlife improbable, why not postulate immortality through art? "A symphony should be like the world," Mahler said to fellow composer Jan Sibelius, "It should embrace everything!"
See also: Folk Music; Music, Classical; Operatic Death
Floros, Constantin. Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies, edited by Reinhold G. Pauly and translated by Vernon Wicker. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1997.
La Grange, Henry-Louis de. Mahler. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973.
Lebrecht, Norman. Mahler Remembered. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.
Mahler-Werfel, Alma. The Diaries, translated by Antony Beaumont. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.
Mitchell, Donald, and Andrew Nicholson, eds. The Mahler Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
MAHLER, GUSTAV (1860–1911), Bohemian-born composer and conductor.
Gustav Mahler is often thought to have brought the Austro-Germanic tradition of nineteenth-century music to its conclusion and to have ushered in aspects of musical modernism. Along with Arthur Nikisch and Arturo Toscanini, Mahler was one of the most important conductors of his day.
Brought up in a German-speaking Jewish community in Iglau, Moravia, Mahler was accepted in 1875 as a student to the Vienna Conservatory, where he identified himself as a Wagnerian (and thus, for the times, a modernist) and developed interests in socialism, pan-Germanicism, and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. He was also close to the important lieder composer Hugo Wolf and attended some of the lectures of the composer Anton Bruckner, who was then teaching at the conservatory.
In 1880, Mahler began an incredibly successful career as a conductor that was to last his whole life; financial restrictions meant that he was never able to devote himself solely to composition, which had to be squeezed in during the summer months between the concert and opera seasons, when Mahler would retire to the countryside. Taking up the position of a conductor of operetta in Bad Hall, near Linz, Mahler then passed rapidly through a series of increasingly prestigious positions leading eventually in 1897 to one of Europe's most coveted posts: conductor and artistic director of the Imperial Court Opera in Vienna, whose orchestra was the famed Vienna Philharmonic. However, as a Jew in the deeply ingrained anti-Semitic culture of fin-de-siècle Vienna, it was necessary for Mahler to convert to Roman Catholicism before he could take up the position.
His years at the opera in Vienna were full of controversy, in part because of the rife anti-Semitic atmosphere, but also because of the incredibly high standards that Mahler demanded of his performers, which he was often brutal and insensitive in achieving (Mahler was a seminal figure in the establishment of the twentieth-century paradigm of the conductor as tyrannical idealist). But they were also years when Mahler was responsible for some of the landmark productions of operatic history. Compositionally, the period saw Mahler developing toward more evidently modernist modes, starting with the Fifth Symphony (1901–1902), and briefly, as a result of connections produced by his marriage in 1902 to Alma Schindler, Mahler directly associated with the modernists and the next generation of radical composers, particularly Arnold Schoenberg. Eventually, in 1907, the strain of his conducting position at the opera would lead Mahler to resign, and later that year—after the tragic death of his daughter Maria, and the diagnosis of his own fatal heart condition—he would leave for New York. There he was to take up directorship of the Metropolitan Opera Company, and then the New York Philharmonic, before he finally returned to Europe in 1911 and died in Vienna on 18 May.
If Mahler's life was problematically split and suspended between the practical realities of life as a conductor and a man of the theater and the more seemingly idealistic world of composition, it is likewise true that his compositions also vacillate between idealism and realism and related pairings—for example, between the high and the low stylistically, and the organically fully formed and the open-ended and broken aesthetically. Furthermore, it has been common to interpret this bipolar split in Mahler's music as a profound illustration of similar tensions both within the Habsburg empire at the fin de siècle as it balanced precariously between the passing nineteenth century and the uncertainties of the century to come, and within pre–World War I Europe in general.
On the one hand, Mahler's music is symphonic in the nineteenth-century mold: primarily Beethovenian, but also Wagnerian, in its monumental drive toward totalizing synthesis and transcendent conclusions, particularly as witnessed in the Second (1888–1894, revised 1903), Third (1893–1896, revised 1906), Seventh (1904–1905), and Eighth Symphonies (1906–1907). Mahler's nineteenth-century inheritance also finds expression in the use of massive sonorities requiring enormous orchestral and often also vocal forces for their production, and in a tendency toward grand music-historical summation in the strong tradition of historicism within Austro-Germanic music since Beethoven—references abound not only to Beethoven and Wagner, but also Haydn and Mozart (for example, in the Fourth Symphony [1899–1900, revised 1901–1910]), the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (from around the time of the Fifth Symphony), and even eighth-century church music, with the use of the hymn-tune Veni, creator spiritus in the first movement of the Eighth Symphony. Finally, the deeply autobiographical element in Mahler's music, manifesting itself specifically in the network of telling self-quotations between works (for example, the famous quotation from his Kindertotenlieder [Songs on the death of children; 1901–1904] in the finale of the Ninth Symphony [1908–1909]), is reminiscent of the composer Robert Schumann and the tendency toward self-reference in Romantic music.
On the other hand, Mahler's music acts as a radical critique of this very inheritance. As Mahler famously asserted to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1907, the symphony "must be like a world. It must embrace everything"—by which he meant not just "everything" in its absolute, idealist sense, but also everything that has been excluded from nineteenth-century symphonic discourse by such idealist underpinnings. Thus, in line with then-emergent strains of modernism in the arts in general, Mahler's music acted to challenge various, particularly bourgeois, taboos regarding what was considered aesthetically appropriate, both formally and content-wise, in works of art. In doing so he was formative in the creation of one of the defining functions of twentieth-century musical art, which was to question our assumptions as to what constitutes music in the first place. From an expressive and formal perspective, in Mahler's music this manifested itself in violent disruptions to the expected unfolding of his music and also in the undermining of the usual narrative trajectory of symphonic music toward triumphant conclusions—as, for example, in the bleakly negative ending of the Sixth Symphony (1903–1904, revised 1906) or the diffuse endings of the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde (The song of the earth; 1908–1909). From a stylistic perspective Mahler was to question his nineteenth-century inheritance through jarring and, in the elevated realm of symphonic composition, inappropriate juxtapositions of musical types; the slow movement of the First Symphony (1888) includes a bizarre reworking of the nursery tune Frère Jacques as a funeral march alongside deliberately crude-sounding street music and more traditional lyrical material. Such stylistic pluralism and formal disruptiveness and openendedness has led to Mahler being particularly valorized by postmodernists, who see in his music a reflection of their own discomfort with the values associated with idealist, nineteenth-century, Germanic decrees that works of art should be stylistically and formally self-contained, autonomous wholes, as if they were organisms. However, as Theodor Adorno and others have asserted, there is a critical aspect to Mahler's music and life, he is no mere revolutionary; like many other Viennese in the period preceding World War I, his relationship to the very traditions that were his seeming objects of criticism was dialectical and thus beholden unto them as well.
Cooke, Deryck. Gustav Mahler: An Introduction to His Music. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1980.
Mitchell, Donald. Gustav Mahler: The Wunderhorn Years: Chronicles and Commentaries. London, 1975.
——. Gustav Mahler: The Early Years. Revised and edited by Paul Banks and David Matthews. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1980.
——. Gustav Mahler: Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death: Interpretations and Annotations. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985.
Mitchell, Donald, and Andrew Nicholson. The Mahler Companion. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1999.
The Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) introduced innovations that had a profound influence on the Viennese composers of the next generation and initiated significant trends in operatic production that set a new standard.
Gustav Mahler once said: "Composing a symphony means, to me, building a new world with every available technical means. The ever-new and changing content determines its own form." This free concept of symphonic form included such innovations as "progressive tonality," that is, beginning a symphony in one key and ending it in a quite different one. Such practices were often misunderstood and rejected by Mahler's contemporaries. However, he became resigned to this, for, as he liked to say, "My time will yet come." His prophecy proved to be right, for in the second half of the 20th century he became one of the most popular symphonic composers.
Mahler can be seen as an important transitional figure between the 19th and 20th centuries. His taste for gigantic forms, monumental instrumentation, and long lyrical themes (often derived from his own songs) is certainly related to 19th-century esthetic ideals. So, too, is his frequent inclusion of the chorus or the solo voice in his symphonies—an idea inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Mahler's last works, especially the Ninth Symphony and the unfinished Tenth Symphony, show ever greater economy in the use of available means. Many sections of these works are almost like chamber music in their soloistic treatment of instruments. Such passages were well understood and used as models by Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples. This kind of instrumentation, as well as Mahler's increasing freedom in the handling of tonality, foreshadowed the new age's ideal of sound. Thus, for all his romantic, 19th-century traits, in many ways Mahler can be considered a truly "modern" composer.
Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, in Kaliště, Bohemia. When he was a few months old, his family moved to the larger town of Jihlava (Iglau), where the father, Bernhard, kept a distillery and bar. Here Gustav acquired his first musical impressions. Loitering in the neighborhood of the military barracks, he learned many marches, which he would play on the accordion. At the age of 4 he could sing about 200 folk songs, which he learned from the family maid. Perhaps the great emphasis on march rhythms and folklike melodies in his works comes in part from these sources.
Mahler's musical gifts developed rapidly, and his ambitious father did all he could to advance them. At the age of 15 the boy was taken to Vienna, where he was immediately accepted at the conservatory. His career there was a successful one; he won prizes in both composition and piano playing. Most of his works from that time are lost, but two song fragments and part of a piano quartet in A minor were preserved. The first movement of the quartet is virtually complete in manuscript except for a missing passage in the piano part which is easily reconstructed. It shows the influence of Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann but, especially in its principal theme, already foreshadows later Mahlerian ideas.
Mahler graduated in July 1878. That fall he began the composition of the cantata Das klagende Lied (The Song of Grief). He wrote the text himself, basing it on fairy tales by Ludwig Bechstein and the Grimm brothers. The work, finished the following year, was submitted for the Beethoven Prize, but the judges rejected it. Between 1878 and 1883 Mahler worked at three operas: Herzog Ernst von Schwaben, Die Argonauten, and Rübezahl. The music of all of them has been lost, but the manuscript of the Rübezahl libretto has survived.
In 1880 Mahler took a conducting position in the lightopera theater at the summer resort of Bad Hall in Upper Austria. This was the first of many opera-conducting posts he was to hold until 1897: Ljubljana, Olomouc, Kassel, Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, and Hamburg. Theatrical duties generally kept him fully occupied during these winter seasons, so that he was forced to be a "summer composer." Nevertheless, he completed important works. The Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1883-1885; Songs of a Wayfarer), composed to his own texts, reflect his unhappy love affair with the soprano Johanne Richter in Kassel. They furnished major thematic material for the First Symphony (1884-1888). The Second Symphony (1887-1894) is often known as the Resurrection Symphony, after its grandiose choral setting of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's resurrection hymn. The Third Symphony (1893-1896), with its six extended movements, is perhaps the longest symphony ever written.
Mahler became the director of the Vienna Court Opera in 1897. He brought new standards to that institution and initiated many reforms which are taken for granted today. He was the first in Vienna to bar latecomers from the opera house till the end of an act. He performed Richard Wagner's music dramas without cuts, following the stylistic principles established by Wagner at Bayreuth. In producing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's operas, too, Mahler strove for stylistic authenticity, restoring the recitatives with harpsichord accompaniment which had often been cut by his predecessors. He tried to simplify operatic staging, seeking symbolism rather than excessive realism; the painter Alfred Roller, who became his stage designer, helped him to achieve this aim.
Despite his heavy responsibilities at the opera house, Mahler was able to compose five symphonies during his Vienna years. The Fourth (1899-1900) is a cheerful work; its finale is a delightful song for soprano based on a poem from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), a collection of folk poetry which was one of Mahler's favorite text sources. The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies (1901-1905) are purely instrumental; they show his ever-increasing mastery of his chosen medium. The Eighth (1906-1907), for eight vocal soloists, double chorus, and boys' chorus, with a very large orchestra, was nicknamed the Symphony of a Thousand at the time of its first performance, under the composer's direction, in 1910. An innovation here was the setting of texts in two different languages: the Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit) and the final scene of Goethe's Faust. Important songs of the Vienna period were the Sieben Lieder aus letzter Zeit (1899-1904; Seven Last Songs; texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and by Friedrich Rückert) and the Kindertotenlieder (1901-1904; Songs on the Death of Children; texts by Rückert).
The intrigues of Mahler's professional and personal enemies forced him to leave the Vienna Court Opera in 1907. His final seasons as a conductor were spent in New York City, where he was very successful at the Metropolitan Opera and the Philharmonic. He knew that, because of a serious heart condition, he might die soon. In this knowledge, he composed his last and greatest works. Das Lied von der Erde (1907-1908; The Song of the Earth) is a six-movement symphony with alto and tenor soloists; the texts are from a collection of translated Chinese poetry, Die chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute) by Hans Bethge. The dominating theme is the transitoriness of human existence in the face of eternity.
Musically and spiritually, Mahler's last two numbered symphonies are closely related to Das Lied. The Ninth was completed in 1910. Mahler never finished the Tenth, but in recent years several attempts have been made to bring his manuscript into performable condition. This aim was most convincingly realized by Deryck Cooke; his version, first heard in 1964, is still controversial but has been widely performed and recorded with great success.
Mahler conducted his last concert in New York on Feb. 21, 1911, and collapsed immediately thereafter from a severe streptococcal infection. Taken back to Europe, he seemed to recover briefly, but the infection could not be cured. On May 18 he died in Vienna.
A vivid, if often inaccurate, account of Mahler's later life is in Alma Mahler Werfel's memoir, Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters (rev. ed. by Donald Mitchell, 1969). The younger Mahler is revealed in Natalie Bauer-Lechner, Recollections of Gustav Mahler, translated by Dika Newlin (publication pending). Bruno Walter, Gustav Mahler (1936; trans. 1941), is a warmly personal appreciation by one of Mahler's greatest interpreters. Dika Newlin, Bruckner-Mahler-Schoenberg (1947), places Mahler in historical perspective and offers analyses of the principal works. Neville Cardus, Gustav Mahler, His Mind and His Music: The First Five Symphonies (1966), is the first detailed study in English of Mahler's first five symphonies and is to be followed by a second volume dealing with the remaining symphonies. Mahler's early works are rather sketchily discussed in Donald Mitchell, Gustav Mahler: The Early Years (1958). H. F. Redlich, Bruckner and Mahler (1955), convincingly links the two composers. Arnold Schoenberg's essay "Gustav Mahler" in his Style and Idea (1950) should not be overlooked by any student of the subject. □
Late romanticist conductor and composer; b. Kalischt, Bohemia (Austria), July 7, 1860; d. Vienna, May 18, 1911. His musical gifts became apparent when he was very young. Between four and six years he was already able to sing more than 200 folk songs, and he loved to listen to military marches—these two influences were to play an elemental role in his work. In 1875 he was accepted as a pupil at the Vienna conservatory, where he won prizes in piano and composition. His rise as a conductor began after graduation, and culminated in his appointment as director of the Vienna Court Opera. His ten years there (1897–1907) mark an artistic peak in that organization's history. Intrigues and ill health, however, drove him from Vienna. In the U.S. he conducted the Metropolitan Opera (1907–09) and the New York Philharmonic (1909–11). In April 1911 he returned to Vienna mortally ill; he died the following month. Mahler excelled as song writer and symphonist, in the expansive post-Brucknerian style. In his nine massive symphonies, the unfinished Tenth, and The Song of the Earth, he exhausted the instrumental and vocal resources of post-Wagnerian romanticism and cleared a way for the modern idiom. In his use of texts and of "progressive tonality" his influence on Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) was especially strong.
Mahler's conversion to Catholicism in 1897 stirred considerable speculation, some of it to the effect that this was merely a "Catholicism of convenience." He no doubt realized that his Jewish origin was an obstacle to his gaining directorship of the Vienna Court Opera, but he could not have made this decision without an inner attraction to Catholicism. He considered writing a Mass, but confessed that he would never be able to set the Credo as he could not bring himself to such an affirmation of faith. Later, speaking of his Eighth Symphony (which uses Veni, Creator Spiritus and the closing scene of Goethe's Faust as texts), he proclaimed, "This is my Mass!" Opinions have differed as to whether his work benefited by the conflict between his heritage and his adopted religion. His own attitude was characteristic: "I am a musician. That covers everything."
Bibliography: b. walter, Gustav Mahler, tr. l. w. lindt (New York 1958). d. mitchell, Gustav Mahler: The Early Years (London 1958). h. f. redlich, Bruckner and Mahler (2d ed. New York 1963); Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949–) 8:1489–1500. d. newlin, Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg (New York 1947); "Alienation and Gustav Mahler," Reconstructionist, 25 (1959) 7:21–25. t. reik, The Haunting Melody: Psychoanalytic Experiences in Life and Music (New York 1953). p. h. lÁng, Music in Western Civilization (New York 1941). d. cooke, "The Facts Concerning Mahler's Tenth Symphony," Chord and Discord 2/10 (1963) 3–27. c. floros, "Prinzipien des Liedschaffens von Gustav Mahler," Österreichische Musik Zeitschrift 45 (1990) 7–14. e. e. garcia, "A New Look at Gustav Mahler's Fateful Encounter with Sigmund Freud," Journal of the Conductors' Guild 12 (1991) 16–30. s. a. gottlieb, "Gustav Mahler's Rückert Lieder and the Art of Error in Interpretation," Journal of the Conductors' League 14 (1993) 107–115. s. e. hefling, "Das Lied von der Erde: Mahler's Symphony for Voices and Orchestra—or Piano," Journal of Musicology 10 (1992) 293–341. s. oechsle, "Strukturen der Katastrophe: Das Finale der VI. Symphonie Mahlers und die Endzeit der Gattung," Die Musikforschung 50 (1997) 162–182. a. p. simco, "The Timpani Parts to Mahler's Symphony No. 2, Resurrection, " Percussive Notes: The Journal of the Percussive Arts Society 37/3 (1999) 46–54. s. wilens, "Zum werkbegriff Gustav Mahlers und der Entstehungsgeschichte der Fünften Symphonie," Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 43 (1994) 273–295. j. l. zychowicz, "Toward an Ausgabe letzter Hand: The Publication and Revision of Mahler's Fourth Symphony," Journal of Musicology 13 (1995) 260–276.
Mahler, Gustav (Meeting with Sigmund Freud)
MAHLER, GUSTAV (MEETING WITH SIGMUND FREUD)
During the summer of 1910, when Freud was vacationing with his family on the North Sea in the Netherlands, Gustav Mahler, in a state of deep depression, decided to consult him. The neurologist Richard Nepallek, a relative of Alma Mahler, was the go-between. The composer's "maddening doubt" led him to put off the meeting on three successive occasions. August 26 was the last day it was possible to meet Freud, since he was getting ready to travel to Sicily together with Sándor Ferenczi.
The meeting took place in a restaurant in Leyden. For four hours there took place a "psychoanalytic session," along the canals of the city where the two men walked. That summer of 1910 Mahler had experienced a personal drama: He feared his wife would leave him and became aware that his life had become that of a neurotic.
In a letter to Theodor Reik, written in 1934, Freud noted Mahler's "brilliant faculty of comprehension." This unique psychoanalytic session allowed him to discover the musician's Marian complex (mother fixation), but "no light was shed on the symptomatic façade of his obsessive neurosis." Freud continued, "If I can believe what I have heard, I have done good work." Mahler, for his part, wrote in a telegram he sent to Alma the day after the meeting, "I'm filled with joy. Interesting conversation. . . ." He died May 18, 1911, nine months later.
See also: Music and psychoanalysis; Reik, Theodor; Walter, Bruno.
Jones, Ernest. (1953-1957) Sigmund Freud: Life and work. London: Hogarth Press.
La Grange, Henry-Louis de (1973) Gustav Mahler, Vol 3: Le génie Foudroyé, 1907-1911. Paris: Fayard.
Reik, Theodor. (1953). The haunting melody: Psychoanalytic experiences in life and music. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young
MAHLER, GUSTAV (1860–1911), composer and conductor. Born in Kalischt, Bohemia, Mahler began his career as a conductor of operettas in Bad Hall. He rose through positions in Ljubljana, Olomouc, Kassel, Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, and Hamburg and progressed to become, in 1897, the director of the Vienna Court Opera. (He had to convert to Catholicism to secure this position and was baptized in the spring of 1897.) His tenure in Vienna brought the opera to a level of artistic achievement previously unknown there. However, he resigned in 1907 because of hostile intrigues. His remaining winters were spent in New York where he conducted the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. He died in Vienna.
Mahler, although one of the most popular symphonic composers today, was overshadowed as a composer in his lifetime by his successes as a conductor. His attempts to compose opera were abortive despite his genius as opera director. His libretto Ruebezahl survives, without music, and unpublished. Though no opera by Mahler exists, his sense of musical drama is evident in his ten symphonies and his "symphony in songs," Das Lied von der Erde. Four of the symphonies contain substantial vocal sections; in fact, the Eighth is a gigantic choral work. Mahler did not live to complete his Tenth Symphony; however, Deryck Cooke's "performing version" has been widely accepted as an authentic presentation. Mahler's songs, often written to folk texts, show deep understanding of the voice. Many themes from the songs were reworked in the symphonies. The most important song cycles are Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1884) and Kindertotenlieder (1900–02).
mgg; Grove, Dict; Riemann-Gurlitt; Baker, Biog Dict; O. Klemperer, Minor Recollections (1964), 9–41; A.M. Mahler, Gustav Mahler, Memories and Letters (1968); B. Walter, Gustav Mahler (1970); D. Mitchell, Gustav Mahler: The Early Years (1958); D. Newlin, Bruckner-Mahler-Schoenberg (1947, rev. ed. 1971).