Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and conductor.
Gustav Mahler was born into a Jewish family in Kalischt, Bohemia. His parents soon moved to Iglau, Moravia, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 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, but failed to win a prize.
In 1880, Mahler began his career as a conductor with a job at a summer theatre at Bad Hall; in the years that followed, he took posts at successively larger opera houses: in Ljubljana in 1881, Olomouc in 1882, Vienna in 1883, Kassel in 1884, Prague in 1885, Leipzig in 1886 and Budapest in 1888. In 1887, he took over conducting Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen from an ill Arthur Nikisch, firmly establishing his reputation among critics and public alike. The year after, he made a complete performing edition of Carl Maria von Weber's unfinished opera Die drei Pintos, the success of which brought financial rewards and contributed to his gradually growing fame. Johannes Brahms was greatly impressed by his conducting of "Don Giovanni". His first long-term appointment was at the Hamburg Opera in 1891, where he stayed until 1897. From 1893 to 1896, he took summer vacations at Steinbach am Attersee in Upper Austria, where he revised his Symphony No. 1 (first heard in 1889), composed his Symphony No. 2, sketched his Symphony No. 3, and wrote most of the song collection Lieder aus 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' (Songs from 'The Youth's Magic Horn'), based on a famous set of heavily redacted folk-poems.
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. 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, created shadowy, transfixing productions of Fidelio, Tristan und Isolde, and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Mahler worked at the Opera for nine months of each year, with only his summers free for composing; these summers he spent mainly at Maiernigg, on the Wörther See. In that idyllic setting he composed his fourth 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.
Gustav MahlerIn 1902, Mahler married Alma Schindler (1879–1964), the stepdaughter of the noted Viennese painter Carl Moll. He celebrated his new domesticity by building a fine villa on the lake in Maiernigg. Alma was herself a composer, but Mahler forbade her from engaging in creative work. She bore him two daughters, Maria Anna ('Putzi'; 1902–1907), who died of either scarlet fever or diphtheria at the age of only five, and Anna ('Gucki'; 1904–1988), who later became a sculptor.
The death of his older daughter left him grief-stricken; but further blows were to come. That same year he discovered he had a heart disease (infective endocarditis), and was forced to limit his exercising and count his steps with a pedometer. At the Opera his stubborn 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. 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 May 18, 1911 at the age of 50, leaving his Symphony No. 10 unfinished. He was buried, at his request, beside his daughter, in Grinzing Cemetery outside Vienna.
SOUTHEAST FROM PRAGUE - HIGHLANDS
It is an 8 hour round trip.