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Gustav Mahler

Biography

Born on 7 July 1860 in the Bohemian town of Kaliste, Gustav Mahler was the second of 14 children of a Jewish distillery-owner. His parents were ill-matched, but his father at least recognised his son’s musical talents. Gustav gave his ...

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Biography

Born on 7 July 1860 in the Bohemian town of Kaliste, Gustav Mahler was the second of 14 children of a Jewish distillery-owner. His parents were ill-matched, but his father at least recognised his son’s musical talents.

Gustav gave his first piano recital at the age of 10, and five years later was taken to the Vienna Conservatory to play for Julius Epstein. He pronounced the 15-year-old ‘a born musician’. Accepted into the conservatory, Mahler made friends with fellow-students Hans Rott and Hugo Wolf, became a devotee of Wagner’s music and Nietzsche’s philosophy, and a supporter of Anton Bruckner. In 1878 he began his first major work, Das klagende Lied (‘The Song of Sorrow’), in which many of the distinctive features of his mature style can already be heard.

Mahler’s career as a conductor began unpromisingly, conducting operetta at the Austrian provincial theatre of Bad Hall, but his obvious talent led to successive appointments at Olmütz, Kassel, Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, Hamburg and, in 1897, the Vienna Court Opera. There he was lauded by many but persecuted by the city’s strong anti-Semitic faction, forcing his resignation in 1907 – the year that he was diagnosed with the serious heart condition that was to kill him four years later.

Mahler left Europe for New York, making his Metropolitan Opera debut on 1 January 1908 and becoming conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1909, though he returned to Vienna to die.

In the midst of this demanding schedule, he composed whenever he could. His first important works were songs and song-cycles, notably Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (‘Songs of a Wayfaring Lad’, 1883–5) and the settings of folk or folk-inspired poems from the 19th-century collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (‘The Youth’s Magic Horn’, 1888–1901).

Still more impressive are the grief-saturated Kindertotenlieder (‘Songs on the Deaths of Children’, 1901–4) and the great ‘song-symphony’ Das Lied von der Erde (‘The Song of the Earth’, 1908–9). Mahler also completed nine symphonies, and left a 10th in sketch score. For Mahler the symphony had to be ‘like the world – it must embrace everything’, and even those that have neither sung texts nor programmes appear to invite programmatic or philosophical interpretations.

Though in many respects a post-Wagnerian Romantic, Mahler became increasingly forward-looking, and it is no surprise that 20th-century composers as diverse as Schoenberg, Berg, Shostakovich, Britten, Henze and Boulez have all acknowledged an abiding debt to him.

Profile © Stephen Johnson

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Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen vers..., no.2; Ging heut' Morgen ubers Feld
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen vers..., no.2; Ging heut' Morgen ubers Feld
Last played on
Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde
Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde
Performer
Christa Ludwig
Otto Klemperer
Philharmonia/New Philharmonia Orchestras
Symphony No.2 'Resurrection'
Symphony No.2 'Resurrection'
Conductor
Orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic
Symphony no. 1 in D major vers. standard, in 4 mvts., 2nd movement; Scherzo
Symphony no. 1 in D major vers. standard, in 4 mvts., 2nd movement; Scherzo
Last played on
Ich ging mit lust durch einen grunen Wald
Symphony No. 7 in E minor. Nachmusik (allegro moderato)
Symphony No. 7 in E minor. Nachmusik (allegro moderato)
Performer
Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, Bernard Haitink (conductor)
Symphony no. 5 in C sharp minor, 4th movement; Adagietto
Symphony no. 5 in C sharp minor, 4th movement; Adagietto
Orchestra
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Last played on
Symphony no. 3 in D minor for alto, female chorus, boys' chorus and orchestra
Symphony no. 3 in D minor for alto, female chorus, boys' chorus and orchestra
Performer
Jonathan Nott
Mihoko Fujimura
Bamberg Cathedral Boys Choir
Bamberg S O.
Last played on
Des Knaben Wunderhorn vers. for voice & orch, no.10; Lob des hohen Verstandes
Des Knaben Wunderhorn vers. for voice & orch, no.10; Lob des hohen Verstandes
Conductor
Berlin Philharmonic
Claudio Abbado
Last played on
Symphony No. 1: 1st movement
Symphony No. 1: 1st movement
Orchestra
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Ruckert Lieder - Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
Symphony no.1 in D maj vers. original, in 5 mvts., 2nd mvt; Blumine (Andante)
Symphony no.1 in D maj vers. original, in 5 mvts., 2nd mvt; Blumine (Andante)
Last played on
5 Ruckert-Lieder, no.2; Liebst du um Schonheit
5 Ruckert-Lieder, no.2; Liebst du um Schonheit
Performer
Last played on
Adagio from Symphony no 10
Adagio from Symphony no 10
Performer
Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphony no. 2 in C minor "Resurrection"..., 4th mvt; Urlicht (Sehr feierlich)
Symphony no. 2 in C minor "Resurrection"..., 4th mvt; Urlicht (Sehr feierlich)
Orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic
Conductor
Last played on
Des Knaben Wunderhorn vers. for voice & orch, no.3; Trost im Ungluck
Des Knaben Wunderhorn vers. for voice & orch, no.3; Trost im Ungluck
Conductor
Berlin Philharmonic
Claudio Abbado
Des Knaben Wunderhorn vers. for voi...;no. 6;Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt
Des Knaben Wunderhorn vers. for voi...;no. 6;Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt
Conductor
Last played on
Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Revelge
Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Revelge
Orchestra
BERLIN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
Symphony no. 3 in D minor
Symphony no. 3 in D minor
Choir
Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir
Leipzig Gewandhaus Children's Choir
Leipzig Opera Chorus
Conductor
Ging heut Morgen übers Feld
Ging heut Morgen übers Feld
Orchestra
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Symphony no. 5 in C sharp minor; 4th movement; Adagietto
Symphony no. 5 in C sharp minor; 4th movement; Adagietto
Piano Quartet in A minor
Piano Quartet in A minor
Ensemble
Faure Quartet
Symphony No.4 - last movement
Symphony No.4 - last movement
Orchestra
British Police Symphony Orchestra
Last played on
5 Ruckert-Lieder vers. for voice and orchestra: no.1; Ich atmet' einen Linden Duft
5 Ruckert-Lieder vers. for voice and orchestra: no.1; Ich atmet' einen Linden Duft
Orchestra
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Last played on
Symphony No 4 in G major (Bedachtig. Nicht eilen) arr. Stein
Symphony No 4 in G major (Bedachtig. Nicht eilen) arr. Stein
Conductor
5 Ruckert-Lieder vers. for voice and piano
5 Ruckert-Lieder vers. for voice and piano
Performer
Singer
Philippe Sly
Von der Jugend
Von der Jugend
Performer
Michael Tilson Thomas
Stuart Skelton, San Francisco Symphony
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