Composer and conductor, author of grand symphonies, songs and song cycles.
Gustav Mahler was born in a German Jewish family on 7 July 1860 in a small Czech village Kaliště (Kalischt) near Humpolec (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy) as the second of fourteen children (of whom only six lived till adulthood, even the firstborn son died in infancy so Gustav grew up as the eldest of his siblings).
Father Bernard Mahler, a distiller and innkeeper (1827-1889).
Mother Marie Mahler, neé Herrmann (1837-1889).
Just a few months after Gustav's birth the family moved to Jihlava (Iglau) together with many Jewish families, who were given more freedom of travel by the Emperor's October 1860 diploma.
At the age of four Gustav Mahler manifested his musical talent and soon after that he started taking music and piano lessons, he improvised, composed and occasionally sang in the church choir.
1869–1875 GM studied at Jihlava Grammar School.
13. 10. 1870 first public concert at the Municipal Theatre in Jihlava.
During the period from 1872 to 1883 Mahler performed several times at concerts in Jihlava (see chapter Mahler and Bohemia
for more details).
1875-1878 GM attended Vienna Conservatory of the Society of the Friends of Music (Konservatorium der Gesellshaft der Musikfreunde), studied the piano, counterpoint and composition, played percussion in the school orchestra, won piano competitions at the Conservatory, made extra money by giving piano lessons. He composed several chamber and orchestral compositions, which did not survive, worked also on an opera.
1875-1877 following his parents' wish GM continued his studies at Jihlava Grammar School part-time.
12.9.1877 passed school-leaving exam at Jihlava Grammar School.
1877-1879 studied at the Faculty of Arts of Vienna University. He attended lectures of Anton Bruckner, became close to him. In 1877 GM was assigned his first professional task as a musician – with his schoolmate Rudolf Krzyzanowski they made a piano score of Bruckner's Third Symphony for the publisher Theodor Rättig. In 1879 he left the university without graduation.
May-July 1880 Bad Hall, Upper Austria, Kapellmeister of a small summer theatre. His duties comprised of conducting operettas, music accompaniment to farce and managing the everyday work of the orchestra.
1880 GM composed the cantata The Song of Sorrow (Das klagende Lied) on Mahler's own lyrics based on a German fairy-tale for choir, solo voices, orchestra and an off-stage orchestra. It was his first attempt for a surround sound. Mahler rewrote it several times and the last version was performed for the first time in Vienna in 1901.
3 September 1881 – 1 April 1882 by recommendation of the agency Gustav Lewy GM was engaged as Kapellmeister at the Municipal Theatre in Ljubljana (Landestheater Laibach). He conducted operas, operettas, and fairy tales with songs as well as accicental music. It was a provincial theatre but of very good quality. Mahler also performed as a pianist at a concert of the local Philharmonic Society.
10 January – 17 March 1883 GM was engaged at the Royal Municipal Theatre (Königliches Städtisches Theater) in Olomouc (Olmütz). Then he worked temporarily as a choirmaster for an Italian touring opera company in Carl Theater, Vienna.
21 August 1883 – 29 June 1885 Kassel, The Royal Theatre (Königlich Preussisches Theater). Mahler was appointed second conductor and choirmaster, he wasn't content there.
In 1883 he visited Bayreuth for the first time and saw Wagner's opera Parsifal.
During the summer of 1883 he gave his last concert in Jihlava. He supported his younger brothers and sisters who lived in the impoverished household of their ailing parents in Jihlava.
In December 1884 he wrote to the director Angelo Neumann in Brehmen asking about a possible engagement. Neumann engaged him a year later when he became director of the Royal German Theatre in Prague (Königlich deutsches Landestheater in Prag).
From the autumn of 1886 Mahler had a contract with the Municipal Theatre in Leipzig.
Important compositions: Songs of a Wayfarer (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) in which Mahler set his own lyrics inspired by folk songs published in the collection The Youth's Magic Horn (Des Knaben Wunderhorn, compiled by Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, 1805-8).
1 August 1885 – 15 July 1886 Prague, The Royal German Theatre (today called The Estates Theatre). GM was engaged as second conductor, in fact worked as first conductor. He performed the first two parts of Wagner's tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He gained valuable experience with major repertoire.
On 18 April 1886 GM first appeared as composer (with his piano accompaniment the soprano Betty Frank sang his three songs).
1 August 1886 – 17 May 1888 Leipzig, The Municipal Theatre (Stadttheater Leipzig) , GM was appointed Kapellmeister, second to Arthur Nikisch. When Nikisch fell ill GM took over the conducting of Wagner repertoire. He became acquainted with the family of the composer Carl Maria von Weber and re-worked and finished his opera The Three Pintos (Die drei Pintos) , which was staged for the first time on 20 January 1888 with great success.
: Symphony No. 1
, thematically connected with The Songs of a Wayfarer
1888–1891: From 1 October 1888 GM was director of The Royal Hungarian Opera (Königlich Ungarische Oper) in Budapest in its new magnificent building constructed in 1884. He looked for singers able to sing in Hungarian and staged Wagner's operas in Hungarian. He also conducted operas by the founder of Hungarian national opera Ferenc Erkel. The theatre was of good quality with a lot of guest singers from Vienna. Following his argument with the management Mahler quit the position on 22 March 1891. On 20 November 1889 he conducted the premiere of his First Symphony in Budapest.
18 February 1889 father Bernard Mahler died.
27 September 1889 sister Leopoldina died.
11 October 1889 mother Marie Mahler died.
After his parents' death GM sold both houses in Jihlava. He took care of his sisters Emma and Justine and brother Otto, who had great musical talent and GM supported him during his studies. In 1895 aged twenty-two the oversensitive and labile Otto committed suicide. Justine (born 1868), who was closest to GM, kept his house for him and accompanied him on some of his journeys. They lived close to one another till 1902, when she got married to the violinist Arnold Rosé.
1891–1897: From 26 March 1891 GM was engaged as first conductor in the Hamburg Municipal Theatre (Hamburger Stadttheater), one of the best German opera houses. He conducted also serial concerts. The director Bernhard Pollini put together a very good ensemble with several Czechs in it, as well as Mahler's friend from the conservatory Rudolf Krzyzanowski and the young conductor Bruno Walter, who later became Mahlerian conductor of international renown. In 1892 GM engaged the mezzo-soprano Anna von Mildenburg with whom he later had a strong relationship. Later GM took a number of singers (including the Czechs and Anna von Mildenburg) with him to Vienna. As a conductor, he performed as a guest in Covent Garden (the German season 28 May – 23 July 1892), in 1897 as far as Moscow.
Since 1895 GM was striving for the post at the Royal-Imperial Court Opera (K.K. Hofoper) in Vienna mainly through his social contacts. On 21 December 1896 he sent an official application. In February 1897 he converted to Catholicism, according to his adversaries he did it in order to overcome the disadvantage of his Jewish origin. Vienna decided in favour of his application on 15 April, on 24 April 1897 his Hamburg engagement came to an end.
Important compositions: in 1892 The Songs of Youth (Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit) were published. GM finished Symphony No. 2 (1894), during the summers of 1895 and 1896 he was composing Symphony No. 3 in his composing hut (Komponierhäuschen) in Steinbach at the Attersee. Nobody was allowed to disturb him there. Inspiration and creative process was incompatible with his duties as director and conductor so he mainly composed during vacations.
1897–1907: From 1 June 1897 Mahler was appointed conductor of the Vienna Court Opera (K.K. Hofoperntheater). On 8 October Emperor Franz Josef I named him director. In September 1898 he was elected conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Wiener Philharmoniker), which was almost identical with the orchestra of the Court Opera, and he worked with it for three years.
In 1899 Mahler bought a property at Maiernigg at the Wörthersee, where he had a villa built and spent his summers there composing.
GM got acquainted with a group of artists called The Vienna Secession (Wiener Secession) which was established in 1897 with a motto To Every Age its Art – to Art its Freedom (Der Zeit ihre Kunst – der Kunst ihre Freiheit). The group comprised the architect Otto Wagner, painters Emil Orlik, Karl Moll, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Roller, etc. In 1903 GM engaged Roller as stage designer and staged with him the revolutionary performance of Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. In 1904 they rehearsed in similar fashion and performed Beethoven's Fidelio and in 1905 Mozart's Don Giovanni. Mahler-Roller performances were designed in the Secession style. Mahler, who was conductor and stage director at the same time, stressed the perfect unity of action on stage and music.
In 1901 GM met Alma Schindler, daughter of the eminent landscape painter Emil J.Schindler and stepdaughter of the painter Karl Moll. They got married on 9 March 1902. On 3 November the same year their first daughter Marie Anna was born. She died on 12 July 1907 of scarlet fever.
In 1904 their second daughter Anna Justine was born (sculptor, died 1988).
GM was diagnosed a compensated hereditary defect of heart valve.
Important compositions: In the summer of 1900 GM finished Symphony No. 4. On 9 June 1902 in Krefeld he conducted the premiere of his Third Symphony. In the summer of 1902 in Maiernigg he finished his Fifth. 1899-1903 Seven Songs of Latter Days (Sieben Lieder aus letzter Zeit published in 1905, containing five Rückert-Lieder and two songs from Des Kanben Wunderhorn). In the summer of 1904 he finished The Sixth, The Fifth was first performed in Cologne. The Songs of the Death of Children (Kindertotenlieder) were finished in 1905 and performed the same year in Vienna. Also finished was The Seventh. 1906/07 GM composed The Eighth; The Sixth was performed in Essen.
Mahler's directorship and work at the Court Theatre had been criticized by the press, members of the ensemble as well as the management. There was resentment against his neglecting the theatre in favour of his composing and guest conductor appearances. Anti-Semitic attacks were getting frequent. GM received an offer from New York to take over the post of chief conductor at the Metropolitan Opera.
On 31 March 1907 GM asked the Emperor to release him from his function. On 15 October he conducted his last performance at the Court Opera. On 7 December 1907 he said good-bye to the ensemble in an open letter and on 9 December he and his family set sail to America.
1907-1911: New York. On 21 December GM took up his post and conducted his first performance on 1 January 1908 (Wagner: Tristan und Isolde). Later he rehearsed and performed other operas by Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven's Fidelio and others. From 1909 on Arturo Toscanini was his rival. The singers appearing at the MET were e.g. Enrico Caruso, Fjodor Šaljapin, Karel Burian and others. GM staged Smetana's The Bartered Bride with Emmy Destinn in 1909. The season in New York always took three or four months. In spring Mahler would return to Europe to conduct and compose in summer.
Important compositions: In the summer of 1908 GM composed The Song of the Earth (Das Lied von der Erde), a symphony with two solo voices on poems from the book of Chinese poetry repoetized by Hans Bethge under the title of The Chinese Flute (Chinesische Flöte). He composed in Toblach, where he found his retreat after he sold Maiernigg, where his daughter had died. The first performance of The Song of the Earth was conducted by Bruno Walter after Mahler's death. In 1908 Mahler conducted the premiere of his Seventh Symphony in Prague.
Tired with the fights with Toscanini he ended his contract with The Metropolitan Opera. He was offered the post of chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a private organization led and financed by a group of rich American ladies. In the autumn of 1909 Mahler opened his first season with the orchestra during which they gave 46 concerts in New York and other cities.
In 1910 GM fell ill with a chronic infection. In late spring 1910 he returned to Europe. In autumn he conducted the first performance of the grand Symphony No.8 in München. The event was attended by a great number of his friends and supporters.
Important compositions: in the summer of 1910 GM finished The Ninth and started sketching The Tenth, which remained unfinished.
Despite serious illness he returned to the States in the autumn of 1910 to start a new season with the New York Philharmonic. He was to give 65 concerts. Having conducted 48 of them in the season of 1910/11 he had to quit the leading the orchestra due to ill health.
In April 1911 the seriously ill Mahler and his family travelled to Paris where an incurable streptococcus blood infection was diagnosed. The family decided on moving him to Vienna where he died on May 18. He was buried at the cemetery in Grinzing.