Gustav Mahler was born in a German Jewish family on 7 July 1860 in a Czech village Kaliště (Kalischt) near Humpolec (now region Vysočina of the Czech Republic, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy).
His father Bernard Mahler spoke both German and Czech, which was necessary for a country pedlar and carter. He tried to educate himself through reading and achieve a better social position. After some time he became economically independent and bought a humble house in Kaliště, a Czech village of about 500 inhabitants. He was Jewish but not orthodox and never excluded himself from the Christian surroundings. He inclined to German cultural sphere.
GM´s mother Marie, neé Herrmann, was the daughter of a well-to-do soap maker from Ledeč (Ledetsch) on Sázava.
Gustav´s elder brother Isidor was born in Kaliště too (1858) but he died in infancy.
Before the end of 1860 Bernard Mahler and his family moved to Jihlava and rented a house in Brtnická Street (today Znojemská No. 4). He ran a pub and a small distillery and the business was doing well. In Jihlava (Iglau), the cultural, social and industrial centre of the region there lived 25.000 inhabitants; four fifths of them were German .
The first music teacher of little Gustav Mahler was Jakub Sladký, the bass player of the municipal band. From him and the maids, who used to sing Czech and Moravian folk songs, Mahler acquired one of the pillars of his musicality. His other teachers were Franz Viktorin, the conductor of the municipal band, Jan Brož, the local piano teacher and Heinrich Fischer, the choirmaster of St James´s church and of the Men´s Singing Socienty (Männergesang-verein).
1869-75 Gustav was a regular student of Jihlava Grammar School. He had bad results, he was absent-minded, untidy and daydreaming.
13 October 1870 GM gave his first public piano performance at the Municipal Theatre in Jihlava and was mentioned favourably in the local press. His father supported him because a gifted son – musician raised the social prestige of the family.
In September 1871 his father sent Gustav to a grammar school in Prague to give him better education. He stayed with the wealthy Grünfeld family whose two sons, Alfred and Heinrich, studied music and later became excellent musicians. The Grünfeld family was to provide Gustav with further piano lessons. GM did not succeed at school and so his father sent him back to Jihlava in March 1872.
5 November 1872 Bernard Mahler bought the house next door at 264 Brtnická street (now Znojemská 6).
11 November 1872 GM performed at a public academy of the grammar school on the occasion of Schiller´s anniversary. He played Liszt´s piano variations on Mendelsohn´s music to Shakespeare´s Midsummer Night´s Dream with great success.
20 April 1873 GM performed at a concert at the Municipal Theatre held on the occasion of a wedding in the Imperial family. GM played Thalberg´s piano fantasia on a theme from Bellini´s opera Norma. The same programme was repeated on the occasion of the Men´s Singing Society anniversary on 17 May 1873 at the hall of the Czap hotel in Jihlava .
1875-1878 GM studied at Vienna Conservatory with very good results.
1875-1877 it was his parents´ wish that GM should continue his studies at Jihlava Grammar School as private student. During his grammar school years he made lifelong friendship with Josef Steiner, Quido Adler (a music critic and professor of music science at Vienna university), Emil Freund (a lawyer in Vienna, he took care of a part of the inheritance proceedings), and Theodor Fischer, his schoolmate and the son of his music teacher (later president of Jihlava district court). GM returned to Jihlava from Vienna for the holidays and to take exams at the grammar school.
31 July 1876: concert of the conservatory students GM and Richard Schraml at the Czap Hotel. 12 September 1876 GM gave a concert at the Czap Hotel where he also performed his compositions Sonata for Violin and Piano and Quartet for Two Violins, Piano and Viola.
12 September 1877: GM took the school leaving exam at Jihlava Grammar School, he passed his second attempt with poor results.
24 April 1879 GM performed at a solemn concert on the occasion of the 25th wedding anniversary of the Imperial couple at the Municipal Theatre in Jihlava.
In September 1882 GM conducted two performances of Franz Suppé´s operetta Boccaccio at the Municipal Theatre in Jihlava.
10 January – 17 March 1883 GM was engaged at the Municipal Theatre in Olomouc (Olmütz), the post was arranged for him by the Lewy agency in Vienna. Mahler was to substitute for a runaway kapellmeister. The theatre in Olomouc (16 000 inhabitants, two thirds of them German) was in a bad condition as regards technical equipment, financial means as well as artictically. Its director Emanuel Raoul closed the theatre in March. Mahler faced provincial environment but gained theatrical experience and learnt new repertoire.
11 August 1883 – last performance in Jihlava at the Municipal Theatre as a pianist and conductor at the charitable academy in favour of the Red Cross. He learnt of the state of the impoverished family and ill father. His brothers Alois and Otto, and sistres Justine and Emma were living there. Since then GM sent them regular financial support.
1 August 1885 – 15 July 1886 GM was second conductor of the Royal German Theatre in Prague (Königlich deutsches Landestheater in Prag, today called The Estates Theatre). Mahler already asked director Neumann in Brehmen for an engagement in December 1884. Neumann couldn´t employ him immediately but engaged him in the season 1885/86 when he became director of the German Theatre in Prague. GM was officially second conductor there but in fact did the job of the first when the conductor designate Anton Seidl had breached his contract and left Prague.
GM conducted important repertoire (Mozart: Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, Beethoven: Fidelio). At the turn of the year 1885 GM rehearsed Prague premieres of the first two parts of Wagner´s tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelungs (Der Ring des Nibelungen), The Rhine Gold (Das Rheingold) and The Valkyrie(Die Walküre). He also conducted symphonic concerts. In Feburary 1886 he conducted Beethoven´s Ninth Symphony and other pieces. He received an admiring letter from a group of enthusiastic listeners from academic circles. At the following concert on 18 April 1886 he also conducted a part of Bruckner´s symphony (for the first time in Prague) and appeared as a composer for the first time. Three of his songs were sung by the soprano Betty Frank with Mahler at the piano.
GM visited the Czech National Theatre several times. He admired its artistic achievements and was interested in Czech composers, especially Smetana and Dvořák.
18 August 1888 GM conducted the Prague premiere of the opera The Three Pintos (Die drei Pintos), which he had finished from Weber´s manuscript. He conducted several repetitions and stayed in Prague till 31 August, longer than he had planned, because he was waiting for the end of negotiations about his engagement in Budapest.
Following his parents´ death in 1889 GM sold both houses in Jihlava. The parents are buried at the Jihlava Jewish cemetery. Mahler never returned to Jihlava but he remained in contact with the authorities, he and his family had the right of domicile there and he often corresponded with his friends, especially his music teacher H.Fischer.
In July 1889 and July 1891 GM visited Marienbad.
During his engagement in Hamburg (1894-97) GM rehearsed and performed Smetana´s The Bartered Bride, The Kiss and Two Widows. Among his close friends was the composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster, who worked in Hamburg as a journalist and teacher. His wife, the soprano Berta Lauterer-Foerster was a member of Mahler´s Hamburg opera ensemble, together with the baritone Vilém Heš. Later Mahler engaged them both at the Court Opera in Vienna.
13 April 1896 Mahler presented the premiere of Foerster´s Symphony No.3 in Hamburg.
4 October 1897 at the Vienna Court Opera GM staged Smetana´s opera Dalibor (in his own arrangement).
26 January 1898 the Prague Society for the Support of German Science, Art and Literature in Bohemia (Gesellschaft zur Förderung deutscher Wissenschaft, Kunst und Literatur in Böhmen) awarded Mahler with a financial support for the publishing of the scores of his first three symphonies and named him his corresponding member.
3 March 1898 GM conducted his First Symphony at the German Theatre in Prague. After the concert he took part in a solemn dinner at the director Neumann´s flat, where he met a lot of personalities of Czech and German culture.
4 December 1898 GM conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in premiere of Dvořák´s The Song of Heroes (Píseň bohatýrská). The composer was present having accepted Mahler´s personal invitation. Apart from Dvořák the concert featured Brahms, Mendelssohn and Haydn and met with great acclaim.
4 June 1899 GM conducted Beethoven´s Ninth at the close of a festival of Wagner´s operas at the German Theatre in Prague.
3 December 1899 GM conducted Dvořák´s symphonic poem The Dove (Holoubek) at a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna.
2 December 1900 GM conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in Smetana´s overture to the opera Libuše and the symphonic poem Vltava from the cycle My Country (Má vlast).
In the spring of 1901 Mahler was interested in staging Dvořák´s opera Rusalka, which only had its premiere in Prague on 31 March 1901. He had the piano score sent from the Prague National Theatre. Following Dvořák´s stay in Vienna they ordered a German translation. But Dvořák hesitated to sign the contract. He wasn´t quite content with the conditions. In the end Rusalka wasn´t performed in Vienna at all.
3 October 1903 GM presented the ballet Lazy Hans (Der faule Hans / Pohádka o Honzovi) by his friend Oskar Nedbal, who rehearsed and conducted the performance (the premiere was conducted by the composer in Prague on 24 January 1902).
18 December 1903 Oskar Nedbal conducted Mahler´s Second Symphony at a concert of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague. Alma Mahler was present.
25 February 1904 at a concert of the German Theatre in Prague Mahler conducted his Third Symphony.
21 May 1908 Mahler arrived in Prague. 23 May he conducted the opening concert of the cycle held within the Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the exhibition area at Holešovice. Programme - Beethoven: overture to Coriolanus, Smetana: overture to The Bartered Bride, Wagner: overtures to Tristan und Isolde and to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The orchestra was composed of members of the Czech Philharmonic and twenty players of the German Theatre orchestra. GM esteemed Czech musicians and wrote to his wife that “the orchestra was excellent and obliging”.
19 September 1908 GM conducted the closing concert of the same cycle where the premiere of his Seventh Symphony was played by the same orchestra. Many Mahler´s friends and collaborators where present in Prague helping with preparations for the concert.
19 February 1909 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York Mahler conducted Smetana´s opera The Bartered Bride for the first time in America with Emmy Destinn as Mařenka. The opera was played in German and Mahler, as usual, had made many arrangements in instrumentation and structure.
Another Czech singer apart from Emmy Destinn – Karel Burian sang under Mahler in New York. 12 March 1909 GM conducted Tristan und Isolde with Karel Burian as Tristan.
5 February 1910 GM performed Dvořák´s symphony From the New World with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. With this orchestra GM also performed other works by Dvořák and Smetana.