Mahler, Gustav

Mahler, Gustav
   Of Jewish extraction and born in the kingdom of Bohemia, part of today’s Czech Republic, Mahler excelled as a director and a composer. During his conservatory studies in Vienna, where he studied privately with Anton Bruckner, Mahler was part of a circle of young intellectuals that included social reformers such as Engelbert Pernerstorfer and Viktor Adler. Though their future careers followed somewhat different paths, all were much under the intellectual and aesthetic spell of the composer Richard Wagner and the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Mahler occasionally turned to the latter for texts, which he incorporated into his music, such as the Third Symphony.
   After holding a number of musical positions in cities throughout the Austro–Hungarian Empire and in Germany, in 1897 Mahler became director of what is today the Vienna State Opera. For the next 10 years, the house flourished as he devoted himself to bringing the finest singers to the Habsburg capital. He expanded the repertory as well. Mahler also conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra between 1898 and 1901. Impatience with Viennese artistic politics took him to New York in 1908, where he conducted the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera; in 1909 he became conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as well. Ill health brought him back to Vienna in 1911.
   Mahler’s musical corpus was neither as large nor as varied as that of many of his contemporaries, not to mention his predecessors in the German tradition. He did some of his most significant composing during summer holidays from his other musical duties. Nevertheless, his work was original, was sometimes gargantuan in proportion, and can be deeply moving. Along with some important vocal composition, Mahler finished nine symphonies during his lifetime. He left a substantial draft of a 10th, which has now been realized. Much of the writing is hyper-personal, often reflecting the joys and the many strains of his tempestuous marriage in 1902 to Alma Maria Schindler (1879–1964), the daughter of a noted Viennese painter. She would later become the wife of the German Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and finally of the novelist Franz Werfel (1890–1945).
   See also Music.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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