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Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911)

Gustav Mahler

born: 7 July 1860
died: 18 May 1911
country: Austria

Gustav Mahler’s early experiences of music were influenced by the military bands and folk singers who passed by his father’s inn in the small town of Iglau. Besides learning many of their tunes, he also received formal piano lessons from local musicians and gave his first recital in 1870. Five years later, he applied for a place at the Vienna Conservatory where he studied piano, harmony and composition. After graduation, Mahler supported himself by teaching music and also completed his first important composition, Das klagende Lied. He accepted a succession of conducting posts in Kassel, Prague, Leipzig and Budapest, and the Hamburg State Theatre, where he served as First Conductor from 1891–97. For the next ten years, Mahler was Resident Conductor and then Director of the prestigious Vienna Hofoper.

The demands of both opera conducting and administration meant that Mahler could only devote the summer months to composition. Working in the Austrian countryside he completed nine symphonies, richly Romantic in idiom, often monumental in scale and extraordinarily eclectic in their range of musical references and styles. He also composed a series of eloquent, often poignant songs, many themes from which were reworked in his symphonic scores. An anti-Semitic campaign against Mahler in the Viennese press threatened his position at the Hofoper, and in 1907 he accepted an invitation to become Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and later the New York Philharmonic. In 1911 he contracted a bacterial infection and returned to Vienna. When he died a few months before his 51st birthday, Mahler had just completed part of his Tenth Symphony and was still working on sketches for other movements.

from notes by Andrew Stewart © 2007

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