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Gustav Mahler

(1860 - 1911)

Gustav Mahler was born in Kalischt on July 7th, 1860.

He was the son of a poor Jewish peddler and in later years he referred to himself as a thrice homeless man: a Bohemian among Austrians, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew among the people of the whole world.

Mahler died there from his infection on May 18, 1911 at the age of 50, leaving his Symphony No. 10 unfinished.

Having noticed the boy's talent at an early age, his parents arranged piano lessons for him when he was six years old.

He was already an accomplished pianist when he entered the Vienna Conservatoire in 1875.

Much of his career was spent as an opera conductor working in Budapest, Hamburg and finally in Vienna, where his energy and competence as artistic director soon made the Vienna Court Opera the finest company in Europe.

Mahler resigned from this post in 1907 when he was unable to sustain the workload any longer due to heart problems and the death of his eldest daughter.

He spent the last years of his life conducting in Europe and the United States.

Mahlers compositions received little acclaim during his lifetime and it was not until the 1950's that his work became popular.

Mahler was a prolific composer and tried to write music so varied and grandiose that the whole world was reflected in it.

Mahler completed nine symphonies, leaving a tenth unfinished, in addition to Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), a symphony in all but name, based on old Chinese poems.

Symphony No. 1 is sometimes known as Titan and includes a remarkable ironic funeral march that transforms a nursery tune.

Symphonies ns. 2, 3, 4 and 8 make use of choruses and vocal soloists.

Symphony No. 8 is known as the "Symphony of a Thousand" because of the number of performers it requires.

The symphonies, in their variety of mood, offer a reflection of the world, with music that may occasionally be garish and yet often reaches unsurpassable heights.

Mahler wrote a number of songs of singular beauty, some of which were re-used in orchestral settings.

The songs include settings of poems from the Romantic anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy's Magic Horn), Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) and Rueckert's Kindertotenlieder (Songs of the Death of Children).

Mahler's difficulties in getting his works accepted led him to say, "My time will come".

That time came in the mid 20th century, at a point when the development of the LP was allowing repeated hearings of the long and complex symphonies in competent and well-recorded performances.

By 1956, every one of Mahler's symphonies (including Das Lied von der Erde and the opening Adagio movement of the unfinished Tenth Symphony) had been issued on LP; as had Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Das Klagende Lied, the song cycles, and many individual songs.

Advocated by both those who had known him (prominently among them the composers Alexander von Zemlinsky and Arnold Schoenberg), and by a generation of conductors including the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, his works won over an audience hungry for the next wave of musical exploration.

In the late twentieth century, new musicological methods led to the extensive editing of his scores, leading to various attempts to complete the tenth symphony, such as by Deryck Cooke, and improved versions of the others.



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