Born: July 7, 1860, Kaliste, The Czech Republic Died: May 18, 1911, Vienna Czech-born Austrian composer and conductor. Mahler's music stands at the point of transition between nineteenth- century romanticism and twentieth-century modernism.
Mahler Gustav Mahler's career reflects the artistic ambivalence of the end of the nineteenth century. As a conductor, Mahler's aim was to preserve the tradition of composers of the past, and he was a tireless champion of Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner. In his composition, on the other hand, he embodied many of the new ideas of modernism and fostered the music of his more radical contemporaries, such as Arnold Schoenberg. In the end, his music was overshadowed by these new currents, but has been revived and reevaluated in the last three decades.
Mahler Mahler was born in a small Bohemian town, where he studied music with local teachers. In 1875 he went to Vienna to study at the conservatory, where he remained until 1878. Upon finishing his studies, he took a series of conducting posts throughout Central and Eastern Europe, including Budapest, Hamburg, and Leipzig. It was in Leipzig that he first attracted notice with his interpretation of Wagner's Ring cycle. He ultimately ended up in Vienna, conducting the state opera orchestra. His success in transforming the repertory and performance standards of the opera house was nothing short of remarkable, but it came at high personal cost.
Mahler The constant work forced him to confine his composing to the summer months, and probably contributed to the health problems that would end his life at an early age. In addition, in order to obtain a post in Vienna—a city with deep undercurrents of anti-Semitism—Mahler had to renounce Judaism and convert to Catholicism. In the end it did him no good, and these same anti- Semitic forces compelled him to leave the city. He emigrated to the United States.
Mahler In New York, he was engaged as conductor for the Metropolitan Opera, and later the New York Philharmonic. When he died at the age of fifty, he was working on his tenth symphony, a work he had postponed thinking it something of a curse (pointing to Beethoven, Schubert, and Bruckner). His "real" tenth symphony, Das Lied von der Erde (a setting of six poems by the eighth-century Chinese poet Li Po) serves as a fitting summary of his symphonic style, and one of his true masterpieces.
Mahler Mahler's music reflects the same ambiguities as his life. He was intensely tied to the past in many ways, following in the footsteps of the great Austrian symphonists. At the same time, he expanded the forms he inherited to a point that it seemed impossible to go beyond. His works are enormous, both in size and in forces. His late symphonies are often more than ninety minutes in length, and call for huge instrumental (and often choral) forces.
Mahler His Symphony No. 8 (called the "Symphony of a Thousand"), for example, calls for five vocal soloists, a boy choir, and an adult choir, along with a gigantic orchestra. He also departed from tradition in his use of tonality. His larger works often ended in a different tonality than they began in, weakening the structural role of tonality at the same time that Schoenberg and his contemporaries were moving toward a purely atonal style. The final element we can note in Mahler's music is its wit, often tinged with irony and parody. This often occurs by means of the juxtaposition of incongruous elements to create a jarring, often seemingly banal mix.