July 7, 1860 - Kaliste (Moravia) — May 18, 1911 - Vienna (Austria)
Perhaps the only symphonist whose legacy looms as large as that of Beethoven in the classical music pantheon, Gustav Mahler's nine completed symphonies—plus Das Lied von der Erde and unfinished Tenth—each number among the most celebrated works in the concert repertoire, beloved by audiences, conductors, and musicians alike.
Gustav Mahler and the revolution of post-Romantic music
A contemporary of Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler studied the piano with Julius Epstein and composition with Franz Krenn in Vienna. A protégé of Anton Bruckner's and admired by Johannes Brahms, Mahler converted to Catholicism in 1897 in order to become the director of the Vienna opera house where his interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner became undisputed references.
Composer or conductor? Gustav Mahler's dilemma
Isolated by anti-Semites at the beginning of the 20th century, Gustav Mahler took exile in the United States from 1906 and 1910 where he gave a series of concerts. His conducting was held in great esteem during his lifetime; his composing, however, was only relatively successful. His symphonies and his Lieder with orchestra did, however, revolutionise the genres and were firmly anchored in post-Romantic sensibility. Excessively demanding, this tormented soul let Wagnerian drama into the symphony and composed “works of the world” where funeral marches, long adagios and suffering are omnipresent.
Highly intelligent, Gustav Mahler’s music is imbued with resignation, literature, philosophy and the contemplation of nature. His often-lengthy symphonies are vast meditations on death, resurrection and childhood. A grotesque dimension to his work playing on the sublime and sarcasm, at times shocked the public. Exhausted by the years spent in the United States, Mahler died aged fifty-one once he had returned to Vienna without ever having had time to teach. Bruno Walter and Arnold Schoenberg were the direct admirers of this last Romantic.