Gustav Mahler

This essay has a total of 1079 words and 5 pages.

Gustav Mahler

Mahler was born in Kalischt, Bohemia, on July 7, 1860. At the time, Bohemia (later to form
a major component of Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic) was part of the
Austro-Hungarian empire, then enduring its final crumbling decades, and the region where
Mahler spent his youth was strongly associate with the Czech independence movement.
However, Mahler also was a Jew, and Jews in the region were associated by ethnic Czechs
with Germans. Mahler famous quote is: "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in
Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an
intruder, never welcomed." Then add to that the fact that the public considered Mahler to
be a gifted conductor with a habit of writing over-long symphonies, while Mahler
considered himself to a composer forced to spend most of his year conducting.

Mahler is known for the length, depth, and painful emotions of his works. He loved nature
and life and, based on early childhood experiences, feared death (family deaths, a
suicide, and a brutal rape he witnessed). This duality appears in almost all his
compositions, especially in the Kindertotenlieder ("Songs on the Deaths of Children"),
which are actually about the loss of an innocent view of life.

Mahler's orchestral music is clear, complex, and full of musical imagery, from the
heavenly to the banal (the family lived near a military barracks, so march tunes sometimes
appear; an argument was associated with the sound of a hurdy-gurdy outside the window).
The "program" in the incredible symphonies is therefore that of personal tragedy and hope
projected onto a universal scale.

Mahler was one of the most important and influential conductors of the period. Although
Mahler had originally studied piano and composition, he was not a virtuoso pianist and his
student and youthful works were already too forward looking for him to win the
conservative judged composition contests of the time. As a result, Mahler was forced into
a conducting career.

Mahler's early career was spent at a serious of regional opera houses (Hall in 1880,
Laibach in 1881, Olmutz in 1882, Kassel in 1883, Prague in 1885, Liepzig in 1886-8,
Budapest from 1886-8, and Hamburg from 1891-7), a normal career path, until he arrived as
head of the Vienna Opera in 1897. Mahler ended some of the more slovenly performance
practices of the past; he removed significant cuts that had been "traditionally" made in
performances of Wagner's operas, significantly upgraded the expected level of performance
for both vocalists and instrumentalists, expanded the repertoire and introduced many new

He also ruled with an iron fist, helping create the image of conductor as dictator. This
was not, however, the result of simple ego, but rather of Mahler's artistic honesty and
desire. When members of the opera orchestra complained that one or another lazy practice
was tradition, Mahler's favorite reply was that "[t]radition is laziness." Mahler believed
that opera was the highest form of art, not mere entertainment. A classic example is when
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