Timeline: Gustav Mahler

Aug 22, 2016

For centuries, the region of Austro/Germany produced remarkably talented composers. You can follow a chain of names from Haydn to Mozart, from Beethoven to Mendelssohn and Brahms. One of the last great composers of this line was Gustav Mahler.

His visionary direction of the Vienna Opera influenced the future of that organization as well as many others around the world. His music reinvigorated the symphony and expanded the possibilities of the orchestra.

Mahler was the 2nd of 14 children born to a successful tavern owner in Inglau. He began to take lessons on the piano at an early age and gave his first public performance when he was 10. At 15, Gustav was sent to Vienna to study at the conservatory. It was there that he fell in love with composition and conducting. During these formative years he was greatly influenced by Wagnerian opera and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

After graduating from university, Mahler took up various conducting jobs in locations in Austria and Germany. His travels allowed him to develop long time friendships with Richard Strauss and Sigmund Freud. Though he had a reputation of being strong willed and demanding of his orchestras, Gustav Mahler became the virtuoso conductor of his time. His creative life followed the rigor of his performance schedule. He would sketch out his music during the break of the summer months and orchestrate these ideas during the theater season.

As a composer, he was an inspiration to a new generation, especially those composers who make up the Second Viennese School; Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. His most influential works are his monumental 9 symphonies, he left a 10th unfinished. These symphonies were made possible by the inspiration and support of Mahler’s wife, Alma Schindler Mahler, who was a talented composer herself and a member of an influential circle of artists.

Mahler's wife, Alma Schindler Mahler, was a talented composer herself and a member of an influential circle of artists.
Credit US-PD

A wave of anti-Semitic protest forced Mahler’s resignation from the Vienna Opera in 1907. This was also the year he lost his eldest daughter to scarlet fever and was diagnosed with a heart condition that greatly limited his physical life. Nevertheless, he took up a position with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He spent the next few years living part time in New York City and in Europe. He fell gravely ill in 1911 and made his last trip to Vienna. There he passed away on May 12th, just a few weeks before his 51st birthday.

Mahler's later years were marred by tragedy, illness and oppression.
Credit US-PD

Credit US-PD

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.