Mahler, Gustav

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mahler, Gustav

Gustav Mahler (gŏŏs´täf mä´lər), 1860–1911, composer and conductor, born in Austrian Bohemia of Jewish parentage. Mahler studied at the Univ. of Vienna and the Vienna Conservatory. He was conductor of the Budapest Imperial Opera (1888–90), the Hamburg Municipal Theater (1891–97), the Vienna State Opera (1897–1907), and the New York Philharmonic (1909–11). He also conducted the Metropolitan Opera orchestra (1908–10). As a conductor Mahler was extraordinarily exacting and precise, achieving high standards of performance that have become legendary. His refusal to compromise artistic integrity aroused intense personal opposition in Vienna and New York.

Composing mainly during summers, he completed nine symphonies (the unfinished tenth has been completed by Deryck Cooke) and several songs and song cycles, mostly with orchestral accompaniment. Of the cycles, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen [songs of a wayfarer] (1883–85), Kindertotenlieder [songs on the death of children] (1901–4), and Das Lied von der Erde [song of the earth] (1907–10) are most notable. Mahler followed Bruckner in the Viennese symphonic tradition. He added folk elements to the symphony and expanded it in terms of length, emotional contrast, and orchestral size. He used choral or solo voices in four symphonies: the Second, Third, Fourth, and Eighth; the Eighth is known as the Symphony of a Thousand because of the enormous performing forces required. The thinner texture, wide-ranging melodies, and taut, intense emotionalism of Mahler's late works strongly influenced the next generation of Austrian composers, especially Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg.

See his letters ed. by A. Mahler and D. Mitchell (3d ed., tr. 1973); H.-L. de La Grange and G. Weiss, ed., Gustav Mahler: Letters to His Wife (tr. 2004); N. Lebrecht, Mahler Remembered (1987); biographies by B. Walter (tr. 1941, repr. 1970), K. Blaukopf (tr. 1972), H.-L. de La Grange (tr., 4. vol., 1995–2008), J. Carr (1997), and J. M. Fischer (tr. 2011); C. Floros, Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies (tr. 1994, repr. 2003); T. W. Adorno, Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy (tr. 1996).

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