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Gustav Mahler

Biography

Born: July 7, 1860; Czech Republic   Died: May 18, 1911; Austria   Period: Romantic
"Imagine the universe beginning to sing and resound," Mahler wrote of his Symphony No. 8, the "Symphony of a Thousand." "It is no longer human voices; it is planets and suns revolving." Mahler was late Romantic music's ultimate big thinker. In his own lifetime he was generally regarded as a conductor who composed on the side, producing huge, bizarre symphonies accepted only by a cult following.
Born in 1860, in Kalischt, Bohemia, he came
Read more from a middle-class family. He entered the Vienna Conservatory in 1875, studying piano, harmony, and composition in a musically conservative atmosphere. Nevertheless, he became a supporter of Wagner and Bruckner, both of whose works he would later conduct frequently, and became part of a social circle interested in socialism, Nietzschean philosophy, and pan-Germanism. Around 1880, he began conducting and wrote his first mature work, Das klagende Lied. Mahler's conducting career advanced rapidly, moving him from Kassel to Prague to Leipzig to Budapest; he was usually either greatly respected or thoroughly despised by the performers for his exacting rehearsals and perfectionism. In 1897 he became music director of the Vienna Court Opera and then, a year later, of the Vienna Philharmonic. Mahler's conducting career permitted composition only during the summers, in a series of "composing huts" he had built in picturesque rural locations. He completed his first symphony in 1888, but it met with utter audience incomprehension. He reserved this time for symphonies, all of them large-scale works, and song cycles. In Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), he merged the two forms into an immense song-symphony. The Viennese public largely failed to understand his music, but Mahler took their reactions calmly, accurately predicting that "My time will yet come." Meanwhile, his autocratic ways as a conductor alienated musicians. In 1901, the press and the musicians essentially forced his resignation from the Philharmonic. He married a young composition student, Alma Schindler in 1902, and they soon had two daughters. By 1907 Mahler was increasingly away from Vienna, conducting his own works, and thus he resigned from the opera as well. Just after accepting the position of principal conductor of New York's Metropolitan Opera, but before leaving Vienna, Mahler's older daughter, age 4, died from scarlet fever and diphtheria, and he learned he himself had a defective heart valve. In New York, he was impressed by the caliber of talent and quickly gained audience approval. In 1909 he became conductor of the New York Philharmonic, which he found much more agreeable than the opera work by this time. The following year, he had a triumphant premiere of his massive Symphony No. 8 in Munich. Despite the professional successes, his personal life suffered another blow when his and Alma's marriage began having problems. They stayed together, and after he became ill in February 1911, she saw to it that he made it back to Vienna, where he died on May 18.
The conductors Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Willem Mengelberg, and Maurice Abravanel kept Mahler's legacy alive, and Mahler's are now among the most recorded of any symphonies. His frequent incorporation of vocal elements into symphonic writing brought to full fruition a process that had begun with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, demonstrating his music's firm roots in the Germanic classical tradition. However, it was his huge tapestries of shifting moods and tones, ranging from tragedy to bitter irony (often explicitly indicated in performance directions), from café music to evocations of the sublime, that portended a century in which multiplicity ruled. Read less
Mahler: Das Lied Von Der Erde / Kleiber, Ludwig, Kmentt
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Wiener Symphoniker  
Catalog: 7   Number of Discs: 1
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Mahler: Symphony No 7 / Dudamel, Simon Bolivar SO
Release Date: 10/07/2014   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 002155002   Number of Discs: 1
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Mahler: Symphony No 8 / Wit, Warsaw National Po, Et Al
Release Date: 04/18/2006   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550533   Number of Discs: 2
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Mahler: Symphony No 7 / Michael Halász, Polish National So
Release Date: 07/18/1995   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550531   Number of Discs: 1
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Mahler: Symphony No 3, Etc / Wit, Polish Radio Symphony
Release Date: 10/24/1995   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550525-26   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Symphony no 5 in C sharp minor: 4th movement, Adagietto

 

About This Work
After conducting Mozart's Die Zauberflöte at the Vienna Court Opera on the night of February 24, 1901, Gustav Mahler almost died. He suffered a severe internal hemorrhage and lost a third of his blood. Although Mahler had seen ten of his Read more brothers and sisters die, had seen both his parents die, and had written a funeral march into every work he had so far composed except the Fourth Symphony, death, his own death, had never seemed quite real to him before that night. Nor would it be too much to say that the experience changed his life.

That summer was the most prolific he had as a composer: eight songs plus the first two parts of the Fifth Symphony. Almost all the songs were sad; indeed, three of them would become part of his cycle of songs called the Kindertotenlieder. And the music for the Fifth was predominantly somber: a severe and anguished Funeral March in C sharp minor, a nearly nihilistic Allegro in A minor, and a D major Scherzo with a pizzicato void at its center. But, as yet, Mahler had no idea how the Fifth should conclude.

The conclusion of the Fifth came from out of nowhere. Invited on November 7 to dine at a friend's home, he met the "most beautiful girl in Vienna," Alma Schindler. She was 22 to his 41, vivacious and gregarious to his introverted and isolated. She had by this time already had as suitors Max Burckhard, the director of the Imperial Theater, and Gustav Klimt, the leader of the group of avant-garde artists known as the Secession, and was currently involved with the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky. She was brilliant, beautiful, and young, and Mahler fell almost instantly in love with her.

Within two months, they were engaged. At some point during that time, Mahler composed the movement that was to become the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony and sent it to Alma as a sort of musical love letter. She immediately understood: after all, it included not only a quotation from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, but also a passionate text by Mahler himself. But the Adagietto needs no quotation from Wagner nor any text to make its meaning clear. In simple three-part form and set for string orchestra and harp, its opening melody is full of endless and ineffable longing. Its central section increases in intensity until its sublime and quiet climax. The return of the opening melody builds to a climax of earth-shattering passion and then subsides into a long, lingering coda of profound contentment.

Through modulations and suspensions, through chromatic nuances and appoggiaturas, Mahler composed a musical act of love. Of course Alma immediately understood. Read less

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