Of course, we all know Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Copland, etc.
What about Mahler? I have never heard of him before in my early school days. And come to think of it, I wish my educators exposed his music to my peers.
Mahler’s music can be melancholy, but his creative compositions hit your deepest emotions; the ones you never thought you could feel.
The Beginning –
Gustav Mahler was born on July 7th, 1860 in Bohemia (part of the Czech Republic). After being born, Mahler and his family moved to Jihlava. Both of these cities were part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire until it collapsed.
The composer was also Jewish, a struggle that became a burden to the Mahler family. Alma Mahler, Gustav’s wife, explains that a practical awareness of the consequences of being a Jew must have been an early experience. The Mahler’s were only able to migrate to Jihlava after the removal of restrictions on the movement of Jews from one place to another.
His father, Bernard, was an abusive husband and father. His temper was unbearable to the point where Gustav rushed away from his residence, escaping the soul-destroying narrowness.
Mahler had twelve (yes, twelve) brothers and sisters, which half of them passed away at a young age. Gustav favored his brother, Ernest (b 1861) and suffered through his illness (hydro cardiomyopathy).
One thing about Gustav’s childhood is that he day-dreamed constantly. Alma Mahler said that indoors and outdoors he lived in a dream; dreamed his way through family life and childhood.
While visiting his grandparents, Gustav wandered and explored all around their residence. When his father found him, he was fiddling around a piano in his grandparents attic. From that day on, his father was convinced that Gustav was destined to be a musician. At age four, he was composing, even before playing scales.
Bernard wanted to enroll Gustav to the Vienna Conservatory, but the family was poor at the time and asked the school to teach Gustav pro-bono. Pianist Julius Epstein accepted Mahler at the age of fifteen. He then won numerous awards for piano performance. Mahler was infected with the compositions of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and became an interpreter of his works.
Mahler’s personality was described as a fire manner of speech, lightening-like readiness of mind. He was kind and divinatory to nature, which brought him to love and respect animals. He could pass hours by playing with dogs. He was also devoted to children, who have the candid seriousness of animals.
The road to composing –
Soon after his studies, he became a piano teacher in Hungary to support his financial needs.
This is where Mahler began his composition journey. His first work, Das Klagende Lied (song of lamentation), was composed between 1878-1880. After finishing his work, he became a conductor in Upper Austria, but he had no desire to be a conductor.
After composing a few more song-cycles, he began to bring his ideas and innovations to his First Symphony. Mahler was inspired by Nature and using the idea as an abstract narrative. He used the child’s nursery rhyme, Frere Jaques, as the motif, but writes it in d minor. Critics praised his work as carefully prepared and executed with great expertise.
Years later he continued to compose more and more symphonies. His Second Symphony and his Fifth Symphony are critically the best works Mahler has composed. His idea for his Second Symphony, also known as the “Resurrection Symphony,” was sort of serendipitous for the composer. He was fond of a fellow conductor, Hans Von Bulow. Bulow died unexpectedly, which made Mahler grieve and suffer another loss in his life. It was until then that Mahler wanted to write a Requiem in Bulow’s honor.
After many successful symphonies later, one of his children passed away from scarlet fever. Mahler then composed one of his significant works, Kindertotenlieder (Song on the Death of Children). The piece was premiered on January 29th, 1905 in Vienna. This piece calls for a baritone or mezzo-soprano. Mahler used Fredric Ruckert’s poems to compose this piece.
Mahler then moved to New York City to obtain the position of Music Director for the New York Philharmonic in 1908 until his death (1911).
My views on Mahler –
In case you didn’t read my blog post of How the Boston Symphony Orchestra saved my life, read it!
After listening to Mahler’s First Symphony live, I felt chills and adrenaline running through my veins. With the climatic energy, I cried at the end of his Second Symphony, with Mahler’s vision of how the soul will enter into heaven.
Growing up with a sad life made Mahler’s name a icon. He captures the beauty that we tend to forget on our planet. We take nature for granted and fail to appreciate the air we breathe in. Mahler knew how to motivate and move himself and his audience. Of course, Mahler was very sensitive, and by applying it to his music, it can connect with individuals who listen or not listen to classical music.
Concluding this blog post, there hasn’t been a composer who has moved me emotionally and mentally other than Mahler himself. I knew the struggles he has faced and can feel his pain and suffering in his music to the point where you want to scream (in a good way).
If you are new to classical music and need recommendations of what to listen, Mahler is the way to go.
For what you have fought for will lead you to God