(Before we dive into watching MAHLER I thought it would be useful to have some background on who he actually was. Many of these composers were simply names to me, having grown up loving mostly Rossini and Beethoven. Tchaikovsky's music was the only one of Ken's film subjects who I'd heard extensively. I'm literally in Kindergarten when it comes to the history of classical music so please bear with me.)
We tend to think of composers as 16th, 17th and 18th century but as seen below, many of the greatest walked among us relatively recently. (Seems like being born in the summer does have its advantages as well.)
Franz Ritter von Liszt (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886)
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883)
Anton Bruckner (4 September 1824 – 11 October 1896)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893)
Sir Edward William Elgar (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934)
Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911)
Frederick Delius (29 January 1862 – 10 June 1934)
Claude-Achille Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918)
Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958)
Béla Bartók (25 March 1881 – September 26, 1945)
Bohuslav Martinů (December 8, 1890 – August 28, 1959)
Sergei Prokofiev (23 April 1891– 5 March 1953)
Gordon Jacob (5 July 1895 – 8 June 1984)
Georges Delerue (12 March 1925 – March 20, 1992)
A Brief Biography of Gustav Mahler:
Born in the village of Kalischt in what was once the Austria-Hungarian Empire and now the Czech Republic, Mahler was true Bohemian and a German speaking Jewish one at that. He recalled years later always "feeling as an outsider". As a composer, he serves as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the Modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi regime. After 1945 his music was re-discovered and championed by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained to this day.
Mahler was the oldest of six out of fourteen surviving children. His father, Bernhard, was a tavern owner and his mother, Marie, was the daughter of a soap maker. Shortly after Mahler was born, he and his parents moved to Iglau, Moravia. His father was able to open a successful tavern and brewery which allowed him to support Mahler’s musical ambitions.
Because Mahler lived close to the town square where frequent concerts were given by the military band, he developed a taste for music at a very early age. Iglau was then a thriving commercial town of 20,000 people where Gustav was introduced to music through street songs, dance tunes, folk melodies, and the trumpet calls and marches of the local military band. All of these elements would later contribute to his mature musical vocabulary. He learned various songs from Catholic school friends and received lessons from local musicians. It wasn't long after his father's purchase of the piano when Mahler became proficient at playing becoming a child prodigy.
As a result of Mahler's poor performances in school, his father sent him to audition at the Vienna Conservatory. Mahler was accepted in 1875 under Julius Epstein with whom he studied piano. While in music school, Mahler quickly turned to composition as his primary study. In 1877, Mahler enrolled in Vienna University where he became fervently interested in great literary works and philosophy. Biographer Jonathan Carr says that the composer's head was "not only full of the sound of Bohemian bands, trumpet calls and marches, Bruckner chorales and Schubert sonatas. It was also throbbing with the problems of philosophy and metaphysics he had thrashed out..." Sadly many of Maler's earliest attempts at compositions did not survive this era as he destroyed them himself.
Early Adult Years :
At the young age of 21, Mahler received a conduction job in the Landestheater in Liabach. He conducted over 50 pieces including his first opera Il Trovatore. In 1883, Mahler moved to Kassel, signed a contract and worked several years as 'Royal Musical and Choral Director' - it may have been a fancy title, but he still had to report to the resident Kapellmeister. From 1885-91, Mahler worked in Liepzig, Prague, and Budapest.
Mid Adult Years:
In March of 1891, Mahler became chief conductor at the Hamburg Stadttheater. While in Hamburg, Mahler finally finished his second symphony in 1895.At the Stadttheater Mahler introduced numerous new operas: Verdi's Falstaff, Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel, and works by Smetana. However, he was forced to resign his post with the subscription concerts after poor financial returns and an ill-received interpretation of his re-scored Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Mahler had made it clear that his ultimate goal was an appointment in Vienna, and from 1895 onward was manoeuvring, with the help of influential friends, to secure the directorship of the Vienna Hofoper.He overcame the bar that existed against the appointment of a Jew to this post by what may have been a pragmatic conversion to Roman Catholicism in February 1897. Two months later Mahler was appointed to the Hofoper, provisionally as a staff conductor with the title of Kapellmeister. Also, in the same year, Mahler's younger brother shot himself. Since his parents had died several years before, Mahler became the head of the household. To protect his younger sisters, he moved them to Hamburg to live with him.
Late Adult Years:
After his appointment was confirmed in October 1897 Mahler remained in post until his resignation in November 1907. In the ten years for which he held office he directed the productions of more than 100 different operas, of which 33 had not previously been staged at the Hofoper and three were world premières. Another 55 were presented in either entirely new or substantially revised productions. In all, almost 3,000 performances took place at the Hofoper during Mahler's tenureAs the new director at the Hofoper Theater, his daring, provocative, and controversial performances attracted great numbers to the theatre and many press reviews. In 1907 and 1910, Mahler conducted the New York Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra. A year later, after returning to Vienna, Mahler died from bacterial endocarditis.
Selected Works by Gustav Mahler:
Sources: About.com Classical Music.
- Symphony no. 1 - D Major - 1884
- Symphony no. 2 - c minor - 1885
- Symphony no. 3 - d minor - 1893
- Symphony no. 4 - G Major - 1899
- Symphony no. 5 - c sharp minor - 1901
- Symphony no. 6 - a minor - 1903
- Symphony no. 7 - b minor - 1904
- Symphony no. 8 - E flat Major - 1906
- Symphony no. 9 - D Major - 1908
- Symphony no. 10 (unfinished) - f sharp minor - 1910
Labels: Bela Bartok, Composers, Frederick Delius, Ken Russell, Liszt, mahler, Spring/Summer Birthdays, Struass, Tchaikovsky, Wagner