Gustav Mahler

Portrait of Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler was an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer as well as one of the leading conductors of his generation. He is seen as a link between 19th-century Romantic music and early 20th Century modernism. He was born on 7th July 1860 in Kaliště, Bohemia and died in Vienna on 18th May 1911 aged 50. 

Major Works

10 symphonies.
“Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen” (1886)
“Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (1892-1904)
“Kindertotenlieder” (1901-4)
“Das Lied von der Erde” (1908-9)

Biography Timeline

Gustav Mahler was born on 7th July 1860 in Kalischt on the border between Bohemia and Moravia. He was the eldest surviving child of fourteen of Bernhard Mahler a cafe owner and Maria (nee Hermann).

1860: The Mahler family move to Iglau on 23 October.

1868: Birth of Mahler’s sister Justine.

1869: He enters Iglau Grammar School.

1870: He makes public début playing the piano at a concert at the Iglau Theatre in October.

1873: Birth of his brother Otto on 18th June.

1875: Death of his brother Ernst on 13th April. On 10th September he enrols at Vienna Conservatory to study piano and composition.

1876: He writes the first movement of a Piano Quartet in A minor and wins first prize for piano at Conservatory for a performance of a Schubert Sonata in A minor. He attends a public concert by Franz Liszt in Vienna during March.

1878: He completes the text of Das Klagende Lied. In July he wins first prize for Scherzo from his Piano Quintet and receives a diploma from the Conservatory.

1879: During April Mahler plays one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, Schumann’s “Humoreske” and a Schubert Sonata in A Minor at the Iglau theatre. Alma Schindler is born in Vienna on 31st August. He completes “Das klagende Lied” and takes on pupils to earn some money.

1881: On 3rd September he becomes the chief conductor at the Landestheater in Laibach (now Ljubljana) in Slovenia where he conducts several operas. In March he is the soloist in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Capriccio Brillant.

1883: He is conductor at Königliches Städtisches Theater in Olmütz ( now Olomouc) in Moravia. He conducts operas by Meyerbeer and Verdi. On 21 August he is appointed to be Music Director and Chorus Master to the Royal Prussian Court Theatre in Kassel. He falls in love with Johanna Richter, a singer at the Kassel Theatre. He also writes to Hans von Bulow after seeing him conduct another concert but receives no reply.

1885: He resigns from Kassel and moves to the Deutsches Theater in Prague where he has an affair with the soprano Betty Frank.

1886: On 21st February he conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time. In August he takes up an appointment with Leipzig Opera.

1887: In October he completes “Die drei Pintos”. He conducts Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” and Cosima Wagner is in the audience on 13th November.

1888: His father dies on 18th February. Mahler has an affair with Marion von Weber, wife of Carl. He writes his first Wunderhorn-Lieder and begins the First Symphony. “Die drei Pintos” is premièred in Leipzig. He has a meeting with Tchaikovsky on 26th January. His eldest sister Leopoldine dies on 27th September and his mother on 11th October. In October he is appointed director of the Hungarian Opera in Budapest.

1890: He is introduced to Johannes Brahms.

1891: He resigns from Budapest in March after conducting Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and moves to the Hamburg Stadt-Theater.

1892: He completes the orchestral version of the Wunderhorn songs. He travels to London to conduct several parts of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Covent Garden and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. He take over from Hans von Bulow on 12th December conducting Mendelssohn’s “Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

1893: He revises “Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen” and further revises the first symphony whilst working on the Second.

1894: Hans von Bulow dies on 12th February.

1895: Otto Mahler commits suicide on 6th February. Mahler conducts the first three movements of the Second Symphony in Berlin. He begins work on the Third Symphony.

1896: He conducts the First Symphony, “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” and “Todtenfeier” in Berlin on 16th March.

1897: He converts to Catholicism form Judaism in February. During March he visits Russia to give a concert in Moscow.
His appointment as Kapellmeister at the Vienna Court Opera is public announced in April and in October he becomes Director of the Vienna Opera where he conducts “Die Fledermaus” with the composer Johann Strauss the Second in the audience.

1898: Emma Mahler and Eduard Rosév are married on 2nd June. In September Mahler is appointed as the chief conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

1900: An anti-Semitic campaign against him begins. He gives concerts in Paris in June as part of the World Exhibition. The Fourth Symphony is completed in August.

1901: The first performance of “Das klagende Lied” is given at the Vienna Musikverein. The first performance of the Fourth Symphony in Munich is a failure on 25th November. On 27th Mahler and Alma get engaged.

1902: Mahler and Alma marry on 9th March. Maria Anna is born on 3rd November.

1903: Henry Wood conducts his First Symphony in London in October and in December Mahler conducts the Third Symphony in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

1904: Birth of daughter Anna Justine on 15th June. Mahler completes the second and fifth “Kindertotenlieder” and works on the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies.

1905: First performance of the “Kindertotenlieder”, the four “Rückert Lieder” and four “Wunderhorn-Lieder”. In May there is a fire at Opera during a performance of of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” whilst Mahler is conducting. He competes the Seventh Symphony.

1906: In May he conducts the first performance of the Sixth Symphony at the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein in Essen, Germany.

1907: A major press campaign tries to remove Mahler from Vienna. Maria Anna dies of diphtheria on 12th July. In October he meets Jean Sibelius in Helsinki and then he travels to Russia to give concerts in St Petersburg. In December he sets off for New York via Paris.

1908: He conducts the first performance of the Seventh Symphony in Prague on 19th September. In November he again sails to the USA for concerts in New York.

1909: On 31st March he conducts the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Tannhäuser Overture. He meets the sculptor Rodin in Paris in April and sits for him. In September the first draft score of the ninth Symphony is complete. On 12th October he again sets sail for New York.

1910: He leaves New York in April. During June Alma has an affair with the architect Walter Gropius.He begins work on his Tenth Symphony. The Eighth Symphony (of a Thousand”) is given its first performance at the Munich Exhibition Centre on 12th September. He leaves for New York in October where he conducts forty seven concerts in various venues.

1911: He becomes ill on 24th February with endocarditis, although it was initially thought to be influenza. He leaves New York on 8th April and goes ton Paris to see Dr Defaut. He sets off for Vienna on 11th May and is taken to the Loew Sanatorium.

Gustav Mahler dies on 22nd May 1911 and was buried at Grinzing in the suburbs of Vienna.

Further Information

List of compositions by Mahler.