The Kennedy Center

Gustav Mahler


Though best known during his lifetime for conducting opera, Gustav Mahler persists as a talented Austrian composer as well. Born in Bohemia in 1860, Mahler was an influential conductor in the nineteenth century who only later was recognized for his compositional talent. Shortly after Mahler’s birth, his family moved to Jihlava for his and his six siblings’ education. After attending the Vienna Conservatory from 1875-1878, he attended lectures and taught music while composing his first significant piece, Das klagende Lied.

Mahler’s conducting career began in 1880 when he accepted a position at Bad Hall. From there, he worked at progressively larger and more established houses, including at Ljubljana, Olomouc, Kassel, Liepzig, and Budapest. Eager to conduct at the prestigious Vienna Opera House, Mahler converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 1897 and secured the post shortly thereafter. While in Vienna, Mahler enjoyed much success until he began publicizing his own compositions which were received poorly. A largely anti-Semitic press ousted Mahler from his post in 1907.

Mahler composed many of his most well-known works during his Austrian conducting days, including the song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, First, Second and Third Symphonies, Symphonies Five - Eight, and Kindertotenliede. From Vienna, Mahler moved to New York for a few years working at first the Metropolitan Opera and next, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, where he completed his Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde. Diagnosed with heart disease in 1907, Mahler died in Vienna in May 1911.
Photo of Gustav Mahler


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