Gustav Mahler

Classical Music / Composers Datebook:  July 7

Late Romantic Czech-Born Austrian Composer

"A symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything." ~ Gustav Mahler, a remark to Sibelius, Helsinki, 1907.

A brief profile of Gustav Mahler.  

Mahler is famous for symphonies, in particular, "The Symphony of a Thousand" and lieder (songs).

Gustav Mahler  (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911), was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation.  A Jew, he was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then the Austrian Empire, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic. His family later moved to nearby Iglau (now Jihlava), where Mahler grew up.

He composed some large-scale symphonies, for instance, The Song of the Earth, and many with voices,including Symphony No. 2 Resurrection, Symphony No. 6 in A minor, sometimes referred to as "Tragic" or Tragische, Symphony No. 8 The Symphony of a Thousand, and Symphony No. 10, left unfinished at his death. Mahler also composed orchestral lieder songs. The fourth movement of Symphony No. 5, Adagietto, is often considered Mahler's most famous composition and is the most frequently performed of his works.

Symphony 2 "Resurrection"

Resurrection was Mahler's most popular and successful work in his lifetime. first performed in Berlin in 1895, achieving his first success as a composer. It was written between 1888 and 1894. In this large work, the composer further developed the creativity of "sound of the distance" and creating a "world of its own", aspects already seen in his First Symphony. The work has a duration of around eighty to ninety minutes. Descriptions of its form and text are not part of of this post's scope.

I'm sharing a video of an all-time favourite symphony by Mahler: Symphony 2 Resurrection, conducted by the late Claudio Abbado.

In 1950, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performed Mahler's Symphony 2 "Resurrection," conducted by no less than Otto Klemperer, German-born American conductor and composer considered one of the leading conductors of the 20th century.  I found out from YouTube the live performance of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Valda Bagnall. Florence Taylor. Hurlstone Choral Society (the name of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs that time.) (credit: The Orchard Enterprises, accessed 20th Aug, 2016.) I'm delighted to share the Resurrection Symphony split into its five movements:  

Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection": I. Allegro maestoso (Live 9/50)
Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection": II. Andante moderato (Live 9/50)
Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection": III. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung (Live 9/50)
Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection": IV. Urlicht (Live 9/50)
Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection": V. Im Tempo des Scherzos (Live in September 1950)

After 66 years, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra returns with the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs to present the same Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, August 27-28, 2016, Sydney Town Hall.  David Robertson, conducting. 

As Music Director and Conductor

Mahlers's baptism into the Catholic Church led to his appointment as director of the Vienna Court Opera. He also succeeded Hans Richter as conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1898, departing in 1901. A year later, he married Alma Schindler, a Viennese socialite and composer, daughter of the artist Emil Jakob Schindler. Although their life was not without strains, the relationship benefited his musical creativity. Mahler made his debut as principal conductor of the New York Metropolitan Opera on January 1, 1908, but his tenure was brief due to personal and artistic differences.  Two years later, in 1910, he conducted the successful Munich premiere of his famous 8th Symphony.

Mahler's Legacy

Gustav Mahler acted 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 only gained wide popularity after periods of relative neglect that included a ban of its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. It was only until after 1945 that four of his symphonies were heard in Great Britain; also, his music was discovered and championed by a new generation of listeners. Mahler then became a frequently performed and recorded composer, a position he has sustained into the 21st century.

Said to be Mahler's last words:
"Mozart! Mozart!"  Despite the fact his wife was sitting by his side, legend has it that Mahler breathed his last after shouting the name of fellow composer Wolfgang A. Mozart.

Links to Mahler's Adagios for Romantic Listening:

Mahler: The Glorious Adagios, with Herbert  von Karajan (BPO). The adagios of  Symphony 4, 5, 6 and 9.

More Links: 

1. Simone Young and Philharmoniker Hamburg: Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection."
2. Mahler Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp minor  (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with Lorin Maazel conducting)
3. Mahler Symphony No. 5 in C-Sharp minor (Gergiev conducting World Orchestra for Peace. BBC Proms 2010).
4. Mahler Symphony No. 6 in A minor. (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, with Claudio Abbado conducting)
5. Mahler Symphony No. 8 in E-Flat major (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein conducting)

Video Credit:

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado). Youtube, uploaded by EuroArtsChannel.  Accessed  July 7, 2016.    


Kennedy, Michael and Joyce. Oxford Dictionary of Music, 6th Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.  
Sadie, Stanley, Ed.  The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music.  London: Macmillan Publishers, 1994.
Sadie, Stanley, Ed.  The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan, 1980.

Originally posted July 7, 2009.  Updated: Sept 11, 2013; July 7, 2016; Aug 21, 2016; July 7, 2017.

(c) 2009-2017.  Tel Asiado.  Inspired Pen Web. All rights reserved.

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