Mahler, Gustav

The man who embodied the most hefty
and pure artistic will of our time.

Thomas Mann


The great Austrian composer G. Mahler said that for him “to write a symphony means to build a new world by all means of the available technique”. Mahler, essentially accomplishes the tradition of philosophical classic-romantic symphonism (L. Beethoven - F. Schubert - I. Brahms - P. Tchaikovsky - A. Bruckner), seeking to find an answer to the perennial issues of being, to determine a person’s place in the world.

Mahler’s creative search led to the violation of the established believes of the beautiful, to the seeming formlessness, incoherence, eclecticism. The composer erected his monumental concepts as if from the most diverse "fragments" of the disintegrated world. The key to maintaining the purity of human spirit during one of the most involved eras of history was embodied in these searches.

Mahler was born in a poor Jewish family in the Czech Republic. His musical abilities showed up early (at the age ten, he performed his first public concert as a pianist). At the age of fifteen, Mahler entered the Vienna Conservatory, took composition lessons from the largest Austrian symphonist Bruckner, then attended history and philosophy courses at the University of Vienna. Soon his first compositions appeared - sketches of operas, orchestral and chamber music. From the age of twenty, Mahler’s life was inextricably linked with conducting. First, in the opera houses of small towns, but soon the largest musical centers in Europe: Prague (1885), Leipzig (1886-88), Budapest (1888-1891), Hamburg (1891-1897). Conducting, to which Mahler devoted himself no less enthusiastically than to composing, took almost all of his time, and the composer worked on major works in summer, when he was not engaged in theatrical duties. Very often the idea of a symphony was emerged a song. Mahler - the author of several vocal cycles, the first of which is “Songs of a Wayfarer" (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen), written to his own words, brings to mind composition of F. Schubert, his bright joy of communicating with nature and the sorrow of a lonely, suffering wanderer. The First Symphony (1888), in which pristine purity is obscured by the grotesque tragedy of life grew from these songs.

In the subsequent symphonies, the composer was clenched within the framework of the classical four-part cycle. He expanded it and involved the lyrics (Friedrich Klopstock, Friedrich Nietzsche) as the musical idea repository. The second, third and fourth symphonies are associated with the cycle of “The boy's magic horn: old German songs" (Des Knaben Wunderhorn).

In 1897, Mahler became the chief conductor of the Vienna Court Opera House, 10 years of work in which became the entire in the history of opera performance. The personality of Mahler conjoined the ingenious musician-conductor and brilliant stage director. The staging of the operas by Richard Wagner, C.W. von Gluck, V. A. Mozart, L. Beethoven, Bedřich Smetana and P. Tchaikovsky were among his artistic achievement.

Mahler was also the major symphonic conductor touring in many countries (he visited Russia three times).

The symphonies created in Vienna marked a new stage in the creative path. The Fourth symphony, in which the world is seen through a child's perception, astonished the audience by symbolically rendered, neoclassical appearance and, it seemed, cloudless idyllized music. Hence, this idyll was imaginary - the text of the song compiling the symphony revealed the meaning of the entire work - these were only the dreams of a child about paradisiacal life. Amid the melodies inspired by Haydn and Mozart, something discordant enfeebled sounded.

In the next three symphonies (Mahler does not use poetic texts in them), the color scheme as a whole is overshadowed - especially in the Sixth one, called “The Tragic”. The cycle “Songs on the Death of Children” (1904) for voice and orchestra to the lyrics by Friedrich Rückert became the figurative source of these symphonies. At this stage of his creative work, the composer seemed unable to find a solution to the contradictions in life, in nature or religion, he saw it in the harmony of classical art (the finals of the Fifth and Seventh symphonies were written in the Classical style of the 18th century and sharply contrast the previous parts.

The last years of his life (1907-1911), Mahler spent in the USA. Being already seriously ill, he returned to Europe for treatment. Uncompromising attitude in the struggle against the routine in the Vienna Opera made Mahler’s position rather complicated and led to real persecution. He accepted the invitation to the position of the Metropolitan Opera (New York) conductor, and soon became the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conductor.

In the works of these years, the idea of death was be congruent with the passionate thirst to impress all earthly beauty. In the Eighth Symphony - the "Symphony of a Thousand" (enlarged orchestra, three choirs, and soloists) - Mahler tried to implement the idea of the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in his own way: the achievement of joy in the universal unity. The final scene of Faust by I.V. Goethe was utilized in the symphony. Like the finale of the Beethoven Symphony, this scene is the apotheosis of affirmation, the achievement of an absolute ideal in the Classical art.

Throughout Mahler’s entire career, the cycle of songs and the symphony were going side-by-side and finally merged into the cantata symphony "The Song of the Earth" (1908). Embodying the eternal theme of life and death, Mahler applied this time to the Chinese poetry of the 8th century. Expressive flashes of dramatism, chamber, transparent lyrics - akin to the finest Chinese painting and quiet dissolving, going away into eternity, reverential listening to silence, waiting - these are the features of the late Mahler's style. The "epilogue" of all creativity, the Ninth and the unfinished Tenth Symphony became a farewell.

Completing the century of romanticism, Mahler was the forerunner of many phenomena of music of our century. Expressionists - Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg will pick up the aggravation of emotions, the desire for their extreme manifestation. Symphonies by Arthur Honegger and Benjamin Britten bear the imprint of Mahler's music. Mahler had a particularly strong influence on Dmitry Shostakovich. Extreme sincerity, deep compassion for every person, wide breadth of thinking make Mahler very close to our intense, unsteady.

Revised article by K. Zenkin