Gustav Mahler

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Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860 – May 18, 1911) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and conductor. He is best known as one of the last late-Romantic composers. During his lifetime, Mahler was a major conductor in Europe and directed the Vienna Opera for 10 years, the top opera company in the world at the time. Mahler only wrote compositions in the form of symphonies and songs, somtimes combining the two forms (as in Das Lied von der Erde).

He married only once to his wife Alma and had two daughters, Maria, who died at age 4 from diphtheria, and Anna.

Major works

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Mahler's symphonic output is divided into three distinct periods of compositional style.

First Period (Wunderhorn Period)

In Mahler's first period, he was focused on a set of traditional German poems called Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). It contains poems dealing with an array of topics including German myths and spiritual issues. Mahler set many lieder to the Wunderhorn poems and often used those songs as inspiration for the symphonies to follow.

Symphony No. 1 in D major: "Titan"

(?1884–1888; rev. 1893–1896; 2nd rev. 1906)

Four movements:

  1. Langsam, Schleppend (Slowly, dragging) Immer sehr gemächlich (very restrained throughout): Sonata form with an unusual traditional expositional repeat
  2. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (Moving strongly, but not too quickly): A minuet and Ländler in tertiary form, ABA
  3. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen (Solemnly and measured, without dragging), Sehr einfach und schlicht wie eine Volksweise (very simple, like a folk-tune), and Wieder etwas bewegter, wie im Anfang (something stronger, as at the start): A funeral march based on the children's song "Frère Jacques" (or "Bruder Martin") in a minor mode. Uses a double bass soloist to play the initial theme, a rare occurance in symphonic literature.
  4. Stürmisch bewegt- Energisch (Stormily agitated, energetic): Firey opening but triumphant ending. Quasi-Rondo form, ABA'B'CBDC

Former Blumine 2nd movement was cut during revisions after the initial premiere.

Symphony No. 2 in C minor: "Resurection"

For Soprano and Alto Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra (1888–1894; rev. 1903) Text from Klopstock's "Die Auferstein" and Mahler

Five movements:

  1. Allegro maestoso: Based on Mahler's original tone poem and concept "Todenfieler" (Funeral Rites). In extended sonata form. Described by Mahler as the funeral march of the hero of the 1st Symphony.
  2. Andante moderato: A quiet and simple Ländler.
  3. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung (With quietly flowing movement): A scherzo based on a Wunderhorn setting composed cocurrently.
  4. Urlicht (Primeval Light): Song for Alto and Orchestra. Acts as an introduction to the massive 5th movement.
  5. Im Tempo des Scherzos (In the tempo of a scherzo): A complex binary form in two parts. The movement is divided by the entrace of the chorus about half-way through. "The Great Call" of the offstage horns precedes the beginning of each part. Part 2 is based off of Klopstock's text "Die Auferstein" (The Resurection) and uses both chorus and soprano and alto soloists in various combinations including the chorale, the duet, and the grand expansive ending.
Symphony No. 3 in D minor

For Alto Soloist, Women's Chorus, Boy's Chorus, and Orchestra (1893–1896; rev. 1906) Text from Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and "Des Knaben Wunderhorn"

In writing the work, Mahler devised a program that explains the context of each movement and their purpose. However, this program was later supressed by Mahler. However, it is often used today understand why the symphony was written the way it was and is included here for clarification of each movement's purpose.

Two parts, six movements:

Part I
1. Kräftig entschieden (Strong and decisive): "Pan Awakes, Spring Marches In", in extended Sonata form.
Part II
2. Tempo di Menuetto (In the tempo of a minuet): "What the Flowers on the Meadow Tell Me": Theme and Variations in a quasi-rondo form
3. Comodo (Scherzando) (Comfortably, like a scherzo): "What the Animals of the Forest Tell Me": Scherzo in quasi-rondo form
4. Sehr langsam--Misterioso (Very slowly, mysteriously): "What Man Tells Me: Song for Solo Alto and orchestra. Uses Nietzsche's text from "Thus Spake Zarathustra" contemplating the human condition.
5. Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (Cheerful in tempo and bold in expression): "What the Angels Tell Me: Joyous song for the choruses, alto, and orchestra.
6. Langsam--Ruhevoll--Empfunden (Slowly, tranquil, deeply felt): "What Love Tells Me", An adagio based off of the opening of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 2
Symphony No. 4 in G major

For Soprano Soloist (sometimes boy soprano) and Orchestra (1892, 1899–1900; rev. 1901–1910) Text from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn"

Mahler's shortest and smallest symphony by instrumentation standards. This symphony oddly lacks trombones and tuba and is limited in percussion use. The symphony is regarded as Mahler's tribute to the classical music of Mozart's day.

Four movements:

  1. Bedächtig, nicht eilen (Moderately, not rushed): Sonata form
  2. In gemächlicher Bewegung, ohne Hast (Leisurely moving, without haste): "The Devil's Fiddle", a scherzo where the solo violinist must use a violin tuned up a full tone.
  3. Ruhevoll, poco adagio (Peacefully, somewhat slowly): Adagio based on a simple G major scale theme. Towards the end is the "opening of the heavens" also containing allusions to the 5th symphony.
  4. Sehr behaglich (Very comfortably): Song for Soprano and orchestra based on texts from the Wunderhorn.

Second Period

Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

(1901–1902; scoring repeatedly revised)

Three Parts, Five movements:

Part I
1. Trauermarsch (Funeral March): A funeral march based on the ominous fate motive played by the solo trumpet.
2. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz (Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence): A stormy contrast to the funeral march using similar motives.
Part II
3. Scherzo: A massive scherzo with a solo horn obligatto. Said by Mahler to repsent Vienna duing his tenure as director of the Vienna Opera.
Part III
4. Adagietto: A simple adagio for strings and harp only.
5. Rondo-Finale: A rousing finale contrasted to the opening movement.
Symphony No. 6 in A minor: "Tragic"

(1903–1904; rev. 1906; scoring repeatedly revised)

Four movements:

  1. Allegro energico, ma non troppo. Heftig, aber markig.: Sonata form movement with the unusual traditional exposition repeat. The secondary theme is the "Alma Theme", a theme described by Mahler to represent his wife.
  2. Scherzo: Wuchtig: A scherzo based on the motives of the first movement.
  3. Andante moderato
  4. Finale: Sostenuto - Allegro moderato - Allegro energico: Massive finale movement in extended sonata form based around the three hammer blows.

There is debate on the order of the two middle movements. Mahler originally concieved as the scherzo first, but later switched the order when performing it to soften the blow of the order's impact.

Mahler's use of the "hammer" in the last movement also comes with debate on what the instrument actually is and when it should be played. In his revisions to soften the blow of the symphony's impact, Mahler deleted the third hammer blow towards the end. Today, both editions are played.

Symphony No. 7 in E minor: "Song of the Night"

(1904–1905; scoring repeatedly revised)

Five movements:

  1. Langsam – Allegro risoluto, ma non troppo
  2. Nachtmusik (I): Allegro moderato. Molto moderato (Andante):
  3. Scherzo: Schattenhaft. Fließend aber nicht schnell (Shadowy. Flowing but not fast)
  4. Nachtmusik (II): Andante amoroso
  5. Rondo-Finale

Several unusual instruments are used in this symphony including cowbells, tenor tuba in B-flat, and mandolins.

Third Period

Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major: "Symphony of a Thousand"

For 3 Soprano, 2 Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass Soloists, Double Chorus, Boy's Chorus, and Orchestra (1906–1907) Text from "Veni Creator Spiritus" and Goethe's Final Scene from "Faust, Part II"

Two Parts:

Part I: Hymnus: Veni, Creator Spiritus (Hymn: Come creative spirit): Massive movement based on the Latin Hymn. Uses all soloists except the third soprano.

Part II: Schlußszene aus Goethes "Faust" (Final Scene of Goethe's "Faust"): A quasi-cantata movement lasting almost an hour based on the drama of Faust. Different soloists and choruses take different roles in the orchestra. This movement was the closest Mahler ever got to writing opera.

Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth)

For Alto and Tenor Soloists and Orchestra (1908–1909) Text from Hans Bethge's "The Chinese Flute"

A Song Cycle-Symphony. Rumored to have been Mahler's intened 9th symphony but recanted the number for fear of the "curse of the ninth".

Six Songs:

  1. Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde (The Drinking Song of Earth's Misery)
  2. Der Einsame im Herbst (The lonely one in Autumn)
  3. Von der Jugend (Of Youth)
  4. Von der Schönheit (Of Beauty)
  5. Der Trunkene im Frühling (The drunken man in Spring): Scherzo
  6. Der Abschied (The Farewell)
Symphony No. 9 in D major


Four movements:

  1. Andante comodo: Based on a loose sonata form.
  2. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb: A distorted ländler.
  3. Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig: A rondo highlighting Mahler's contrapuntal technique.
  4. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend (Very slowly and held back): The famous finale adagio

The four movements are somtimes conotated to describe the five stages of death: denial, anger, barganing, depression, and acceptance.

Symphony No. 10 (unfinished)


Song Cycles

Drei Lieder

Three songs for tenor and piano (1880)

Lieder und Gesänge

Fourteen songs with piano accompaniment (1880–1890)

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)

For voice and orchestra (1883–1885)

Lieder aus "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" (The Youth's Magic Horn)

For voice and orchestra (1888–1896; two others 1899 and 1901)

Rückert Lieder

For voice and orchestra (1901–1902)

Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children)

For voice and orchestra (1901–1904)

See also

List of Works by Gustav Mahler

External Links