What separated Mahler from his opponents was his imaginative ability to break away completely from the usual conventions, and he revealed this in his experience and interpretation of the masterworks of Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner, which were so dear to him and so in tune with his nature.
...there were darker strands in Mahler's personality. The First Symphony suggests nightmarish scenes and parental confrontations from his childhood. Already, the theme of death looms large: Mahler lost many of his siblings, and both his parents died before he turned 30. The film intercuts orchestral performance with dark images from period folk tales and the Austro-Hungarian preoccupation with war. Mahler coped with his demons through irony: already in his First Symphony, we discover the sharp juxtapositions of the beautiful and the tragic, with "the absurd, the silly and the grotesque." These sudden emotional twists became a trademark of Mahler's music for the rest of his life, however far he journeyed from the stultifying confines of Iglau.
Mahler completed nine symphonies, some of which included vocal soloists and choruses, leaving a tenth unfinished, in addition to settings of a series of Chinese poems translated into German, Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth"). Mahler also wrote some forty songs, including two song cycles, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ("Songs of a Wayfarer"), and Kindertotenlieder ("Songs on the Death of Children"), and two sets entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn ("The Youth's Magic Horn"), and Lieder nach Ruckert ("Songs after [the poet] Ruckert.")
Gustav Mahler's music is rich, languid, with deep rivers of nostalgia and anguish - typically "late Romantic", free-flowing and epic in scale. The majority of his music is for orchestra. [...] Melancholy, comedy, love, despair, laughter, wistful happiness, rage all feature, sometimes intertwined in the same moment (just like in life?). So many tragic events in Mahler's life certainly inspired his art - some of his music can be interpreted as autobiographical.
The popularity of the music of Gustav Mahler, on concert stages and in recordings, particularly during the last forty years, has been so commanding and widespread that it itself has become the subject of commentary and scholarship. This Mahler phenomenon is characterized no longer merely by the revival that began in earnest in the mid-1960s, spearheaded in performance by Leonard Bernstein and defended brilliantly by Theodor W. Adorno's remarkable monograph…
His symphonies made little impact until the last ten years of his life, and even then, they were performed mostly in Austria and Germany. With the Nazi rise to power, his music grew even more obscure, suppressed by the Third Reich because of Mahler’s Jewish birth. Not until the 1960s and 1970s, when such conductors as Leonard Bernstein championed his music, did Mahler become a staple of concert halls all over the world.
As early as the 1889 premiere of the relatively easy-going First Symphony, reaction was sharply divided. The Nemzet newspaper glowed with enthusiasm: "This Symphony is the impassioned work of a youthful, unquenchable talent". However, that same 'applause' was interpreted by Mahler as increasing unrest among the audience. The New Pest Journal summed up Mahler's situation when it commented that audiences will "always be pleased to see him with baton in hand, just as long as he's not conducting one of his own works".
But with fame came detractors, and Mahler ruffled more than a few feathers in his tenure as director of the Vienna Court Opera. He riled the rich by forbidding patrons to enter the concert hall after the opera had begun, robbing them of fashionably late entrances attracting all eyes to their finery and jewels. His notoriously high standards, demanding technically perfect performances, did little to endear him to musicians and singers unaccustomed to a maestro who was both taskmaster and visionary. He tussled with management, endured the petty grievances of sopranos and weathered personality clashes as he forged ahead.
Even as a young man, Mahler was after the big picture. When other twentysomethings might have been writing lighthearted music, Mahler was trying to solve the riddles of the universe through his epic symphonies. They were vehicles for him to express his beliefs and pose questions.
Gustav Mahler, the Bohemian-Austrian composer, was better known as one of the world's leading conductors during his lifetime. His music began to be appreciated long after his death.
Gustav Mahler's life (1860 - 1911), in roughest outline, goes like this: A musically gifted German-speaking Jew, born in Bohemia, gains entrance to the Vienna Conservatory and climbs rapidly up the ladder as an opera conductor, from the smallest posts (Laibach) to the most prestigious (Vienna Court Opera and Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic). On the way he establishes himself as a symphonic conductor, although never with the success he enjoyed in the opera house.