Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) – Austrian composer of Jewish descent. He was born close to the Czech and Moravia border. His personality was shaped by the mixture of different cultures. He had a unique character which sparked many controversies. He studied in Vienna where he attended lectures on counterpoint and harmony by Bruckner. He became an outstanding opera conductor. He worked in Prague, Budapest, Hamburg, Vienna and New York where the audiences admired his interpretations of Mozart and Wagner. However, his own compositions were received with less enthusiasm, though the premiere of Symphony No 8 in 1910 was a great success.
Later on, until the 1970’s, Mahler’s music almost completely disappeared from the repertoires. However there was a small group of admirers who were enthusiastic about Mahler’s music, among them there was Thomas Mann and Dimitri Shostakovich. There were a number of critics who did not know his music all too well, and yet they believed that music is governed by progress. They claimed that pieces written by Mahler are eclectic (as they relate to music by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Dvořák) tessellated (their scale impedes comprehension of the entire composition) and lack of taste (as the important symphonic themes are interwoven with folklore undertones, frequently of Jewish origins, march themes, exalted chorales, children’s songs and hymns).
Mahler’s music is a mixture of exaltation and vulgarity, as one has it. The artist himself considered that creating a symphony was equivalent to creating a world. Mahler managed to combine two most important genres from the perspective of the 20th century, namely the symphony and the song. The plots of his songs were subsequently developed in his symphonies. Parts of his symphonies were song-like and conversely his songs resembled symphonies. Even his most representative works follow a clear pattern. Nothing is accidental, and even the least significant plots have their meaning. The need of expression is reflected in both the construction and variable texture of Mahler’s works. His music reflects fears characteristic of fin de siècle but it also exemplifies ‘the last word of dying Romanticism’. It became a new value in itself, due to which both the symphony and the song are genres functioning in today’s music.