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Gustav Mahler

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Gustav Mahler (German pronunciation: [ˈɡʊstaf ˈmaːlɐ]; 7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then the Austrian Empire, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic. Then his family moved to nearby Iglau (now Jihlava) where Mahler grew up.

As a composer, he 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 gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 the music was discovered and championed by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century.

Born in humble circumstances, Mahler displayed his musical gifts at an early age. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, he held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler—who had converted to Catholicism from Judaism to secure the post—experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Nevertheless, his innovative productions and insistence on the highest performance standards ensured his reputation as one of the greatest of opera conductors, particularly as an interpreter of the stage works of Wagner and Mozart. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York's Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

Mahler's œuvre is relatively small in size though extremely wide in scope, depth and complexity. For much of his life composing was necessarily a part-time activity while he earned his living as a conductor, but he devoted as much time as he could to his compositions, faithfully reserving his summer months for intense periods of creative concentration, supplemented as time permitted during his active concert seasons with the tasks of editing and orchestrating his expansive works. Aside from early works such as a movement from a piano quartet composed when he was a student in Vienna, Mahler's works are designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists. Most of his twelve symphonic scores are very large-scale works, often employing vocal soloists and choruses in addition to augmented orchestral forces. These works were often controversial when first performed, and several were slow to receive critical and popular approval; exceptions included his Symphony No. 2, Symphony No. 3, and the triumphant premiere of his Eighth Symphony in 1910. Some of Mahler's immediate musical successors included the composers of the Second Viennese School, notably Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten are among later 20th-century composers who admired and were influenced by Mahler. The International Gustav Mahler Institute was established in 1955, to honour the composer's life and work.


1.) Norman Lebrecht (2010). Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World. Random House Digital, Inc.. p. 84. ISBN 9780375423819. "In January 1897 Mahler is told that "under present circumstances it is impossible to engage a Jew for Vienna." "Everywhere", he bemoans, "the fact that I am a Jew has at the last moment proved an insurmountable obstacle." But he does not despair, having made arrangements to remedy his deficiency. On February 23, 1897, at Hamburgs Little Michael Church, Gustav Mahler is baptized into the Roman Catholic faith. He is the most reluctant, the most resentful, of converts. "I had to go through it", he tells Walter. "This action", he informs Karpath, "which I took out of self-preservation, and which I was fully prepared to take, cost me a great deal." He tells a Hamburg writer: "I've changed my coat." There is no false piety here, no pretense. Mahler is letting it be known for the record that he is a forced convert, one whose Jewish pride is undiminished, his essence unchanged. "An artist who is a Jew", he tells a critic, "has to achieve twice as much as one who is not, just as a swimmer with short arms has to make double efforts." After the act of conversion he never attends Mass, never goes to confession, never crosses himself. The only time he ever enters a church for a religious purpose is to get married."

2.) Warren Allen Smith (2002). Celebrities in Hell. chelCpress. pp. 76–77. ISBN 9781569802144. "He was born a Jew but has been described as a life-long agnostic. At one point he converted to Catholicism, purely for the purpose of obtaining a job that he coveted -- director of the Court Opera of Vienna. It was unthinkable for a Jew to hold such a prestigious position, hence the utilitarian conversion to the state religion."

3.) Stuart Feder (2004). "Mahler at Midnight". Gustav Mahler: A Life in Crisis. Yale University Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 9780300103403. "Mahler had followed the common path of assimilationist Jews, particularly those who were German-speaking and university-educated: toward a dignified job, a position in the community, and a respectable income. Besides the fact that anti-Semitism was rife in Vienna, the post Mahler sought was a government position and normally open only to those who declared themselves to belong to the state religion, Catholicism. Mahler's superior, the intendant of the opera, reported directly to the emperor. Like the many Jews who were candidates for lesser government jobs, Mahler was officially baptized on 23 February 1897. His appointment arrived soon after."

4.) John Bowden (2005). John Bowden, John Stephen Bowden. ed. Christianity: the complete guide. Continuum. p. 813. ISBN 9780826459374. "Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was more of an agnostic than a believer, but the symphonies which he wrote are deeply spiritual works. He was a Jew who became a Roman Catholic, a move perhaps dictated to some degree by political motives,..."

5.) "It is particularly poor salesmanship for Ms. Raabe to cite Mahler's supposed conversion from Judaism to Catholicism. In both law and common understanding, a choice made under duress is discounted as lacking in free will. Mahler converted as a mere formality under compulsion of a bigoted law that barred Jews from directorship of the Vienna Hofoper. Mahler himself joked about the conversion with his Jewish friends, and, no doubt, would view with bitter amusement the obtuseness of Ms. Raabe's understanding of the cruel choice forced on him: either convert to Christianity or forfeit the professional post for which you are supremely destined. When Mahler was asked why he never composed a Mass, he answered bluntly that he could never, with any degree of artistic or spiritual integrity, voice the Credo. He was a confirmed agnostic, a doubter and seeker, never a soul at rest or at peace." Joel Martel, Mahler and Religion; Forced to Be Christian, New York Times.