Gustav Mahler

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Mahler was born in Kalischt, Bohemia, on July 7, 1860. At the time, Bohemia (later to form a major component of Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic) was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, then enduring its final crumbling decades, and the region where Mahler spent his youth was strongly associate with the Czech independence movement. However, Mahler also was a Jew, and Jews in the region were associated by ethnic Czechs with Germans. Mahler famous quote is: "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed." Then add to that the fact that the public considered Mahler to be a gifted conductor with a habit of writing over-long symphonies, while Mahler considered himself to a composer forced to spend most of his year conducting. Mahler is known for the length, depth, and painful emotions of his works. He loved nature and life and, based on early childhood experiences, feared death (family deaths, a suicide, and a brutal rape he witnessed). This duality appears in almost all his compositions, especially in the Kindertotenlieder ("Songs on the Deaths of Children"), which are actually about the loss of an innocent view of life. Mahler's orchestral music is clear, complex, and full of musical imagery, from the heavenly to the banal (the family lived near a military barracks, so march tunes sometimes appear; an argument was associated with the sound of a hurdy-gurdy outside the window). The "program" in the incredible symphonies is therefore that of personal tragedy and hope projected onto a universal scale. Mahler was one of the most important and influential conductors of the period. Although Mahler had originally studied piano and composition, he was not a virtuoso pianist and his student and youthful works were already too forward looking for him to win the conservative judged composition contests of the time. As a result, Mahler was...
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