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This list of composers is continuously updated and does not claim to be complete.

Gustav Mahler (07.07.1860–18.05.1911)

Gustav Mahler was an Austrian composer and an important conductor and opera director. He worked in Leipzig from 1886 to 1888.

  1. Biography
  2. Private Life
  3. Connection to Leipzig
  4. Reception
  5. Works
  6. Sources and Links

1. Biography

Gustav Mahler was born on July 7th, 1860 as the second child of the Jewish liquor merchant Bernhard Mahler and his wife Marie in Kaliště in Bohemia (now Czech Republic). In October of the same year, the family moved to Moravia, where Mahler's twelve other siblings were born. Six of them did not survive their first two years of life. At the age of four he began to learn the accordion, later the piano, and at six he received lessons in harmony and was already composing his first pieces, which have been lost. Mahler attended a German secondary school and gave his first public performance as a pianist at the age of nine. In 1875 he moved to Vienna to study piano, composition and harmony at the conservatory until 1878.

In 1880 Mahler began working as a conductor at the summer theatre in the spa town of Bad Hall. In the following years he worked in various places, for example in Prague, in Leipzig with Arthur Nikisch and in Budapest. He met composers such as Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss and attended concerts by famous conductors of the time. He also travelled to Bayreuth for the festival and met Cosima and Siegfried Wagner there. From 1891 to 1897 Mahler was chief conductor at the municipal theatre in Hamburg and, as a conductor now known throughout Europe, undertook a number of guest tours. In 1897 he was engaged as musical director at the Vienna Court Opera and as artistic director of the Court Opera Theatre. Mahler held the post until 1907.

After the death of his daughter Maria Anna in 1907 and his diagnosis of heart disease, Mahler was released from his obligations in Vienna and accepted an engagement as conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In the following years he stayed in Europe for a few months at a time until he fell seriously ill in 1911 and died of endocarditis a few days after his last concert.

2. Private Life

Six of Mahler's siblings died very young. He suffered particularly from the death of his brother Ernst at the age of 13. Mahler's parents also died before he reached the age of 30. Mahler subsequently cared for his siblings, and his sister Justine lived with him until her marriage.

Before his marriage, Mahler was in love with several women, for example Marion von Weber, a granddaughter of Carl Maria von Weber, and Anna von Mildenburg in Hamburg. He had a relationship with her but ended it after moving to Vienna. A brief relationship with Selma Kurz followed in Vienna. In 1902 Mahler married Alma Schindler in the Karlskirche in Vienna. He had met the daughter of the painter Emil Jakob Schindler at a literary salon. Mahler forbade Alma to continue her own compositional work. Artistic competition in his own marriage was out of the question for him. The couple had two daughters, Maria Anna and Anna Justine. Maria Anna died suddenly of diphtheria at the age of five. After Mahler's death, Alma married the architect Walter Gropius and later the poet Franz Werfel.

Mahler's music seems to be an expression of his inner world, also reflecting his frequent brushes with death. The composition process had something mystical for him: "The creation and the genesis of a work are mystical from the beginning to the end, since one, unconscious of oneself, has to make something as if by foreign inspiration, of which one hardly understands afterwards how it has become," he said himself. With his music, he creates an understanding for earthly life, but also beyond it. His philosophical view of the world becomes clear in his symphonies. In the 8th Symphony, for example, he deals intensively with Goethe's ideas and philosophies, setting texts from the final scene of Faust to music.

Mahler, who came from a Jewish family, showed a process of development in his relationship to Judaism that was also reflected in his symphonies. The composer detached himself more and more from Judaism as an institutionalised religion and increasingly lived his own, free spirituality. The conductor and composer Oskar Fried, who was a good friend of Mahler's and, among other things, first performed his 6th Symphony, once said of him: "He was a seeker of God," referring also to his compositional creative process. In 1897 Mahler converted to Catholicism, fearing that his Jewish background would have a negative impact on his professional opportunities. He had already experienced anti-Semitic hostility in Kassel. Mahler and his two sisters Justine and Emma were baptised in Hamburg.

His spiritual search also had a significant influence on his work as a composer. "A work of art must have something cosmic about it, must be inexhaustible like the world and life [...]", he said. Today, his symphonies in particular are seen as a revelation of his innermost being, not only of the conscious, but also of the unconscious, the mystical.

3. Connection to Leipzig

In his second year in Kassel, Mahler already was looking around for other jobs. He was dissatisfied with the narrow limits set for him at the Kassel theatre and also faced anti-Semitic insults. The first positive feedback came from Leipzig, so in 1885 he signed the contract for the position of second music director at the municipal theatre. Even before taking up his post, Mahler feared competition with his colleague Arthur Nikisch, who was first music director. The latter had already been working in Leipzig since 1878 and was highly respected in the city. But statements about this rivalry, which repeatedly manifested themselves in attempts to dismiss him, only came from Mahler's side. Certainly, however, they were reinforced by the press, which intensively highlighted the differences between the two music directors in character and conducting. Mahler, who, in contrast to his quiet, sparingly conducting colleague, tended to attract the attention of Leipzig’s audiences with his lively gesticulating, experienced rejection from many critics. His artistic intentions, especially his choice of tempi, were unusual for Leipzig. His debut with Wagner's Lohengrin, previously performed only by Nikisch, earned critical voices but also goodwill. 

The following year, because Arthur Nikisch fell ill and had to suspend his work as first music director, Mahler took over his duties, conducting almost daily and also having to take care of the administrative tasks. This meant a heavy workload for him, but also the opportunity to improve his standing in the city. His performance of the Ring of the Nibelung in 1887, for example, was very well received by critics, audiences and the press. It was during this time that Mahler began to feel at home in Leipzig. While he spent the first Christmas in Leipzig alone and homesick in his flat at Gottschedstrasse 4 (now No. 25), as he wrote in a letter to his friend Friedrich Löhr, in the course of his stay in Leipzig he became friends with the Weber couple, for example, who lived at Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Strasse 5, and met Ferruccio Busoni and Arturo Berutti in the coffeehouse. During this time, he also wrote his 1st Symphony, which he played for the Webers. In 1887 he also moved to Gustav-Adolf-Strasse 12, where he immediately felt much more at home. Mahler now no longer thought of moving away, but even considered bringing his parents to Leipzig. In the meantime, the audience and the critics were also enthusiastic about his work, and the premiere of Siegfried in particular earned much praise.

Once again, Mahler decided to resign his post in 1888, probably due to his difficulties in settling back into everyday life as second music director after Nikisch's return and the realisation that his hopes for the position of first music director remained futile. The trigger is believed to be a quarrel with the chief director Albert Goldberg. The exact reason for the conflict is unknown, but it is possible that both felt that their authority was being curtailed by the other. Mahler left Leipzig but kept in touch and returned to the city several times, including for performances of his 2nd and 3rd Symphonies in 1896 and 1904.

4. Reception

Mahler's relationship with Leipzig and his fellow musicians was often a difficult one. In addition to the already mentioned smouldering competition with Nikisch and the critics' initially sceptical view of his artistic work, his relationship with the orchestra musicians was also marked by conflict. The triple burden placed on the orchestra by the different venues and the intensive rehearsal work for which Mahler was known caused resentment among the musicians, who also had difficulties with Mahler's personality. For example, while he created his 1st Symphony in Leipzig, the doors to performance opportunities in the city were not exactly open to him. He only conducted the city orchestra at the opera and never with a symphonic work. His 1st Symphony was first performed in Budapest and Vienna. Mahler's works were not played in the Gewandhaus until late. In 1897, with Was mir die Blumen auf der Wiese erzählen (What the flowers in the meadow tell me), a work by Mahler was heard for the first time in the Gewandhaus, while the 1st Symphony was not performed in Leipzig until 1909, by the Musical Society under Georg Göhlers.

During his time in Hamburg, Mahler had become one of the most respected conductors in Europe, as is also shown by his numerous guest appearances in European metropolises. In addition to his compositional work, he conducted an above-average amount of music and had to cope with a large workload. His work at the theatre in Hamburg also played an important role in the development of music theatre. His striving for unity of music and performance and his idea of how this concept should be put into practice on the opera stage led to an expansion of his work as chief conductor to include stage direction. This led to some conflicts with the directorship. He worked equally as a stage director and conductor. Mahler's reformatory artistic intentions also meant the rise of the Vienna Opera House to one of the leading music theatre houses in Europe.

During the Viennese years, Mahler gave guest performances throughout Europe and presented his compositions, with varying degrees of success. He had many enthusiastic supporters, including in the USA, but among the general public his works – even before the Nazi regime – met with incomprehension and rejection, and were too modern for many concertgoers. The poor public reception is also largely due to the way Mahler's Jewish origins and his work were dealt with in the Third Reich, as his pieces were banned from the stages. In the 1960s, his works received the attention they deserved with the so-called Mahler Renaissance.

5. Works


  • 1st Symphony in D major (premiere: November 20th, 1889)
  • 2nd Symphony in C minor, Auferstehungssinfonie (Resurrection Symphony) (large orchestra, organ, two vocal soloists (soprano, alto) and choir, premiere: December 13th, 1895)
  • 3rd Symphony in D minor (large orchestra, vocal soloist (alto), women’s and boys’ choirs, premiere: June 9th, 1902)
  • 4th Symphony in G major (orchestra, vocal soloist (soprano), premiere: November 25th, 1901)
  • 5th Symphony without key indication (large orchestra, premiere: October 18th, 1904)
  • 6th Symphony in A minor (large orchestra, premiere: May 27th, 1906)
  • 7th Symphony in E minor (large orchestra, premiere: September 19th, 1908)
  • 8th Symphony in E flat major (very large orchestra, organ, eight vocal soloists, two large mixed choirs and boys’ choir, premiere: September 12th, 1910)
  • Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth; large orchestra and two vocal soloists (alto/tenor or baritone/tenor), premiere: November 20th, 1911)
  • 9th Symphony without key indication (large orchestra, premiere: June 26th, 1912)
  • 10th Symphony in F sharp major , unfinished (large orchestra, premiere of the Adagio & Purgatorio movement: October 12th, 1924 in Vienna (posthumously))

Choral Works

  • Das klagende Lied (Song of Lamentation), symphonic cantata for soli, choir and orchestra on an original text after Ludwig Bechstein (1878–1880)

Orchestra and Piano Songs

  • Three songs for tenor voice and piano (1880)
  • Songs and chants for one voice and piano
  • Songs and chants from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) after texts from the collection of poetry with the same name by Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim
  • Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) (1885/86)
  • Rückert-Lieder (Songs after Rückert) (1901/02)
  • Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) (1901, 1904)

Chamber Music

  • Piano quartet A minor (1st movement and fragment of a Scherzo movement)(approx. 1876–1877)for piano, violin, viola, violoncello

Also, some arrangements of works by other composers, such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

Audio Samples

1st Symphony D major  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c1RDalpXuA

Das Lied von der Erde  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-W1W0D-xhw

Piano quartet A minor  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuIbFemb5P4


6. Sources and Links

- Danuser, Hermann & Janz, Tobias, Art. Mahler, Gustav in: MGG Online, hrsg. von Laurenz Lütteken, Kassel, Stuttgart, New York 2016ff., zuerst veröffentlicht 2004, online veröffentlicht 2016, www.mgg-online.com/mgg/stable/11596

- Böhm, Claudius & Staps, Sven-W.: 250 Jahre Leipziger Stadt- und Gewandhausorchester, Leipzig 1993.

- Böhm, Claudius (Hrsg.): Mahler in Leipzig, Leipzig 2011

- https://gustav-mahler.org/, 03.03.2021 10:59 Uhr.


Gustav Mahler 1892. Von E. Bieber - Kohut, Adolph (1900) "Gustav Mahler" in Berühmte israelitische Männer und Frauen in der Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit (Volume 1 Aufl.), Leipzig, Germany: Druck und Verlag von A. H. Payne, S. p. 143 Retrieved on 15. Juli 2009., Gemeinfrei, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php