Mahler and His Music

Mahler and his music – an autobiography, personal and spiritual  
Gustav Mahler was born to a Jewish family in a German-speaking enclave in Czech-speaking Bohemia, but did not feel properly at home anywhere. Being Jewish, at a time of widespread anti-Semitism, was his “chief mistake”, as he put it to a friend. But his musical talent was so evident that at 15 he found himself at the Vienna Conservatory of music and afterwards embarked on a career as a conductor. By the time he was 37, he was artistic director of the Vienna Court Opera—though not before he had converted to Catholicism, as a means of correcting that mistake.
Mahler was also enjoying increasing fame as a composer. His life and his music were two sides of the same coin. His output was not considerable in terms of number of published works: ten symphonies (the last one unfinished), a symphonic work for voices and orchestra (“Das Lied von der Erde”) and a number of songs. As a successful conductor he had little time to compose, fitting most of it in during long summer breaks spent by an Austrian lake. He could take years composing one of his symphonies, but each of them packed a tremendous punch. For him, “the symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.” That meant childhood memories and sleigh-bells, folk songs and frustrated ambition, love and death.
There is an anecdote of psychological interest from the time of his childhood.   One day father Mahler took little Gustav with him to the woods, but suddenly reminded of some forgotten chore he decided to hurry back home. Seating the child on a tree-stump, he said, "Stay here and wait. I'll be back very soon." In the meanwhile visitors had arrived at the house, and in the excitement he completely forgot about Gustav until it was almost sunset.   Apprehensive, he now ran back to the woods only to find the boy still sitting just as he had been left before, but as though in a trance, with eyes full of wonder, fixed upon some marvellous...