Mahler, Gustav (1860–1911) By Cahn, Geoffrey S.
With his deeply autobiographical compositions, composer Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) bridged late nineteenth-century Romanticism and early twentieth-century Modernism. His symphonies and song cycles traversed techniques of both charming simplicity and stunning complexity. Many of his works refracted the Modernism evident in the arts of fin-de-siècle Vienna. Mahler’s composing life can be divided into three distinct phases that were affected by life-changing events, as well as new compositional directions. The first phase includes Symphonies 1–4 (1887–1900); in the second phase he wrote Symphonies 5–8 with the two song cycles (1901–6); and in his final years he produced what some consider to be his most significant compositions, Das Lied von der Erde and Symphonies 9 and 10 (1907–10). His earlier songs were set to poems from the German folk poetry compilation, Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Youth’s Magic Horn] (1887–98) and would later be interwoven into his early symphonies as well. Although only a few of his compositions were greeted with critical acclaim during his lifetime, he was already revered by Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern during the first decade of the twentieth century. The need to earn a living as a conductor limited his output as a composer. As he rose through the ranks of provincial opera theatres, Mahler emerged as one of the most brilliant conductors of his time, including innovative tenures as director of the Vienna Court Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic. However, his recognition as a composer grew gradually after his death, and profoundly influenced the works of postwar composers. Since the 1960s, recordings and concert programming of Mahler’s music have grown dramatically and have become a staple of the classical repertoire.