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Gustav Mahler Died 100 Years Ago Today

   The great Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler died exactly a century ago on May 18 1911 .  He was only 50 years old , and his untimely death was mourned all over the classical music world .  In his lifetime ,he had achieved far more success as a conductor than a composer,
having worked his way up as music director of various smaller opera comapnies in Germany to more important posts in Hamburg, and Budapest. In 1897 ,he had achieved so much acclaim that he was appointed to the most prestigious post in Europe - director of the Vienna Imperial  opera,now the Vienna State opera , and achieved standards of performance and stage production which have become legendary,untgil he was forced out through a combination of
court and music intrigue and anti-semitism in 1907 .

   Mahler was born into a large Jewish family in what is now the Czech Republic in 1860 and was compelled to officially convert to Catholicism in order to be appointed in Vienna.  After this, the Metropolitan opera in New York called on his services as conductor ,and he also became music director of the New York Philharmonic .But despite his great successes in America, a serious heart condition forced him to  return to Europe, where he died ,  mourned more as a conductor than a composer.

   But his own music meant more to Mahler than anything else .  His vast,sprawling and highly emotional symphonies  alienated more than a few music critics and some audiences.  At his death ,more than a few critics  predicted that his music would be quickly forgotten despite his  undeniable greatness as a conductor .  But they were wrong !

  Many thought his symphonies, with their combinations of popular melodies , the sounds of nature, military marches, funeral  processions, moments of grandeur and exaltation ,childish wonder  and  deep despair over fate , were hopelessly overblown,  vulgar,
and incoherent .  But they  failed to recognize the utter originality of  the music

    Such great conductors as Bruno Walter, who had been his disciple,Willem Mengelberg and  Otto Klemperer,both of whom had known him well ,continued to champion his symphonies  all over Europe and America.  Mahler predicted that "His time would come", and  it most certainl;y did ,especially  since the 19602, when Leonard Bernstein  took up Mahler's cause and recorded all nine of the completed symphonies for what was then Columbia records , and continued to  do so untill his death in

   Mahler's music is now as much a part of the orchestral repertoire as the works of Brahms,Tchaikovsky ,  Sibelius, Rachmaninov ,  and  other great composers of the 19th and 20th century, and great singers such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Janet Baker,  Thomas Hampson ,Christa Ludwig and others have been internationally acclaimed for their performaces and recordings of the Mahler songs.

   Recordings of the Mahler symphonies were once scarce , but in the past 30 or 40 years or so ,  they  have become virtually impossible  to count .  Such great conductors as Claudio Abbado,Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel , Seiji Ozawa, Simon Rattle, Michael Gielen, Sir Georg Solti,
Riccardo Chailly, Bernard Haitink , Rafael Kubleik , Giuseppe Sinpoli,Klaus Tennstedt and others have recorded complete sets of the symphonies, and Bernstein recorded a second set of them for Deutsche Grammophon in the 18980s.  Many other great conductors ,such as Dimitri Mitropoulos,Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Erich Leinsdorf, Fritz Reiner,
and others  have left recordings of some of the individual symphonies.

   Mahler left a tenth symphony unfinished at the time of hi9s death , and only the first movement was completed.This has been performed and recorded fairly often, but it was not until the 1960s that a British musicologist named Deryck Cooke was able to make a performing version out of the sketches, and several other musicologists have made their own versions. 

  In fact, performaces and recordings of the Mahler symphonies have become so common
  as  to cause us to take his music for granted .  But the works , which  explore virtually every emotion and mental state ,as well as vividly  depicting nature and fate , remain  undying masterpieces .

Posted: May 18 2011, 09:02 AM by the horn | with no comments
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