What is Gustav Mahler's greatest work

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Composer, conductor

  • July 7th: Gustav Mahler is born as the son of the innkeeper Bernhard Mahler and his wife Maria (née Hermann) in Kalischt (Bohemia).

  • First public appearances as a pianist.

  • Mahler begins studying music at the Vienna Conservatory.

  • Matriculation at the University of Vienna, where, in addition to teaching harmony, he attends historical and philosophical lectures.
    To finance his studies, Mahler gives piano lessons.

  • After graduating from the conservatory, worked as a conductor in various small towns in Germany.
    Mahler composed the cantata for solos, choir and orchestra "Das klagende Lied" to a text of his own and began with the fairytale opera "Rübezahl", of which only the libretto has survived today.

  • Music and choir director at the Royal Theater in Kassel.
    In terms of composition, he concentrates on the traditional genres of symphony and song.

  • Due to a dispute with the Kassel theater director, Mahler quits and goes to the German State Theater in Prague as opera conductor.

  • Same position at the city theater in Leipzig.

  • First encounter with Richard Strauss, with whom he remains lifelong friends.
    Opera director in Budapest.

  • Mahler begins to set the folk song collection "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" compiled by Clemens Brentano (1778-1842) and Achim von Arnim (1781-1831) to music. In the following years it represented the essential textual basis of his song composition, whereby he placed the musical structure above the textual content.

  • He becomes first conductor at the Hamburg City Theater and takes over the direction of the symphony orchestra.
    The II. And III. Symphony emerges, whereby Mahler links the genres of symphony and song with one another by inserting songs and orchestral songs into the symphonies that have been formed into instrumental movements.

  • The orchestral version of the 1883 cycle "Songs of a traveling companion" is one of the first original works of the orchestral song genre.

  • After converting from Judaism to Catholicism, Mahler can be appointed Kapellmeister, later artistic director of the largest theater at the time, the Vienna Court Opera. Here he tries to realize his idea of ​​an opera reform: He propagates the idea of ​​opera as a total work of art and also retouches some works.
    Due to his professional obligations, he only has time to compose when he is not performing.

  • He leads the Vienna Philharmonic.

  • Marriage to Alma Schindler, who introduces him to visual artists from the "Vienna Secession".

  • Mahler resigns from the position of director of the Vienna Court Opera. Family problems and the frequent anti-Semitic attacks on his person are the reasons for this. He accepts a position as guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and the Philharmonic Orchestra in New York.

  • Head of the New York Philharmonic Society.

  • September 12th: World premiere of one of his main works, the "VIII. Symphony", under his direction in Munich.
    Work on the "Xth Symphony", which remains fragmentary.

  • May 18: Gustav Mahler dies in Vienna.

  • Posthumously premieres of the symphony for alto, tenor and orchestra "Das Lied von der Erde" and the "IX. Symphony", a purely instrumental work.

Dr. Lutz Walther, Janca Imwolde
© German Historical Museum, Berlin