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Research Project By Ryan Burian FA 14
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Gustav Mahler


I.              Racial and Religious Acceptance

A.          Explain Mahler’s religious background and faith

B.          End of popularized anti-Semitism in press and Europe

C.          End of Nazi era ban on Mahler performances

II.            Political and Territorial Changes

A.          Explain Mahler’s childhood and native homeland in reference to his portrayal in the world before his death

B.          Explain Austrian and German tensions prior and post WWI & WWII and its affect on Mahler’s reception

C.          Discuss post-war generation and the affects of an independent Austria and Germany on Mahler’s image in the world

III.           Influence on Conductors and Composers over the Years

A.          Early Revival

       1. Leopold Stokowski
       2. Aaron Copland

B.          Modern Influence

                                 1. Luciano Berio
                                 2. Benjamin Britten

With the majority of Mahler's compositions rejected by critics during his lifetime, what forces in social, political, and musical arenas since his death brought about his success in the world today?

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler was one of the many talented late Romantic composers, and is more notably the bridge between late-nineteenth century traditional composition and modernism in the twentieth century. Currently, Mahler’s compositions are some of the most performed pieces in classical music, though this was not always the case. Possessing some notoriety during his lifetime as a director, his works as a composer were highly criticized by the mainstream. With the majority of Mahler's compositions rejected by critics in his lifetime, many forces in social, political, and musical arenas since his death brought about his success in the world today, including racial and religious acceptance, political and territorial changes, and Mahler's unparalleled influence on conductors and composers over the past sixty years.

Born in Kalischt, Bohemia in 1860, which at that time was part of the Austrian Empire, Gustav was raised as part of a Jewish family during a growing anti-Semitic culture in Europe. His family was in the German-speaking minority in Bohemia, this fact an early influence for Mahler’s famous quote, “always an intruder, never welcomed” (Cooke, 7). In 1878, he graduated from the Vienna Conservatory after studying piano, composition, and harmony. At this time, he began to earn some success as a conductor, holding multiple positions at notable European opera houses, which led to his appointment as director at the Vienna Court Opera that same year. During this time, Austria was under an anti-Semitic mayor, resulting in a hostile press and political environment in regards to Mahler’s acceptance. It was not a stable journey for Mahler through his conducting career in Vienna, including the 1907 press campaign that intended to drive Mahler out of his held conducting position (Carr, 150). This continued until Mahler left for New York to direct the Philharmonic, where he concluded his career. Nazi-era bans on performances of Mahler’s work were also initiated prior to and during World War II, in fear of Jewish revolution. This ban, along with anti-Semitic press did not fully conclude until far after Mahler’s death in 1911, and after the end of World War II. The release of these bans, and the end to negative press opened the opportunity for Mahler’s career and works to be reevaluated by composers, directors, journalists, and listeners alike. The active disdain towards Gustav’s religious and racial background unfortunately left a mark on what is now a powerful legacy, something only time and social change could implement. The slow and painful end to anti-Semitic values in Europe was a focal point in the revival of Mahler’s life work.

 “I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed.” 

Along with religious boundaries, there were many political environments regarding territorial and war relations in Europe that also had a major effect on Gustav’s presence, during and after his lifetime. These factors, both positive and negative, had a dramatic influence on social views and the culture of listeners, musicians, and directors alike. Being an Austrian born Jew, Mahler faced challenges already discussed, but one major issue in Mahler’s suppression and revival of his works was related to Austrian and German relations just before and during World War II (Turino, 201). With Germany and Austria being separated by the Treaty of Versailles, there was a driving force by the Nazi party to reunite Germany and Austria into a dominate state. This political movement forced Jewish compositions penned by the likes of Mahler and others out of the public eye. Public relations towards the Jewish community in both Austria and Germany were mostly hostile, continuing to directly affect opportunities for Mahler’s works to be heard, performed, or even respected without fear of retaliation from the political establishment in the territory. As suggested in Thomas Turino’s book, “While community solidarity is thought of as positive for individual and social life, the powerful semiotic potentials of music can be used in mass movement for dangerous ends.” Gustav Mahler was a victim of music being controlled to keep unity in a dangerous Nazi movement. At the end of World War II, an independent Austria was formed, and a post-war generation of music lovers entered the world, free of the politics and social dilemmas that affected Mahler’s reception in the past. These compositions experienced a resurgence in the public eye, after the removal of long standing anti-Semitic geographical and political elements that existed prior to the 1950s, reaching countries beyond Austria including France, Spain, Italy, and the United States (Cooke, 2).


"The point is not to take the world's opinion as a guiding star, but to go one's way in life and work unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause."


In the 1950s, many directors began performing Mahler’s works a new generation, quickly leading to Gustav Mahler becoming one of the most performed and recorded composers of all time. The early revival began with Leopold Stokowski, who performed Mahler’s 8th Symphony, Symphony of a Thousand in Philadelphia, with highly favorable reviews. America, at the time not dominated by anti-Semitic ideals, helped spearhead the appreciation of Mahler’s compositions, though not all Mahler-based American performances were successful. Aaron Copland’s attempts to bring his compositions early on received mostly negative reviews (Schiff). In 1960, marking the centenary of Gustav Mahler’s birth, Leonard Bernstein hosted a Mahler Festival and went on to record all of Mahler’s completed symphonies. These efforts acted as a breath of life given to Mahler’s works, and ultimately brought the once forgotten symphonies back into the mainstream, where they belonged. After this revival, many musicians and composers found themselves inspired by the works of Mahler. Experimental composer and electronic artist Luciano Berio wrote a composition that featured spoken word excerpts from Mahler score instructions, and has cited Mahler as a large musical influence. British composer Benjamin Britten has also been noted for his being influenced by Mahler, “...entirely clean and transparent...the material was remarkable, and the melodic shapes highly original, with such rhythmic and harmonic tension from beginning to end” (Matthews, 21). All the artists mentioned, along with many others, single-handedly played a vital role in the revival and much deserved return of Mahler’s work.

Though it took many years after Gustav Mahler’s death for his true genius to be discovered, the deserved and respected legacy left behind in his remaining symphonies speak loudly as a representation of his true genius. Thankfully, the social, political, geographical, and musical changes in the world ultimately favored Mahler's life's work, bringing his music to the attention of many generations to come.  



Carr, Jonathan. Mahler: A Biography. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 1998. Print.

The main purpose of this work is to explain Mahler's life and work in it's entirety. The content within describes everything from Mahler's childhood, early days of music, his lyrics, his symphonies, and his last works. The audience for this work would be anyone interested in knowing the whole spectrum of Mahler's life within and outside of music. This information is relevant, because it helps define the attributes of Mahler's life that explain his complicated social place in the musical environment of the late 20th century. This book is biased in its intentions to portray Mahler in an extremely positive light.

Cooke, Deryck. Gustav Mahler: An Introduction to His Music. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980. Print.

The purpose of this book is to have an in depth look at Mahler's symphonies and composition style. It contains an in depth overview of each of Mahler's symphonies including there reception and musical attributes. Anyone looking for a very in depth analysis of all of Mahler's works would enjoy this book. The information will be relevant in tracking Mahler's unique approach to composition and the general reception of his works. This is more of a factual analysis than a biased work.

Matthews, David. Britten. London: Haus, 2003. Print.

The purpose of this book is to understand Britten’s influences, including Gustav Mahler. It contains in depth information on Benjamin Britten’s career and life. Anyone who would like a deeper understanding in this composer would find it in this book. It is relevant in understanding exactly how Gustav Mahler’s works impacted other composers in the world during his revival.

"Mahler: Symphony No. 8 / Bernstein · Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. <>.

This citation is to display the unique approach and attributes of Mahler's symphonies and movements. This particular audio sample is the Bernstein recording of Gustav Mahler's 8th symphony. Anyone interested in Mahler's works or post-romantic symphonies would be interested in this clip. This is relevant for displaying Mahler's unique style in symphony composition and arrangement.

Schiff, David. "The Man Who Mainstreamed Mahler." The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Nov. 2001. Web. 09 Oct. 2014.

The purpose of this citation is to have an educated look at the revival of Mahler’s work. It contains an in depth analysis of the contributors in the Mahler revival. Anyone interested in understanding the stages of Mahler’s success would enjoy this article. It is relevant in defining fundamental stages in Mahler’s success.

Stacy, Lee, and Lol Henderson. "Gustav Mahler." Encyclopedia of Music in the 20th Century. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999. 387-88. Print.

The purpose of this work is to document the musical works and composers of the 20th century. It's content is in depth historical descriptions of many if not all composers of the 20th century. This book is ideal for anyone seeking more information on any 20th century composer and a basic overview of their lives and musical works. The chapter on Mahler is relevant because portrays aspects of his life in a unbiased and factual way.

Turino, Thomas. Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2008. Print.

The purpose of this book is to have a greater understanding of the social and political importance of music. It contains analytical evidence in Nazi era bans of music and its relation to music. Anyone interested in exploring the importance of music in a political and social setting would find great information in this book. It is relevant in defining the reasoning and effects of the Nazi ban on Mahler performances.