Gustav Mahler bigraphy, stories - An Austrian composer and bandmaster

Gustav Mahler : biography

A special international society devoted to Gustav Mahler was founded in 1995 in order to perpetuate the cultural heritage left by the composer and analyze his compositions.



Gustav Mahler’s family was from Bohemia in origin. They had modest income and Gustav’s grandmother earned money by peddling. Czech Bohemia was a part of Austrian empire by that time. Gustav Mahler’s family belonged to German-speaking minority, more over they were Jewish. That was reason of Gustav’s feeling of estrangement that he had since his early years. The future composer often felt as if he was an uninvited guest. Gustav’s father, Bernard Mahler, was a travelling trader, selling alcohol, sugar and some household products. The future composer’s mother was a daughter of small manufacturer producing soap. Gustav was the second of the 14 children in the family, unfortunately only 6 of them could reach mature age. Gustav Mahler was born on the 7th July, 1860 in a modest house in Kalishte village.

Soon after Gustav was born the family moved to a small industrial town Jihlava, that was a kind of island of German culture in South Moravia. Bernard Mahler was going to open a tavern there. On the streets of Jihlava the future composer firstly listened to songs, the sound of bugle and saw folk dances and marches of local military orchestra. Those sounds would make part of Gustav Mahler’s sound palette. At the age of four Gustav started trying to cope with grandfather’s piano, and at the age of ten the boy was already playing on scene. In 1874 Gustav’s little brother died and the future composer tried to express his feeling of sorrow and loss through music. That was an opera by Mahler which didn’t remain.

Musical education.

Mahler entered Vienna conservatoire in 1875. His teachers were Julius Epstein for piano studies, Robert Fuchs for harmony and Franz Krenn for composition. Gustav Mahler would also take lessons from Anton Bruckner but wasn’t considered to be his student.

While studying in conservatoire, Gustav Mahler got acquainted with future composer Hugo Wolf. Hugo Wolf with his temper was not ready to put on with the strict discipline of the conservatoire, and that led to his expulsion. Mahler, on contrary, having milder temper, avoided risk, having written a repentant letter addressed to the director of the conservatoire Hellmesberger.

Mahler probably got his first orchestra conductor experience in the student orchestra of his alma-mater. However his was actually a drummer in that orchestra.


Since Mahler’s parents died in 1889 he had to take care of younger brothers and sisters. He took Justine and Emma with him to Vienna and arranged their marriage.

In the second part of 1880s Mahler was involved in his love affair with his student, singer Anna fon Mildenburg. Anna, taking lessons from Mahler, managed to succeed in singing Wagner repertoire. She sang at on scene of Vienna Royal Opera and later married writer German Barr.

Family life.

During his second season in Vienna, in November 1901, Gustav Mahler got acquainted with Alma Schindler, an adopted daughter of Austrian artist Carl Moll. In the beginning Alma was not pleased with the acquaintance with Mahler who was known for scandals about his relations with a young woman who strived for singing in Opera. After their dispute about Alexander Zemlinsky’s ballet (it should be mentioned that Alma was Zemlinsky’s student) Alma agreed to a date. That date led to their forthcoming marriage. Gustav and Alma married in March, 1902. By that time Alma was pregnant, he was waiting for her first child. Their first child was daughter Maria, and the following child, again a girl, was born in 1904, they called her Anna.

The friends and relatives of the couple were very surprised by their marriage. A theatre director, Mark Burkhart, who was Alma’s admirer, called Gustav Mahler a sickly moronic Jew, who was not worth marriage to such a beautiful girl from a good family. On the other hand Mahler’s parents supposed Alma to be too coquettish and unreliable.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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