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July 7: Gustav Mahler

Lawrence Bush
July 6, 2016

mahler-picture-bigAustrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler was born in Bohemia on this date in 1860. Although he converted to Catholicism in order to become director of the Vienna Court Opera, he was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse throughout his musical career, and his works were banned from performance during the Nazi era. Mahler was one of the world’s great opera conductors, with a special affinity for the works of Wagner, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. During his last three years of life, which he spent both in Europe and New York, 1908-11, he directed the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. As a composer, Mahler was considered a “late Romantic,” in the line of Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner, and Brahms. He wrote nine symphonies (a tenth was unfinished) and several orchestral song cycles. “Although his music was largely ignored for fifty years after his death,” writes the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Mahler was later regarded as an important forerunner of 20th-century techniques of composition and an acknowledged influence on such composers as Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Benjamin Britten.” To see Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic through Mahler’s First Symphony, look below.

“The point is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star but to go one’s way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.” --Gustav Mahler

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.