Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was a post-Romantic composer. He was born in Kaliste, a small village in the Bohemian region (now part of Czech Republic) which at the time belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
To understand Mahler’s philosophical-religious view, it is quite insightful to read his epistolar exchange (dated June 1910) with the wife Alma on symphony N.8. The exchange shows the following:
-Mahler had a dualistic view of the universe (like Plato). Indeed, he believed in the soul and in the body as two separate entities. Mahler seems to suggests, that just like Goethe had written in the Faust, life is to find repose in what is imperishable rather than struggling for transitory material things. He then seems to compare (by citing Goethe) the ‘imperishable’ with what the Christians call “eternal felicity”.
In a letter to Czech conductor Josef Stranksy, Mahler writes:
“If Mozart was properly called ‘the Singer of Love’ the world may give me – (of course, in respectful distance of Mozart)- the title, ‘the Singer of Nature’ for, since childhood, nature has meant everything to me.
I am so happy to find someone at last to whom my music means something, for I had already given up to despair and doubt that I would live long enough to experience such recognition”.
In a letter to Alma (1910) he writes:
“For the first time for eight weeks-in my whole life, for that matter- I feel the blissful happiness love gives to one who, loving with all his soul, knows he is loved in return. After all, my dream has come true: ‘I lost the world, but found my harbor’ “.
-High esteem for Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven (in particular), Wagner (in particular), Bach (a source of technical inspiration), Bruckner. Critical of Brahms. Undecided on the quality of Strauss’ music, though he liked Salome (probably both were jealous of each other in terms of artistic achievements).
-Very much admired Dostoevsky
-Liked Tolstoy the writer, but not Tolstoy the ‘prophet’
-Used to read Nietzsche, but then he discouraged Alma from reading his books.(presumably because Mahler was interested in the teachings of Platonism and of Jesus).
-Close friend of Lipiner. Lipiner introduced Mahler to the Viennese ‘Pernerstorfer Circle’ (a group of intellectuals influenced by Wagner, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer). Lipiner’s pantheism may have influenced Mahler’s religious views. Lipiner also introduced Mahler to the writings of the philosopher and physicist Gustav Fechner.
MY FAVOURITE WORKS:
-Das Klagende Lied (1878-1880)- a fairy tale ending in tragedy
-Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1888-1901)- a collection of songs based on German folk-poetry. The compositional style is influenced by Schubert.
– Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen