Moritz NährGustav Mahler in the Foyer of the Vienna Opera House© Médiathèque musicale Mahler
One hundred years after his death, Gustav Mahler is remembered purely as a symphonic composer. This is because the two key roles of orchestra conductor and opera house director that helped transform him into the brilliant composer that we think we know, have disappeared from the collective memory.
His exceptional talent as a conductor propelled him to the top of the most prestigious orchestras of his time. Alongside this, for most of his life he was a director of an opera house.
In this role too, he became totally involved as manager, conductor and sometimes even stage director, thus revealing his overriding desire for control – an element he considered essential to achieve his artistic goals in music. His genius for musical interpretation and his revolutionary approach as an opera director have been almost forgotten, but it was these aspects of his musical life that brought him to "experience" music, an essential precondition for "composing" it.
The exhibition, in three sections, offers different perspectives on Mahler's life and work. It adopts a new and original approach to presenting the music and understanding the sources of his inspiration. It has not been designed purely as a display of musical scores and manuscripts, but aims to show exhibits from all disciplines: paintings, drawings, pastels, sculptures, photographs, sound recordings, the work of the stage designers … A look at women and his links with the painters of the Vienna Secession is also presented through a series of previously unseen photographs. Manuscripts of various symphonies, extremely rare sketches and designs for programmes are on show for the first time in France. Finally, his Symphony no. 4, played in its entirety, can be heard throughout the exhibition and sets symphonic composition at the heart of Mahler's work.
AnonymousMahler the director in front of the lectern and the wedding altar© Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien. Archiv, Bibliothek und Sammlungen
Jan NowopackySchafberg© Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien. Archiv, Bibliothek und Sammlungen
Gustav Mahler was born on 7 July 1860 in Kalište (Kalischt) and spent his childhood in Jihlava (Iglau), now in the Czech Republic, halfway between Prague and Vienna, on the borders of the Margraviate of Moravia and the Kingdom of Bohemia then part of the Austrian Empire. The popular music of this region and the marching band from the local barracks both influenced the young prodigy.
At the age of 10, he gave his first piano recital, and graduated from the Vienna Conservatoire in 1878 after a short period of brilliant studies. A passionate reader from an early age, he also studied literature and philosophy. Kant, Goethe, Schiller, Schopenhauer, Dostoyevsky and above all the poetry of Jean Paul became his basic points of reference. He was fascinated by the fragile, mysterious beauty of nature, this "calm, welcoming home" which often appeared in his literary choices, as for example in the collection of songsDes Knaben Wunderhorn[The Youth's Magic Horn].
To enable him to compose, he had "Komponierhäuschen" built [small composing huts] in the places where he used to holiday: Toblach in the Dolomites, Steinbach in the Alps, near to the Attersee and the Wörthersee. His many references to nature, literature and philosophy are essential to a deep understanding of his work.
E. BieberPortrait of Mahler© Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien. Archiv, Bibliothek und Sammlungen
In the long musical tradition of Vienna, from Mozart and Beethoven, whom he venerated, to his contemporaries, Brahms, Bruckner and Wolf, from whom he differed, Mahler occupies a special place at the start of the great upheavals of the 20th century.