Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was far better known in his lifetime as a conductor than as a composer. Coming from a small town in what is now the Czech Republic, Mahler went on to become director of the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest, chief conductor of the Hamburg State Theatre and in 1897, at the age of 37, director of the Vienna Court Opera, one of the most prestigious conducting positions in Europe. After ten years in Vienna, Mahler moved to New York to become director of the Metropolitan Opera and subsequently director of the New York Philharmonic. In July 1907, shortly before leaving for America, one of his two daughters died and, soon thereafter, Mahler was diagnosed with a degenerative heart condition, the illness that would lead to his death in May 1911. From the early 1890s onwards, Mahler followed a routine of composing in the summer – usually in a picturesque outdoor retreat – and conducting and orchestrating in the winter. Among Mahler’s works are ten large-scale symphonic works. These consist of nine numbered symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). There is also an unfinished Symphony No 10. Mahler expanded the bounds of the symphony – both in terms of overall length and forces involved – and used it as a vehicle for exploring as far as possible the joys, sorrows, mysteries, conflicts and contradictions of human existence.

© Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra