It is gratifying for art that in recent decades the music of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) has been revalued and that both experts and fans distinguish it among the most appreciated works.
Until some time ago the same thing did not happen.
“With a notable inclination towards the simplicity of popular song, his work is intense, multiform, rhetorical and emphatic, but always endowed with a transcendent inner life”, explained Massimo Mina, Italian musicologist.
A recent book of conversations between a great director (Seiji Ozawa) and a great novelist (Haruki Murakami), titled "Music, only music", dedicates an extensive chapter to the work of Mahler and there the author of Kafka on the shore affirms : "In the case of Mahler there was a miraculous rebirth, half a century after his death."
Murakami himself was so enthusiastic that he went to visit Mahler's hometown of Kaliste in former Bohemia.
Ozawa credits this renaissance to Leonard Bernstein, who spearheaded the programming of all of Mahler's works in major theaters around the world.
Until then, within the classical environment, some only remembered Mahler for his decade at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic rather than for his nine symphonies (or ten, the last unfinished) and for his songs.
Buenos Aires will enjoy Mahler again next month at La Rural, with "Resurrección" at La Rural.
Although Mahler was born in a small rural town, he was actually a “product” of one of the greatest cultural beacons of the last century: the cosmopolitan Vienna described by Stefan Zweig in “The World of Yesterday”.
“He attracted the most disparate forces, relaxed and calmed them down.
Living in such an atmosphere of spiritual conciliation was a balm and people were educated on a supranational plane to become citizens of the world (…) People lived well, life was easy”, wrote Zweig.
It was the Vienna of Klimt and the works of the Secession, the Vienna of Mahler and Strauss, literature and the theater, Freud..., the last vestiges of an Empire that collapsed shortly after with the First World War.
But Mahler's childhood was marked by a violent father (Bernhard) and an adored mother (Marie-Hermann): they immediately lost seven of their 14 children to the viral diseases of the time.
Perhaps those sorrows are present in Mahler's works such as “Songs for the deceased children”.
Mahler's father was a coachman, then managed a distillery and agreed to let his teenage son go off to study music in Prague, at Grünfeld House.
There was no lack of cruelty in the treatment, hunger and cold.
Bernhard rescued him and took him to Vienna, Mahler entered the Conservatory, where Brückner was his composition teacher and from there his career as a musician (composer and conductor) was unstoppable.
He directed the opera in Budapest, then Hamburg and for more than a decade, the most coveted podium: the Vienna Philharmonic.
The conversation between Mahler and the father of psychoanalysis took place on August 26, 1910 during a walk in Leiden, Holland.
That conversation led to legends, plays and the most disparate interpretations.
Mahler went to Freud to talk about one of the many twists and turns of his marriage to Alma, who at that time was beginning a parallel relationship with another celebrity, the architect Walter Gropius (promoting the Bauhaus).
The marriage issue was resolved, Mahler continued with Alma and she -beyond her subsequent relationships- was always the custodian of the composer's work.
This, heart sick, died on May 18, 1911 in Vienna.
One of the many evil things that were written about that episode indicates that, upon learning of Mahler's death from the newspapers,
Freud reportedly sent the widow a message of condolences, accompanied by an invoice "for the fees for the session."
Instead, one of Mahler's most notable disciples, Arnold Schöenberg, went to the Grinzig cemetery with a crown dedicated "to Saint Gustav."
Behind every great man...
Several of Mahler's biographies, in addition to highlighting his artistic genius, also point to his bipolar temperament: “He could be open and closed when dealing with people.
Seducer or hermit.
He was a man of the world, but melancholic, dictator or tyrant in a few minutes.
Admired and feared by its musicians”.
He bore the mark of a harsh childhood.
He was also hard on Alma, to whom he did not even give a wedding ring when they got married in 1902 and also demanded that she abandon her composing tasks: "A musician in the house is enough."
They lost their little daughter, Marie, when she was just five years old, a victim of diphtheria, but the second, Anna, survived.
And Mahler was more pleasant later with his wife, to whom fragments of some of his symphonies, such as the Fifth and Eighth, are dedicated.
Time, historical research and testimonies would reveal Alma Margaretha Maria Schindler (Alma Mahler) as an exceptional woman: Klimt's muse, Mahler's wife, later custodian of his legacy and -at the same time- the one who shook (in the culture , romances and life itself) to a few luminaries of his time.
She died at the age of 85 in the United States, where she had taken refuge when the Nazi advance seemed unstoppable on Europe.
Mahler's music is present in concerts and recordings by the most important conductors.
Barenboim recalled that the Staatskapelle – the Berlin ensemble he directed until his recent retirement – “was the first to record a complete Mahler symphony in 1928.
Later, during Nazism, his works could not be interpreted.
But they recovered after the Second World War and our orchestra preserves the Mahler tradition”.
According to Ozawa "Mahler wrote music in a very complex way but its essential quality is that if one interprets it with feeling, it ends up being simple".
And according to the musicologist Mina "for Mahler the symphony represented a bitter awareness of the transitory of life, a desperate nostalgia for the ephemeral of existence."