One of the most prominent of contemporary operatic conductors and a composer of symphonies in the modern German style. Born at Kalischt, Bohemia. His early education was received at the Gymnasium at Iglau, and at Prague, and in 1877 he went to Vienna, where he studied philosophy at the University, and at the Conservatory took counterpoint and composition of Bruckner and piano of Epstein. In 1880 he began his career as conductor, and for three years led theatrical orchestras in various towns in Austria, until his appointment as second conductor in the Court Theatre at Cassel, where he remained two years. In 1885 he went to Prague for a year as Anton Seidl's successor, and in 1886 to Leipsic, where he filled the place of Nikisch as director of the Opera for about six months. In 1888 he became conductor of the Royal Opera at Pesth, which he completely reorganized and greatly improved. He stayed here until 1891, when he obtained the position of conductor of the Hamburg City Theatre, a post which he left in May, 1897, to become Court conductor at the Court Opera in Vienna. The following October he succeeded Wilhelm Jahns as director of the Opera, and Hans Richter as conductor of Philharmonic concerts, and from 1898 to 1900 he also led the concerts of the Gesellschaft.
In 1892 he conducted German Opera at Covent Garden and proved himself a masterly director of Wagnerian music. He was engaged to conduct Grand Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York during the season of 1907-1908. Temperamentally Mahler is extremely well qualified as an operatic conductor. He rules orchestra and singers alike with iron hand. His firmness and energy make for good discipline, and his enthusiasm infuses itself into all who work for him. The performances that he conducts are notable for their smoothness and artistic unity.
As a composer Mahler arouses much discussion in Germany today, some critics declaring him a man of distinguished talents and others esteeming him mediocre. In operatic composition he is represented by Rubezahl and Die Argonauten, both unsuccessful, and Die drei Pintos, an opera which Weber began to write a short time before his death, and which Mahler arranged from his notes and sketches. This also proved unsuccessful. His six symphonies are his most important compositions. Of these the first to appear were the symphony in D major, called the Titan Symphony, written in 1891, and the symphony in C minor, called Ein Sommermorgentraum. Both of these works are tremendous, the C minor requiring two hours for performance, and the other being little shorter; both require the fullest of modern orchestras with an unusual number of percussion instruments and several kinds of bells, and on the first hearing, despite the admirable simplicity of the themes chosen, seem noisy and confused. The third symphony, written in F, is called the Naturleben Symphony. It is pantheistic in idea. The fourth symphony, brought out in 1901; the fifth, or D minor symphony, entitled Riesensymphonie, and the sixth, which appeared in 1906, are his other compositions in this form of music. They are all thoroughly German in character; their chief excellence lies in broadness and simplicity in theme and an intense richness of treatment. Mahler's elaborateness of orchestration is at times almost overwhelming. Two other important compositions are the Humoresken for orchestra, and the cantata, Das klagende Lied. As a man Mahler is quiet and studious and most modest concerning his own compositions, but full of unfailing energy and enthusiasm. Comparatively a young man, he is one of those of whom the musical world expects further development.