Many musicians and music lovers of all age groups, young and old, take intense interest in the music of Gustav Mahler. For many, once they get into it, it is a lifelong fascination that usually only deepens with time.

And it is easy to see why. Mahler’s music happens on many levels, and many elements of the great musical tradition that he came from echo through his music. In many ways, Mahler was the musical voice of the end of a great epoch. The spectrum of his musical expression goes from the simple, naive, fairy tale like to the outer limits of the human psyche.

But his music is also formally and structurally very complex. His motivic work is masterful, both in the evocativeness of his themes and motives, and the musical atmospheres he creates from these elements. He is a harmonically very versatile and advanced composer; his tonal language reaches from the utmost simplicity of folk songs to the dissolution of harmonic relationships. His instrumentation is unparalleled in the specific way he makes use of the expressive character of all instrument groups.

But Mahler is much more than the sum of the compositional elements he composed his works from. His symphonies are all-encompassing dramas, world ideas expressed through music, discovery trips into the inner circles of the human soul. He sums up many themes and ideas which moved people of his day, and which still appeal to many people today. In that sense, as historically anchored as his music is, as timeless it is at the same time.

And Mahler didn’t stop there. With the early stages of dissolution of tonality and a new understanding of motivic expression, he reached out into spheres of music that nobody had touched before him. The autumnal remoteness of parts of his late works, especially Das Lied von der Erde and the Ninth Symphony are quite astounding to hear, especially from a composer whose early works were so demonstrative and explicit in their use of dramatic gestures, naive and earthy folk elements, and literature inspired thematic development, and what’s even more astonishing is to hear how in his late work, all these elements coexist in musical worlds of great inner complexity.

In short, Mahler is really in many ways the sum and quintessence of a very important epoch in cultural history, and since there are so many elements concentrated in his music, it is not surprising that it catches the attention of many open ears, and usually, it doesn’t let go of them either.

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