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Great Masters: Mahler—His Life and Music

Delve into the musical study of Mahler, who, along with being a composer, was the greatest opera conductor of his time.
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More than many other composers, Gustav Mahler's works are highly personal expressions of his inner world-one characterized by an overwhelming sense of alienation and loneliness. Great Masters: Mahler-His Life and Music is a biographical and musical study of Mahler, who, along with being a composer, was the greatest opera conductor of his time. Professor Robert Greenberg's lectures bring to life this complex, anxiety-bound visionary, whose continual search for perfection and the answers to life's mysteries is profoundly reflected in his symphonies and songs. These lectures also include more than a dozen excerpts from Mahler's symphonies and other works.


Robert Greenberg
Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.


San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres. Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

By This Professor

The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works
Music as a Mirror of History
Great Music of the 20th Century
Symphonies of Beethoven
The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition
Introduction and Childhood

01: Introduction and Childhood

From the time he was quite young, Mahler was entranced by music and became devoted to the piano from about the age of five. One of the most significant aspects of his life was his sense of alienation, brought on largely by his Jewish heritage. Tensions created by the Czech, Germanic, and Jewish culture of which Mahler was a part may be one of the elements that makes his work so striking and fascinating.

47 min
Mahler the Conductor

02: Mahler the Conductor

Mahler's early life was deeply affected by the death of his brother and influenced by the work of Richard Wagner. He studied, composed, and became a conductor at the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest.

44 min
Early Songs and Symphony No. 1

03: Early Songs and Symphony No. 1

Mahler's years in Budapest were quite successful. He composed many lieder, German romantic songs. In 1887, Mahler discovered a poetic anthology, Des knaben Wunderhorn, or The Youth's Magic Horn, which became one of his greatest inspirations. Later that year he began composing his Symphony no. 1, which focuses on the struggle between hope and despair.

46 min
The Wunderhorn Symphonies

04: The Wunderhorn Symphonies

In 1893 Mahler returned to composing, beginning with Symphony no. 2, the first of the so-called Wunderhorn symphonies. Symphony no. 3, written almost immediately after the second, is a natural companion piece. The Symphony no. 4 is Mahler's "classical" symphony, addressing a child's innocent view of life and heaven without the intervening step of death.

48 min
Alma and Vienna

05: Alma and Vienna

In November of 1901, Mahler met Alma Schindler, and in March of the following year, the two were married. His appointment as music director in 1897 at the Vienna Opera created a firestorm in the press, but his debut was a triumph. He also instituted reforms at the opera, and his first few years there were phenomenally successful.

42 min
Family Life and Symphony No. 5

06: Family Life and Symphony No. 5

Mahler experienced the best years of his life from 1902 to 1907. He and Alma had started a family and built a summerhouse where Mahler could compose. In 1902, Mahler completed his Symphony no. 5, a superb example of the Expressionist art movement. Mahler befriended Arnold Schönberg, one of the most well-known Expressionist composers of the early 20th century.

47 min
Symphony No. 6, and Das Lied von der Erde

07: Symphony No. 6, and Das Lied von der Erde

Three events shattered the Mahlers' lives in 1907: his resignation from the Royal Vienna Opera, the death of their elder daughter, and the diagnosis of his heart disease. In 1908, Mahler threw himself into composing Das Lied von der Erde as an attempt to find solace from the grief of his daughter's death. The work is a symphonic song cycle about loss, grief, memory, disintegration, and transfiguration.

45 min
Das Lied, Final Symphonies, and the End

08: Das Lied, Final Symphonies, and the End

Mahler next completed Symphony no. 9, which is filled with contemplation of his own mortality. Symphony no. 10 was left incomplete at his death. During this time, Mahler was working in New York and spending the off seasons in Europe. He died in Vienna in 1911; according to Alma his last word was: "Mozart!"

47 min