Mahler – life in brief
In the 1880s Mahler appeared regularly in Jihlava during the summer months and he occasionally performed in the Town Theatre as a musician or conductor. From 1878 to 1883 he spent part of his summer holidays with his friend and classmate, JUDr. Emil Freund, in Želiv, near Humpolec. There are several documents from this period, lists of conscripts, which deal with Mahler’s state of health. At his first conscription in Vienna in 1880 he was found unfit for military service due to his overall weakness, and a year later he was completely crossed off the list of conscripts due to his severe myopia. However, this led to his obligation to pay a military tax.
An important milestone in life of Gustav Mahler came in the year of 1889, during which both his parents and his oldest sister Leopoldine died. First his father died on February 18 at the age of 62, and then on September 27 in Vienna his sister Leopoldine, married name Quittner, died at the age of 26. Several days later, on October 11, he was hit with his heaviest loss when his mother died. Both parents were buried in the Jihlava Jewish cemetery and their final resting place is marked by a tall, dark tombstone.
The Gustav Mahler´s parents and siblings are buried in the jewisch cemetry in Jihlava
After the estate had been settled Gustav and his siblings left Jihlava forever. Reportedly he took with him only his old father’s armchair. Through a court decision, as the oldest of the siblings, he became the guardian of his underage brothers Alois and Otto and sisters Justine and Emma. He tried to ensure a good future for all of them; fortunately, as the director of the Royal Opera in Budapest, with an annual salary of 10,000 florins, he had the financial means for this. For some time his most beloved sister, Justine, onto whom he had projected memories of their mother, kept his households in Budapest and later in Hamburg.
Emma and Justine Mahler Justine and Gustav Mahler
Both sisters were married to the brothers Rosé, of whom Arnold, Justine’s husband, was a leader of the Vienna Philharmonic. Before marriage both sisters converted to the Evangelical faith. The Jewish faith played a substantial role neither in their lives nor in the lives of the other siblings, as may also be documented by Gustav’s conversion to the Catholic Church in February 1897 in Hamburg, or by the example of his brother Alois, who changed his faith twice. The fates of both brothers were eventful: the musically gifted Otto, a graduate of the Vienna Conservatory, shot himself in Vienna in 1895, and the older Alois, an unsuccessful merchant, left for America at the beginning of 20th century, thus interrupting all contact with the family.
After leaving Jihlava the Mahler siblings did not return to their native town. However, Gustav maintained some contacts with Jihlava, even though only sporadically. He spent nearly ten years settling the estate of his deceased parents there, and he had the right of domicile there till his death. And neither did he forget his friends, who indisputably included his music teacher Heinrich Fischer and his son Theodor, later the president of Jihlava Regional Court, to whom he sent letters and picture postcards from places he visited. The local German newspaper, Mährischer Grenzbote, also drew attention to their ever more famous compatriot from time to time.
In 1902 Gustav married Alma Maria Schindler (1879–1964), the daughter of an outstanding Viennese painter of landscapes, Jakob Emil Schindler (1842–1892). Alma was very well educated in music, she studied composition with Alexander von Zemlinski, composed songs, and Mahler, in his own words, commissioned her with work correcting manuscripts and notations. Without any doubt, the meeting of the twenty-two-year-old Alma, considered the most beautiful girl in Vienna, with the nineteen–years-older Gustav Mahler, then already a highly appreciated, if not always completely understood, composer in a secure position as the director and conductor of the Vienna Court Opera, was a fateful event. Their marriage yielded two daughters, Maria Anna (1902–1907) and Anna Justine (1904–1988); Anna Justine became a sculptress and had two daughters – Alma (*1930) and Marina (*1943).
Alma Mahler with daughters Alma and Gustav Mahler in Toblach
“In the first years I felt very insecure with Mahler … And it is peculiar that from the moment of his spiritual victory Mahler overlooked me and began to love me again only when I had freed myself from his tyranny. For the time being he played the role of a teacher, relentlessly strict and unjust. He spoiled the world for me and made me loathe it. That is, he tried to: Money – vanity! Clothes – vanity! Beauty – vanity! Travel – vanity! Only the spirit itself! Today I know he was afraid of my youth and beauty and wanted to neutralize me by simply taking from me every living thing, which he could not cope with. I was a little girl whom he longed for and whom he was now educating.” (MAHLER, A.: Gustav Mahler. Memories. Prague 2001, page 45).
After Mahler’s death she married an outstanding American architect of German origin, Walter Gropius (1883–1969), and her third husband was the poet Franz Werfel (1890–1945). However, she called herself “Gustav Mahler’s widow” till the end of her life.
The assiduous and relentless musician Gustav Mahler, acting as conductor or director of the opera houses in various European cities (see the Conductor and Opera Director chapter), constantly overworked and exhausted himself. On February 21, 1911, he conducted his last concert in New York, where he had a contract. At that time Mahler was already ill. The doctors in America, Paris, and subsequently in Vienna were not able to help him any more. Gustav Mahler died in Vienna on May 18, 1911. The Jihlava newspaper, Mährischer Grenzbote, on May 21, 1911, reported on Mahler’s serious illness; in the same issue a report on his death appeared, with a short obituary. The programme of the Jihlava gymnasium, issued at the end of the 1910/11 school year, contained one sentence on his passing: “May 18, 1911, marked the passing of a former pupil of this institution, Mr. Gustav Mahler, who became famous as a composer and the director of the Imperial and Royal Court Opera far beyond the borders of his mother country.” An obituary with a photograph also appeared in Deutscher Volkskalender für die Iglauer Sprachinsel in 1912.
Gustav Mahler is buried at Grinzing Cemetery in Vienna. His grave is marked by a simple tombstone, which was designed by one of the most important European architects, Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), a native of Brtnice, and, like Mahler, a graduate of the Jihlava gymnasium. As Mahler wished, on the tombstone there is but his name. “Whoever seeks me out knows who I was, and others do not need to know.”
(In: BLAUKOPF, K.: Gustav Mahler – Contemporary of the Future, Jinočany 1998, p. 203)