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YMMV / Gustav Mahler

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  • Awesome Music: Mahler is considered one of the finest symphonic composers of all time.
  • Broken Base: His 8th, the "Symphony of a Thousand". Many were overwhelmed by the sheer epicness and life-affirming nature of the work, others (such as Theodor W. Adorno) found it tasteless and pretentious.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Mahler's song cycle Kindertotenlieder, literally "Songs on the Death of Children," is already every bit as heartbreaking as you would expect. Some years after the piece was completed, Mahler's own four-year-old daughter tragically died of scarlet fever. He wrote to a friend, "I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs any more".
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  • Too Bleak, Stopped Caring: Kindertotenlieder, or Songs on the Death of Children, is every bit as depressing as its title suggests. Based on five poems by poet Friedrich Rückert that were written in an outpouring of grief over two of his children dying of scarlet fever, Mahler's music here is deeply personal and extremely difficult to listen to. Given the bleak nature of the subject itself, however, it's all but guaranteed that the music reaching Too Bleak, Stopped Caring territory is completely intentional.
  • True Art Is Angsty: A lot of his works are known to be very depressing. For example, he wrote Das Klagende Lied (Song of Lamentation), Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), and Symphony No. 6, nicknamed Tragic.
  • Vindicated by History: During his lifetime, Mahler was known more for his skills as a conductor than as a composer, with his Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) and Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) being two of his few successes while he was still alive. This reception was justified to an extent, as conducting was Mahler's professional job while composing was done in his spare time; as a result, his œuvre is relatively limited. His compositions were controversial for their massive orchestral forces (which some groups thought were excessive) and strange tonalities. It didn't help that he was Jewish living at a time when anti-Semitism ran rampant, which eventually pressured him into resigning from his post as director of New York's Metropolitan Opera. After his death in 1911, his music became neglected for several decades, exacerbated when he was blacklisted by the Nazis. After World War II, he was rediscovered by conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Leopold Stokowski and championed by them, eventually becoming recognized as an influential and great composer.


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