Gustav Mahler was one of the leading symphonists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. His role was firmly rooted in between Austro-German musical traditions and early 20th century modernism. He skilfully combined these two fields together with his own personal style, brimming with profound emotion and drawing on personal experience for inspiration, which raised his symphonies and songs to a heroic status.
Mahler was born in 1860 in Bohemia to a Jewish family and grew up in prosperous petit-bourgeois surroundings with a rich musical and cultural influence. Mahler attended school at the Iglau Gymnasium and at the New Town Gymnasium in Prague, before eventually having the opportunity to study at the Vienna Conservatory from the age of 15 and Vienna University two years later. He had a deep interest in philosophy and literature and was a great follower of Wagner and Nietzsche, as well as ideals of pan-Germanism and socialism. His interest in Wagner marked him out as having modernist tendencies, in contrast with Brahms and Hanslick who also lived in Vienna at the time.
By the age of 21, Mahler was conducting on average 50 opera and operetta performances per year, beginning with a conducting sojourn in Laibach (now Ljubljana) in 1881. His earliest reviews were favourable in both German- and Slovenian-language newspapers, particularly praising the unifying effect his music was having on the increasingly unstable Austro-Hungarian empire.