Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, in Kalischt, Bohemia, then part of the Austrian Empire. His parents were Bernhard and Marie Mahler, the owners of a brandy distillery. Despite his father's success, his family came from very humble origins, being part of the German-speaking minority among Bohemians, and was also Jewish. From this background the future composer developed early on a sense of being out of place, like an intruder. His family history was tarnished by tragedy. Gustav was the second of twelve children, six of whom died very young, and one of whom committed suicide.
His interest in music began at a very early age. According to Grove Music Online, Gustav was introduced to music through street songs, dance tunes, folk melodies, and the trumpet calls and marches of the local military band. These elements would later lead him to develop a more mature musical vocabulary. When he was 4 and discovered his grandparents' piano. Mahler gave his first public recital in Iglau at the age of ten.
From 1875 to 1878 he was at the Prague Gymnasium and Vienna Conservatory, where he studied the piano, harmony and composition. His period at the conservatory was very successful, winning awards for piano playing and composition. However, that was the first time that Mahler first dealt with the anti-Semitic views of Vienna's musical establishment. After that, he attended university lectures, and started earning income by working as a music teacher. During that time, Mahler composed "Das klagende Lied," a cantata inspired by the operas of Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner, with many own personal features.
Starting from 1880, Mahler started working as a conductor at a summer theatre at Bad Hall, as well as at the theaters Ljubljana, in 1881, and Olomouc, in1883. In the same year, as a music director at Kassel, he composed his first masterpiece, the song cycle "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen," and the start of First Symphony. This led him to have numerous conducting positions that took him to Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, Hamburg, and Vienna. Mahler became very popular in his conducting role, leading revolutionary changes in orchestral repertoire and how opera was presented. In 1894 and 1896, respectively, he completed the Second and Third Symphonies.
He found a lot of success with the première of the Second Symphony in Berlin. Now a conductor of international stature and a composer of growing reputation, he turned his attention to the Vienna Hofoper. The main obstacle was his Jewish origins; so he accepted Catholic baptism in February 1897. In 1902 he married Alma, daughter of the artist Emil Jakob Schindler. At Maiernigg he completed symphonies nos.5-8. During that time, his elder daughter felt ill and died because of scarlet fever.
His success was opposed by a part of the Viennese musical establishment, leading him to travel to New York after anti-Semitic campaigns by the press. While conducting, he completed the Ninth Symphony and "Das Lied von der Erde." The last one had a large enough scale to be considered a symphony, but Mahler refused to number the work 10, because of his fear of death, intensified by his family deaths and the deaths of composers such as Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner before they could complete their work. He did, however, start working on a tenth symphony, but he faithfully died before he could complete it.