Gustav Mahler: a world-renowned composer who drew inspiration from the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands

Staue of Gustav Mahler in Jihlava

Gustav Mahler, one of the greatest composers of the early 20th century was born in Vysočina Region, also known as the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. Mahler's birthplace in the village of Kaliště now serves as a guesthouse, restaurant, and concert venue adorned with the composer's images and artworks.

Birthplace of Gustav Mahler | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

Czechs like to think of themselves as a nation of musicians. While it's challenging to gauge the musicality of over 10 million individuals, one undeniable fact is that this country has produced several globally renowned composers. Among them, Leoš Janáček and Antonín Dvořák are perhaps the most celebrated. Yet, there's another luminary with roots in Czechia who gained fame far beyond its borders: Gustav Mahler.

Gustav Mahler was renowned all over the western world as a conductor and director of the Vienna Court Opera and the New York Metropolitan Opera and Philharmonic. Relatively few people know that he was born and grew up in what is now Vysočina (or the Highlands) Region of Czechia.

Mahler's memorial plaque | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

Born in 1860 in the quaint village of Kaliště near Humpolec, Mahler's family moved to Jihlava during his infancy, setting the stage for his formidable musical journey. Professor Jiří Štilec, founder of the Gustav Mahler Society and a faculty member at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, has been instrumental in reviving Mahler's legacy. He was pivotal in restoring Mahler's birthplace in Kaliště, which now serves as a guesthouse, restaurant, and concert venue adorned with the composer's images and artworks. Professor Štilec says:

“One’s birthplace is always important in forming one’s character and personality and Kaliště helped to form Gustav Mahler. He moved to Jihlava with his parents very early in his life. There, he was exposed to military and Czech and German folk music. It was important for his later composition style, because you can find elements of such music in his symphonies.”

Gustav Mahler | Photo: public domain

Today, Gustav Mahler's influence is global. There is a museum in Hamburg, Germany, and several memorials dotting the Austrian and Italian Alps, where he used to spend his summers. Notably, there's even a Mount Mahler in the American Rocky Mountains, testament to his worldwide legacy. Yet, it's in Kaliště that visitors can see the house where Mahler was born. And in Jihlava, the house where he spent his formative years, has been transformed into a museum that celebrates his life and legacy.

Author: Vít Pohanka
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