The Austrian-Czech composer and renowned conductor Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) expressed himself only in the media of symphony and song, maintaining a close and complex interrelationship between the two. In both genres he is today regarded as one of the greatest composers and musical visionaries of his day. Mahler wrote the songs grouped together in the free cycle entitled Five Songs on Poems by Friedrich Rückert for voice and piano in the years 1901 and 1902. More or less concurrently he set about writing the musical settings for another five of Rückert’s poems, which resulted in the cycle Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). Mahler’s enchantment with Rückert’s verse thus gave rise to two of the most exquisite song cycles in existence.
Austrian composer and superb organist Anton Bruckner (1824–1896), who in 2024 shares his landmark anniversary with Bedřich Smetana, entered the musical history books chiefly as the author of a weighty collection of symphonies, of which the last (twelfth) remained as a fragment. He was continually reworking his symphonies, and hence they also exist in various versions. Towards the end of his life he even revised his entire set of symphonies virtually at the same time, as if, for him, they represented one, single oeuvre. Bruckner worked on his Symphony No. 7 in E major for two years (1881–1883) and it was first performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig on 30 December 1884, conducted by Arthur Nikisch. The work’s premiere was, in fact, the 60-year-old composer’s first true success; his previous symphonies received negative reviews, or they were not performed at all. The premiere was followed by performances in Munich, Cologne, Hamburg and Graz, and only then in Vienna, the city which thus finally repaid its debt to him after long years of disfavour and hostility towards his music, which was strongly influenced by Richard Wagner.