Hellgart Mahler : Associate Artist
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I was born in Vienna. My father, Hillel Mahler, came from a small village on the Polish-Czechoslovakian border. His family soon moved to Vienna, then the cultural Mecca of Europe. In his grandfather's family one older brother became the father of Gustav Mahler.
Gustav Mahler is my greatuncle, our musical antecedents, however, go right back to 16th and 17th century Italy, where the Maler family (the H was added later) were brilliant lute makers and players; sought after and vied for by dukes and princes.
When did I start composing?
In a sense I have always been composing. Everything I see, read, hear and think is translated into music and this has always been so.
When I was three years old in Vienna I started classical ballet, gymnastics and ice-skating. A good foundation! Not long afterwards came reading. But I did not read fairy-tales and children's books, I preferred the books on my parents' shelves. They had no pictures, but lots and lots of words. I just enjoyed the SOUND of the words as they rolled through my mind.
Hearing my mother play the piano in the evening made me want to play those sounds too. Soon I was improvising on the piano and every other instrument that came my way. I even made my debut as a tiny ballerina on the stage of the Vienna Opera. A small thread between me and my famous relative.
This idyllic state of affairs was brutally interrupted by the Nazi regime. In spite of some terrifying incidents and some death-defying exploits by my father, we managed to stay together as a family and flee to England, where my serious music education really began. By this time my improvisations were already "real" music, but because of the war we were moved around quite a lot - refugees don't have much say in these matters - so my formal music teaching was rather erratically spaced.
At the Friends' School, Saffron Walden, England, however, I had a brilliant music teacher in Richard Leonard Sturge, who taught me far more than he taught me! Later I worked at the Bucks School of Music with George Frederick Bailey on the piano and the well-known English composer, Philip Canon. And all the time I just played and played and thought and dreamt MUSIC. I was bewitched by the NOTES! The rest is a foregone conclusion!
Combine SOUNDS + NOTES = one COMPOSER.
With my English husband and baby daughter I came to Tasmania, where I continue my composing and teaching music. Tasmania had such a liberating effect on me that it is here that I really became myself!
In Tasmania I also met the composer Ian Cugley, a highly intelligent man and unusually generous with his time and insights. We had regular discussion sessions and in subtle ways he taught me an enormous lot. Not how to compose, but by constant feedback and probing questions he helped me analyse and gain a more intelligent control of the direction in which my work was going.
Influences on my style are harder to gauge. In one way everything has some influence. On the other hand no one event or composer has had a decisive influence on me.
Of the composers who have influenced me, Elisabeth Lutyens is high on my list, with voluptuous sound, yet a contemporary understanding. Peter Maxwell Davies with his deeply personal, coherent expressiveness and originality. Richard Meale was the first Australian composer to attract my attention with his sensitive style. I like Larry Sitsky's emotional brilliance too. Of course I love the music of Gustav Mahler. It overflows with passion and compassion, insight and foresight.
Has my style changed?
Yes, many times. I think it is inevitable. I went through classical, serial, cerebral - Mozart, Webern, Boulez - quite quickly. For a short while my music was rather prickly and complex. I tried electronics, mathematics ... They all led me back to MUSIC. My music has always been intuitive and spontaneous, but my present style is much simpler and more relaxed than it used to be. I allow myself more consonance, my phrases are less fragmented and I can enjoy writing a light-hearted modal scherzo.
The mainstay of my technique is what physicists call "thought experiments". Naturally much eliminating, restructuring, synthesising continues as I write things down, but all the basic pathways have already been mapped out in my mind.
One concept which is prevalent in my music is the use of time-signatures to show interacting relationships - like the key structure in classical music - rather than indicating strict metrical divisions. Double-bars usually act as phrasing indications, or line endings, as in a poem (e.g. Cloud Mutations in the solo flute piece How Beautiful are Thy Dwelling Places, and in the Sonnets). The most persistent characteristic of my music is my use of the greatest possible variety of changes in articulation, intensity and timbral quality.
The greater flexibility and the inclusion of improvisatory episodes in my recent music has attracted performances of expressive vitality by musicians such as the world-renowned pianist, Geoffrey Tozer; the eloquent dexterity of Jan Sedivka and the brilliant young Tasmanian, Gabriella Smart.
Biography provided by the composer