Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, by Alma Mahler, Third ed., pages 6-7
But it is time to say something of Mahler’s family and upbringing.
His father was a man of strong and exuberant vitality, completely uninhibited. He married a girl of a good Jewish family named Frank; being lame from birth, she had no pretensions to a good match. The man she loved did not give her a thought and so she married Bernhard Mahler without love and with utter resignation. The marriage was an unhappy one from the first day. There were children in plenty, twelve in all. Her martyrdom was complicated by a weak heart, which grew rapidly worse owing to the strain of child-bearing and housework.
They began their married life in a small way at Kalischt, a village in Bohemia. He had a distillery (more like a shop or small pub) there, which his family called in joke the manufactory. Immediately the Jews were granted the freedom to move from place to place, Bernhard Mahler migrated to Iglau, the nearest town of any size, and there set up in his business again. His pride and reserve cut him off from other people, and he was left to himself. He had what might almost be called a library, and was goaded on by the ambition to better himself, but he was uncertain how this craving was to be satisfied. So he decided that his children should achieve what was denied to himself.
His mother, Gustav Mahler’s grandmother, was a woman of masculine energy. She was a hawker and even at the age of eighty went from house to house with a large basket on her back. In her old age she had the misfortune to transgress some law regulating hawkers and was given a heavy sentence. She did not for a moment think of putting up with it. She set off on the spot for vienna and sought an audience of the Emperor, Franz Joseph, who was so much impressed by her vigour and her eighty years that he granted her a pardon.
Mahler certainly inherited his inflexibility in the pursuit of his aims from his grandmother.