Mahler - Songs with Orchestra
Mahler left his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) as a marker to what may have been no more than an infatuation with Johanna Richter. She was a soprano at the opera house in the Hessian city of Kassel, where, at twenty-three years old, Mahler served as second conductor. He was already the composer of an amazing cantata, Das klagende Lied, as well as of a number of songs. With experience as a conductor in small theaters, he had made his start on the path to celebrity.
In the summer of 1901, Gustav Mahler discovered, or more probably rediscovered, the poems of Friedrich Rückert. Rückert was born in 1788 in the Franconian city of Schweinfurt. He devoted most of his career to the study of Eastern languages and literatures, a subject in which he became a professor, first at the University of Erlangen and later in Berlin. He died in 1866. Some of his most beautiful poetry is to be found in his large book of Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Deaths of Children), forced into being by the death of his young son Ernst. Mahler selected five of these for a cycle of songs, beginning that work in 1901 together with the Five Songs on Poems by Friedrich Rückert heard on this recording.
Mahler was a young conductor at the Leipzig Theater when he discovered the collection of folk poetry that would inspire him with its tales of magic and fairylands, soldiers and lovers. He made musical settings of twenty-two Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, of which we hear five on this recording. Des Knaben Wunderhorn, or The Youth’s Magic Horn, was compiled between 1805 and 1808 by Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. In their compilation, von Arnim and Brentano gathered original sources but also revised and rewrote some of their material, ensuring a suitably antiquated aura. It was an amazingly influential publication, a kind of Romantic sourcebook for 19th-century German artists. Mahler set the last of his Wunderhorn texts in 1902, marking the end of an early part of his career, but continued to orchestrate them, and orchestral forms of the music he invented for the verses often found their way into his early symphonies. The orchestral version of the Lied des Verfolgten im Turm was first heard in 1905, in Vienna; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen was premiered in Vienna in 1900; Urlicht was originally heard first as part of the Symphony No. 2, in Berlin, in 1895. No information is available on the first performances of the orchestral versions of Der Tamboursg’sell and Revelge.
—excerpt from liner notes by Michael Steinberg