The three Lieder dedicated to Josephine Poisl (1880)
Dedicated to Josephine Poisl, daughter of the Iglau postmaster, the three lieders with piano accompaniment were composed in February 1880, together with a large chunk of Das Klagende Lied. Reference to this particular piece of work is of crucial importance, since the circumstances surrounding their composition coincide with a crisis that plunged Mahler into an acute creative fever.
To our knowledge, these are also the first known pieces of work by Gustav Mahler, with the exception of the few remnants found in Alma Mahler’s collection. As well as these well-known works there is also a missing and probably incomplete Nordic Symphony to which Mahler alluded to in a letter from December 1879. The last two Lieders were probably never composed, most probably due to the breakup with Josephine and the Poisl family, which took place in Vienna shortly after the completion of Maitanz im Grünen. It is highly likely that Mahler gave up on completing the cycle, which he probably intended to offer the girl as an Easter present. At the time, he was actively working at the Klagende Lied. The manuscript is completely illegible. It quite obviously focuses on the original drafts.
Five Lieder for voice and piano (1880-83)
According to Guido Adler, who probably obtained information from Mahler himself, the five lieder for voice and piano were composed in Vienna and Iglau “during and around 1883”, after he had left Laibach (1st April 1882 ), and before he took up his position in Olmutz (January 1883).
Unlike previous pieces, or those which would follow, these five Lieder (with the exception of Hans und Grethe which is almost entirely a reproduction of the 1880 Maitanz) were not composed during times of crisis. We therefore do not find the same expressive intensity that characterises many of Mahler’s other early works, i.e. Das klagende Lied, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and the First Symphony Because of their musical style and their workmanship, it would be logical to assign an earlier date to the Tirso de Molina Lieder than to the Leander Lieder which they follow on from, both in the Schott edition and in the handwritten copy of the Rosé collection.
The first nine Wunderhorn Lieder (1888-1890)
From a distance, Mahler’s discovery, at the end of 1887 / beginning of 1888, of the “popular Lieder” anthology entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn in the library of his Weber friends in Leipzig, seems an almost miraculous event given that, at that time, it fulfilled all the young composer’s aspirations. Mahler wrote 24 Wunderhorn Lieder in all (including those in the Second, Third, and Fourth Symphonies). They inspired all his Lied pieces of work between 1888 and 1901, apart from the Nietzschean song in the Third Symphony.
The first group of nine Lieder with piano accompaniment was composed, in part, for the children of Karl and Maria von Weber in Leipzig. However, Mahler knew of at least one poem from the Wunderhorn which he never mentioned, namely Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht, which he set to music in the first of the Gesellen Lieder, the poetic source for which is not even referred to.
None of the Wunderhorn Lieder with piano accompaniment are dated, but the order is the same as in the first edition. It is obviously chronological, as was often the case with Mahler’s collections which were not real cycles. The last Lieder were undoubtedly composed in Hinterbrühl in the summer of 1890, because Mahler would not have been able to compose the following summer due to his trip to Scandinavia. These early Wunderhorn Lieder are shorter and less elaborate than the later orchestral Lieder. Here, Mahler continued his previous attempts with a style inspired by the Volkslied but borrowed a number of processes from the Kunstlied. He was rarely happy reinventing, but, for each stanza, he often composed music which, at first glance, seemed to have the same tone when, in reality, it was completely different.
In his choice of texts, Mahler showed a preference for general topics and universal problems, rather than ballads or stories. This is how he sets to music the solitude of man on earth, the vanity of everyday life, the cruelty of man towards others as well as their foolishness and vanity.
Luciano Berio orchestration (1986-1987)
Luciano Berio orchestrated 5 of the Lieder aus der Jugendzeit during the Dobiacco ‘Mahler’ weeks in 1986, then 6 other lieder for the Arturo Toscanini orchestra in Parma in 1987. While these Lieder’s arrangements may be commissioned works, they do not make any lesser reference to Bério’s interest in Mahler’s music, as evidenced by the third movement of his 1968 Sinfonia, which represents a collage of Mahler’s Second Symphony.
Bério described his work as an orchestrator in the following way: “Through my work, I wanted to highlight the pluralism and diversity of these Mahler seeds. Sometimes it is the Wagnerian face of Walkyrie (Scheiden und Meiden) or the spirit of the Wesendonck Lieder (Erinnerung) which appears, sometimes it is a more mature Mahler (Nicht wiedersehen), at other times a Mahler of the future (Phantasie aus “Don Juan”) or even the unlikely (Frühlingsmorgen). My intention was to lovingly and respectfully make orchestration an instrument for investigation and transformation. “
Mahler wrote the poem for this first Lied himself, and it is dated 19th February 1880. It is without doubt a secret message to Josephine who was in Iglau and who, at the request of her parents, had stopped writing to her lover. The style and content of the poem, the contrast between the beauty of nature and the poet’s grief are typically romantic. We find them in the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which Mahler wrote four years later in roughly similar circumstances..