Gustav Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Program Note

Gustav Mahler wrote the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) in late 1884 and early 1885 when he was 24 years old and working as assistant conductor in Kassel, Germany. Mahler was smitten at the time with Johanna Richter, a singer who was his piano pupil. His infatuation did not lead to a happy ending. On January 1, 1884, the composer reported his breakup in a letter to a friend:

“Last night I sat alone with her and we were both almost wordless awaiting the New Year. Her thoughts were not with her companion, and when the clock struck, and the tears poured from her eyes, the terrible realization came over me that it was not for me to dry those tears. . .My accomplishments: I have written a song cycle, six songs for the time being, all of which are dedicated to her. She does not know them. What else can they tell her beside what she already knows? . . .The songs are conceived as if a wayfaring craftsman has suffered a heavy fate and now goes out into the world and wanders aimlessly.”