Mahler’s ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’ – Work No. 99 in our collection

Gustav Mahler (07.07.1860 – 18. 05. 1911) was an Austrian composer and conductor, noted chiefly for his 10 symphonies and various songs with orchestra, including Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. As a composer his work forms an important bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century.

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) is a youthful song cycle that Gustav Mahler based on his own texts. This set of four Lieder for medium voice (often performed by women as well as men) was written around 1884–85 in the wake of Mahler’s unhappy love for soprano Johanna Richter, whom he met while conductor of the opera house in Kassel, Germany. It was not orchestrated (and revised) until the 1890s. There are strong connections between this work and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, with the main theme of the second song being the main theme of the symphonies opening movement whilst the final verse of the fourth song appears as a contemplative interruption of the funeral march in the symphonies third movement.

We have chosen to include a version by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a German lyric baritone, who is widely regarded as one of the finest Lieder (art song) performers of the post-war period. He has recorded the work a number of times but his voice was at its finest in his 1952 performance, recorded when he was just 27. He is accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra directed by the great Wilhelm Furtwängler and the sound, captured in the Kingsway Hall, London, is hugely enjoyable even by today’s standards.

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