Yesterday evening I was
alone with her, both of us awaiting the new year’s arrival almost without
exchanging a word. Her thoughts were not bent on the present, and when the bell
chimed and tears gushed from her eyes, it overwhelmed me that I, I might not
dry them. She went into the adjacent room and stood for a while at the window,
and when she returned, still weeping, the nameless grief had risen up between
us like an everlasting partition-wall, and there was nothing I could do but
press her hand and go....I have written a cycle of songs, six of them so far,
all dedicated to her. She does not know them. What can they tell her but what
she knows? The idea of the songs as a whole is that a wayfaring man, who has
been stricken by fate, now sets forth into the world travelling wherever his
road may lead him. ...I have begged her forgiveness for everything, casting my
pride and egoism from me. She is everything that is lovable in this world. I
would shed every drop of my blood for her. But I do know that I must go away...
I shall almost certainly leave her without so much as a word of farewell for a
whole month i haven’t set eyes on her except at rehearsals... Sometimes when I
start up out of my sleep, I simply cannot believe it. Mahler letters
to Fritz Löhr,1885
name was Johanna Richter. She was twenty-two years old when she met Mahler, she
was a dramatic soprano in the Court Theatre at Cassel when Mahler took up the
post of second conductor. Their love affair might just have part of their life
experiences, but the cycle of songs
with both text and music written by the wayfaring conductor-composer-poet has
come down to us as the four (no longer six) songs of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.
clearly stand in succession to the great Lieder tradition of Schubert with
marked echoes of the rejected lover of Winterreise.
The specific parallels are unmistakable – unreal visions of love, suicidal
yearnings, walking rhythms and, of course, that linden tree. As Mahler’s songs
spread the motif of the disillusioned lover across a cyclical mental journey,
they kindle memories of Schubert’s great cycle at every turn – the only
complaint its brevity.