CHAPTER X
SONGS OF THE WAYFARER' AND SYMPHONY I

IN 1897 Mahler confessed to the friendly critic Arthur Seidl: '. . . Only when I experience do I act as a tone-poet--only when I act as a tone-poet do I undergo an experience. . . .' His first song-cycle and his first symphonic essay, closely interdependent as they are, confirm this self-appraisal. Both works vividly reflect youthful passions and the first collision with the traditional inertia of the 'world of yesterday'; both are autobiographical and programmatic in the sense of the above quotation; both create a new musical idiom out of the elements of discarded romantic conventions; both are inspired by a new conception of folky tunefulness. Each work is unique in that nothing of the kind was being composed by anybody between 1883 and 1888, dates which indicate the beginning of work on the cycle and the completion of the Symphony. The songs were composed between December 1883 and 1st January 1885, while Mahler was opera conductor at Cassel. They're-echo the unhappy love-affair with the actress Johanne Richter, as may be guessed from Mahler's words to his friend Löhr:

I have written a cycle of songs, six for the present, all of which are dedicated to her . . . the songs are conceived to suggest a wayfarer who has met with adversity, setting out into the world and wandering on in solitude. . . .

The cycle in the revised version of its first issue of 1897 consists of four songs only.1 The poems were written by Mahler himself, and he later confessed that he had suppressed his authorship for fear of being ridiculed for their somewhat naïve simplicity. Mahler's "'Fahrender Gesell'" is a near relation of Wilhelm Müller melancholy hero in Die Winterreise. In both cases the unhappy lover is being jilted by his sweetheart, whose marriage to another man plunges him

____________________
1
Perhaps the wistful little poem, Vergessene Liebe, of 1880 is a forerunner to the whole cycle (cf. Hans Hollaender, Die Musik, XX/II, 1928).

-178-

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