Text and music
The original Kindertotenlieder were a group of 428 poems written by Rückert in 1833–34 in an outpouring of grief following the illness (scarlet fever) and death of two of his children. Karen Painter describes the poems thus: "Rückert's 428 poems on the death of children became singular, almost manic documents of the psychological endeavor to cope with such loss. In ever new variations Rückert's poems attempt a poetic resuscitation of the children that is punctuated by anguished outbursts. But above all the poems show a quiet acquiescence to fate and to a peaceful world of solace." These poems were not intended for publication, and they appeared in print only in 1871, five years after the poet's death.
Mahler selected five of Rückert's poems to set as Lieder, which he composed between 1901 and 1904. The songs are written in Mahler's late-romantic idiom, and like the texts reflect a mixture of feelings: anguish, fantasy resuscitation of the children, resignation. The final song ends in a major key and a mood of transcendence.
The cello melody in the postlude to "In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus" (mm. 129–133) alludes to the first subject of the finale of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 (1895/96), a movement titled "What love tells me" ("Was mir die Liebe erzählt"). "Musically, then, this is the last word of the Kindertotenlieder: that death is powerful, yet love is even stronger."
Composition and premiere
Hefling indicates that Mahler composed the first, third, and fourth songs in 1901 (he played them for his friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner on 10 August). There followed a long break, and the remaining songs were composed in the summer of 1904.
The work was premiered in Vienna on 29 January 1905. Friedrich Weidemann, a leading baritone at the Vienna Court Opera, was the soloist, and the composer conducted. The hall was selected as a relatively small one, compatible with the intimacy of the lied genre, and the orchestra was a chamber orchestra consisting of players drawn from the Vienna Philharmonic.
Scoring and performance
The work is scored for a vocal soloist (the notes lie comfortably for a baritone or mezzo-soprano) and an orchestra consisting of piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais (English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, timpani, glockenspiel, tam-tam, celesta, harp, and strings. There are no trumpets. Deployed at chamber-orchestra scale, this instrumentation permitted Mahler to explore a wide variety of timbres within a smaller-scale sound; Tunbridge sees this as a new precedent adopted by later composers; for instance Schoenberg in Pierrot Lunaire.
Concerning the performance of the work, the composer wrote "these five songs are intended as one inseparate unit, and in performing them their continuity should not be interfered with".
The work takes about 25 minutes to perform.
The Kindertotenlieder and Mahler's life history
At the time he wrote the work Mahler was no stranger to the deaths of children. Hefling writes, "Such tragedy was familiar to Mahler, [as] eight of his siblings died during their childhood. Among all of them, the death of his closest younger brother Ernst in 1874 had affected him most deeply, and he confided to [his friend] Natalie [Bauer-Lechner] that "such frightful sorrow he had never again experienced, as great a loss he had nevermore borne."
In 1904, when Mahler resumed the composition of the interrupted work (see above), it was only two weeks after the birth of his own second child, upsetting his wife Alma, who "found it incomprehensible and feared Mahler was tempting Providence."
Alma's fears proved all too prescient, as four years after the work had been completed the Mahlers' daughter Maria, aged four, died of scarlet fever. Mahler wrote to Guido Adler: "I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs any more."
"Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n"
"Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen"
"Wenn dein Mütterlein"
"Oft denk' ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen"
"In diesem Wetter"
"Now the sun wants to rise as brightly"
"Now I see well, why with such dark flames"
"When your mama steps in through the door"
"I often think: they have only just gone out"
"In this weather"
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- Heinrich Rehkemper with orchestra (Berlin, Polydor 78rpm 66693-66695, 1928)
- Kirsten Flagstad, Vienna Philharmonic cond. Adrian Boult (Decca 414624, = London LP OS 25039/LXT 5395)
- Kathleen Ferrier Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, cond. Otto Klemperer (Decca CD 028942599529)
- Kathleen Ferrier, Vienna Philharmonic cond. Bruno Walter (Orig. Columbia 78 rpm LX 8939-8941: Col. 33c 1009: HMV/Angel LP & CD)
- Lorri Lail, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Rolf Kleinert (Saga LP 5106-7)
- Věra Soukupová, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Václav Neumann (Supraphon LP SUA 10498)
- Norman Foster, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra cond. Jascha Horenstein (1955) (VOXBOX CDX2 5509)
- John Shirley-Quirk, with Benjamin Britten (BBC LP Transcription CN 515 01)
- Anne Sofie von Otter, Vienna Philharmonic cond. Pierre Boulez (DGG CD)
- Christa Ludwig, Berlin Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (DGG CD)
- Christa Ludwig, Philharmonia Orchestra cond. André Vandernoot (Col. CX 1671/Angel LP 35776)
- Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Berlin Philharmonic cond. Rudolf Kempe (Electrola E 70004 (WBLP 511)/HMV BLP 1081)
- Jessye Norman, Boston Symphony Orchestra, cond. Seiji Ozawa (Philips 426-251-2)
- Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Karl Böhm (DGG LP 138 879)
- Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, w. Daniel Barenboim (piano) (EMI CDC7676572)
- Hermann Prey, Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam cond. Bernard Haitink (Philips LP)
- Janet Baker, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Leonard Bernstein (Columbia MQ 33532)
- Janet Baker, Hallé Orchestra cond. John Barbirolli (EMI/HMV LP ASD 4409: EMI GROC CD 24356 69962)
- Marilyn Horne, cond Henry Lewis (Decca LP SXL 6446)
- Maureen Forrester, Boston Symphony Orchestra cond. Charles Münch (RCA Victor LP)
- Brigitte Fassbaender, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin cond. Riccardo Chailly (Decca CD 425 790-2)
- Thomas Hampson, Wiener Philharmoniker cond. Leonard Bernstein (DGG CD 28943 16822)
- Thomas Hampson, w. Wolfram Rieger (piano) (EMI CLassics 24355 64432)
- Bryn Terfel, Philharmonia Orchestra of London cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli (DGG CD)
- Occasionally translated as Songs on the Death of Infants
- Painter (2002, 174)
- Andreas Dorschel, "Trost für die Untröstlichen. Mahlers Kindertotenlieder und Bergs Violinkonzert", in: Musikfreunde 25 (2012/13), no. 5, pp. 34–37.
- Tunbridge (2010:77)
- This instruction is reproduced on page 3 of the piano score (IMC, New York, c.1952).
- Hefling (2009:218)
- Hefling (2009:318-319) Hefling also discusses the possibility that the timing of Mahler's resumption of work was not accidental: "Birth and death had been closely paired for Mahler since his infancy."
- Reik, Theodor (1953). The Haunting Melody: Psychoanalytic Experiences in Life and Music. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young. p. 315. ISBN 978-0-306-76138-6.
- Hefling, Stephen (2009) "Gustav Mahler: Romantic culmination," in Rufus Hallmark (ed.), German Lieder in the Nineteenth Century. Routledge. Excerpts on line at .
- Nussbaum, Martha (2003) Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-53182-9.
- Painter, Karen (2002) Mahler and his World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09244-3.
- Tunbridge, Laura (2010) The song cycle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kindertotenlieder.|
- Kindertotenlieder (MIDI)
- Complete collection of Rückert's Kindertotenlieder (in German)
- A discussion of the songs by Mitch Friedfeld
- A discussion of the songs by Derek Lim
- The German lyrics as translated by Emily Ezust; from Ezust's Lied and Art Song Texts Page
- A side by side layout of German & English text, using Emily Ezust's translation
- Score at William and Gayle Cook Music Library, Indiana University School of Music
- Kindertotenlieder: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project