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Kindertotenlieder : Work information

Gustav Mahler ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
José van Dam (Baritone), Orchestre National de Lille, Jean-Claude Casadesus (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Work number
1904-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Ivan Pastor
Jean-Martial Golaz
Recording date
1986-01-01 00:00:00

The Composers

Gustav Mahler

Known more during his lifetime for his conducting than for his composition, Austrian composer Gustav Mahler once referred to himself as a thrice-homeless man: a Bohemian among Austrians, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew among the people of the whole world. As the bridge between the Austro-Germanic traditions and early modernism, though, he can be regarded as one of the most important figures in Western art music of the 20th century.

Born in Kalsicht, Bohemia on 7 May 1860, Mahler's early years were spent in the German-speaking Jewish community of Iglau. Celebrated as a local wunderkind, he was accepted into the Vienna Conservatory as a pianist in 1875. However, he soon turned to composition as his primary focus for study, developing an early enthusiasm for Wagner and Bruckner.

In his final student years, Mahler began the activity that would dominate the rest of his career and provide his income, conducting. His early conducting posts included spells at Kassel, Prague, and Lepzig, as a colleague of Artur Nikish.

Resigning from Leipzig, Mahler next took up a position at the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest. His life here was stressful, mostly as a result of the nationalist tensions generated by Germanophile Magyars, and composition therefore became difficult.

A significant move to the nationalist right made Mahler's position as a representative of Austro-Germanic art untenable and in March 1891 he left Budapest to become chief conductor of the Hamburg Stadttheater. Here he raised standards to new heights, though his insensitive handling of people led to a number of arguments; on one occasion Mahler had to be escorted home by the police to protect him from an angry mob led by a snubbed flautist.

In 1893 Mahler established a pattern of returning to Austria in the summer to compose while maintaing his conducting duties throughout the rest of the year. In 1894, he succeeded Hans von Bülow as director of the Hamburg subscription concerts, a task that seemed to offer him more flexibility as a conductor than his opera position.

By 8 September 1897 he had risen to the top of his profession as director of the Vienna Hofoper, though he had to convert to Roman Catholicism to be considered for the post. A decade of memorable opera productions followed, marred only by Mahler's irascible relationship with his performers. He also conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in a series of subscription concerts until the work-load became impossibly heavy.

In November 1901, having spent the summer at a new villa on the Wörthensee, Mahler met Alma Schindler, a composition student 20 years his junior. After a brief courtship, they were married in March 1902 on the condition that Alma renounce her own compositional ambitions, a sacrifice that soon led to marital disharmony.

By now, Mahler was devoting less time to his official duties, and in 1907, after the death of his daughter, Maria, he took up a position with the New York Metropolitan Opera. Returning to Europe each summer, Mahler spent his seasons in New York from 1909 with the New York Philharmonic, conducting eclectic programmes of modern works.

However, tensions soon developed with the orchestra and in February 1911 Mahler, already suffering from a heart defect, was diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis. He returned to Vienna where he died on 18 May.

Mahler's work, banned by the Nazis in the 1930s, was largely forgotten until 1960, his centenary year. His symphonies became some of the most popular concert works of the 1970s and, along with his songs, have become firmly established in the repertoire.

Related composers: WagnerBrucknerWeber

Track listing

  • Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n 5:55 min
  • Nun seh' ich wohl warum so dunkle Flammen 5:02 min
  • Wenn dein Mütterlein 4:55 min
  • Oft denk' ich sie sind nur ausgegangen 3:03 min
  • In diesem Wetter in diesem Braus 6:15 min


The orchestral song-cycle Kindertotenlieder (Songs for Dead Children) is one of Mahler's most heartfelt creations. Achingly beautiful, it tragically anticipates Mahler's own grief at the loss of his daughter, later referred to in the composer's letter to his friend 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."

3 of the Kindertotenlieder were written in the prolific summer of 1901, before Mahler met his wife, Alma. The remaining three of the cycle were composed in 1904, after Mahler had become a father. The first performance took place in Vienna on 29 January 1905.

The work is intropsective and psychological in character, and the orchestra used is correspondingly small. A piano version exists but the songs are wonderfully orchestrated and are best heard in the orchestral version. The texts are drawn from Rückert's collection of some 425 Kindertotenlieder.

As with many of Mahler's works, there are references and links to other compositions of the time. The second song, Nun seh' ich wohl, for example, is remarkably similar in tone to the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony.

The final song, In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus, ends with a tender lullaby and brings some spiritual relief from the turbulent storm of emotions.