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Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
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Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (or Songs of a Wayfarer) is Gustav Mahler's first song cycle. While he had previously written other lieder, they were grouped by source of text or time of composition as opposed to common theme. It was published in 1884 and is one of Mahler's most well-known compositions. The four-movement cycle was most likely inspired by the conclusion of an unhappy relationship. The lyrics are by Mahler himself, though they are heavily influenced by texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of German folk poetry that was one of Mahler's favorite books.

Its original scoring is for full orchestra and baritone, but there is a piano reduction, and the vocal part can be sung by any middle-range voice.

The first movement is entitled "Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" ("When My Sweetheart is Married"), and the text discusses the Wayfarer's grief at losing his love to another. He remarks on the beauty of the surrounding world, but how that can't keep him from having sad dreams. The orchestral texture is bittersweet, using much double-reed and strings.

The second movement, "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld" ("I Went This Morning over the Field"), is the happiest movement of the work. Indeed, it is a song of joy and wonder at the beauty of nature, in simple things like birdsong and dew on the grass. "Is it not a lovely world?" is a refrain. However, the Wayfarer is reminded at the end that despite this beauty, his happiness won't blossom thus anymore now that his love is gone. This movement is orchestrated delicately, making use of high strings and flutes, as well as a fair amount of triangle. The melody of this movement, as well as much of the orchestration, is developed into the A theme of the first movement of the First Symphony.

The third movement is a full display of despair. Entitled "Ich hab' ein glühend Messer" ("I Have a Gleaming Knife"), the Wayfarer likens his agony of lost love to having an actual metal blade piercing his heart. He is definitely obsessing, to the point where everything in the environment reminds him of some aspect of his love, and he wishes he actually had the knife. The music is intense and driving, fitting to the agonized nature of the Wayfarer's obsession.

The final movement is definitely a resolution. The music, also reused in the First Symphony, is subdued and gentle, lyrical and often reminiscent of a chorale in its harmonies. Its title is "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz" ("The Two Blue Eyes of my Beloved"), and it deals with how the image of those eyes has caused the Wayfarer so much grief that he can no longer stand it. He describes laying down under a linden tree and allowing the flowers to fall on him, wishing that the whole affair had never occurred, and that everything was well, "Everything: love and grief, and world, and dreams!"