Hidden Treasures

BookHidden Treasures

Hidden Treasures

Cultural, Social and Political Commentary in Mahler’s Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Clemson University Press


January 1st, 2023





Gustav Mahler once said, “With song you can express so much more in the music than the words directly say. The text is actually a mere indication of the… hidden treasure within.” Over fourteen years, from 1887-1901, he devoted his compositional output almost exclusively to texts and ideas drawn from a collection of German folk poetry entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Alte deutsche Lieder, resulting in twenty-four songs which heavily inspired his first four symphonies. This study explores Mahler’s songs based on this poetry and identifies the connections the composer found between these products of Germany’s folk past and his own contemporary environment. The songs he created comment on and engage with Vienna’s musical life, Freudian theory, Mahler’s religious life, his family relationships, his views on women and romance, economic inequality, and wartime violence. As remnants of a folk tradition, the poems contained in Des Knaben Wunderhorn served the purpose of instructing young people on ways of conducting themselves, just as fairy tales do today. Mahler’s adaptation of these stories and his updating of them to serve audiences of his own time demonstrate the universality of the lessons these poems provide, both to audiences of Mahler’s day, and also to our own.

Author Information

Molly M. Breckling is an Assistant Professor of Musicology at Rollins College. Her research interests include Nineteenth-Century Lieder, particularly that of Gustav Mahler, and Music History Pedagogy. Dr. Breckling has presented her research at national meetings of the American Musicological Society, the American Comparative Literature Association, and the German Studies Association and at an International Mahler Centenary Conference held at the University of Surrey in 2010. She has published writings in anthologies on Mahler and ethical approaches to Music History Pedagogy and in journals such as Notes and Ars Lyrica.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Chapter 1: Gustav Mahler's Lieder from Des Knaben Wunderhorn:
of Conception, History, and Genre
Cultural Commentary in Mahler’s Songs from Des
Knaben Wunderhorn
2: "The Misery of a Pioneer": Mahler’s Musical Responses to Critics
and Audiences
3: "Highly complicated activity of the mind": Songs with a Freudian
Social Commentary in Mahler’s Songs from Des
Knaben Wunderhorn
4: “Wrestling with God”: Mahler and religion
5: “A ‘Solid Human Being’ Will Yet Emerge in You”: Mahler Raises His Younger
6: ““Vehement and Consuming Longing, Mixed with Dread and Anxiety” Mahler’s
Thoughts on Love and Romance
THREE: Political Commentary in Mahler’s Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
7: “The Brutal Bourgeoisie”: Mahler and Socioeconomic
Chapter 8:
"A final remnant of a sense of duty": Mahler’s Sentiments on