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Gustav MahlerBlumine/ Verlorne Müh'!/ Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?/ Das irdische Leben/ Rheinlegendchen/ Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen/ Symphony no. 4 Conductor Daniel Harding/ Soprano Mojca Erdmann
Mahler’s oeuvre consists mostly of songs and symphonies. He mixes the genres freely: the first three symphonies contain elements of songs he had already composed, reworked for instruments. One of his most significant sources was the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn), edited by Clemens von Brentano and Achim von Arnim and published in 1805. For Mahler, these texts counted among the most important literary works—he set about 25 of them. He used them freely, changing words and structure according to his expressive needs; he retained, however, their thematic variety and their irony, and emphasized religious, transcendental, and unearthly elements.
Mahler completed his Fourth Symphony in his first summer in Malernigger, 1900; the work was premiered a year later in Munich. Mahler broke new ground as a writer of symphonies—he saw the genre as universal, able to express everything, as long as universality was intended. He was no longer interested in the musical treatment of pure moods, but rather in the small steps from one emotion to the next, in conflicts, and in “the poetic idea, its object and its humour.” The first four symphonies were based on artistic programmes, which were also published in order to increase listener comprehension.
Mahler reduced the musical material in the Fourth Symphony, in contrast to the Third Symphony: the four movements are related to each other, and all lead towards the finale, based on the Wunderhorn song Vom himmlischen Leben. A very individual, subtle, and ambiguous humour runs through the symphony, which Mahler describes thusly: “It is the cheer of a higher world, a world foreign to us, which also has something gruesome for us. In the last movement, the child, who has already had an inkling of what this higher world could be, explains how everything is meant.” A symphonica humoristica, in whose second movement Death plays and in whose finale the angels describe a heavenly battlefield.
Mahler’s sense of humour has many ties to Jean Paul, one of his favourite poets, and also has much in common with the “black Romantics” like E.T.A. Hoffmann, who showed the permeability between the beautiful and the terrible and the panicked fear on the other side of idyll and cheer.