No 1: Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgehn
No 2: Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen
No 3: Wenn dein Mütterlein
No 4: Oft denk' ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen
No 5: In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus
Although the first three songs of Kindertotenlieder were composed in the same summer of 1901, with the last two following in 1904, their overall structure is unified by their key sequence. Thus the bleak D minor of the first song (only partially warmed into the major by the rising sun) returns in the storm – surely as much symbolic as real – of the finale, a storm that resolves into the D major of the final section. In the three intervening songs, Mahler underlines the shifting emotional field of the poems as they seek for understanding and consolation. Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen, in deciphering the message of the children’s eyes, is full of lingering appoggiaturas (‘O Augen!’) and poignant changes of key. Wenn dein Mütterlein suggests a funeral march with Bachian overtones, but on an intimate scale that befits the domestic moment it recalls. Both these songs are in C minor. The E flat major of Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen by contrast has an open-air feel to it, with a lilting melody in sixths and warmer harmonies – the sidestep to G flat major on ‘Bald werden sie wieder nach Hause gelangen!’ is especially touching.
The final song, In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus, returns to D minor in a surging, raging tempest that is a challenge to an orchestra, never mind a pianist; significantly, the moment at which it blows itself out is signalled by the return of two little notes high above the stave, which had last been heard at the end of the first song. There follows a sublime apotheosis which, having first woven a celestial lullaby for the children, returns to earth in a long, consoling postlude for those left behind.
Sentimental tradition often ascribes the composition of Kindertotenlieder to a premonition on Mahler’s part of the tragic death of his own daughter in 1907. But he was already well acquainted with infant mortality, no fewer than eight of his siblings having died in childhood. And in his settings these poems, with their striking images of light and darkness, of regret and hope, of grief and consolation, found their perfect musical expression.
from notes by Roger Vignoles © 2004