At the early age of 15, Gustav Mahler showed enough music proficiency to be accepted to study piano at the Conservatoire in Vienna. During his training, he turned his attention to composition. After being awarded his diploma at the Conservatoire his aim was to gain recognition as a composer, however in order to accomplish his goal he needed to find financial stability, so he secured work as a conductor. A role that quickly became his main occupation, he began conducting at provincial opera houses, later rising to the ranks of conductor and director of the Vienna Court Opera in 1897. This meant that most of his compositional activities were completed during his summer holidays between seasons, what a worker bee!
Despite regularly conducting operas, Mahler only dabbled with composing for this genre. His most notable works as a composer were his songs and his ten symphonies, (unfortunately, the tenth was left unfinished due to his passing). In the summer of 1901, Mahler composed four of the Rückert Lieder, the fifth, ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’, was composed the following year. The five songs were published together and their first performance took place on 29 January in 1905 in a small concert hall belonging to the Viennese Musikverein, the singers were from the Vienna Court Opera where Mahler worked.
Mahler wrote many songs, but it can be said that he wrote only one true love song: ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’, which he gave to his wife Alma Mahler as a wedding gift. It has been said that Mahler placed the manuscript for this love song inside a music score of Die Walküre, to surprise Alma Mahler as she had been listening to a lot of Wagner at the time. However, the gesture needed a few prods of encouragement, Alma recounted:
“l suddenly he said ‘Today I would like to take a look at Die Walküre.’ He opened up the book and the song fell out. I was delighted beyond measure and we played the song at least twenty times that day.”
(MAHLER, G.: Symphonies Nos. 1-10 / Orchestra Song Cycles / Michael Gielen Edition (2017) [CD-ROM]).
|Liebst du um Schönheit |
Liebst du um Schönheit, o nicht mich liebe!
Liebe die Sonne, sie trägt ein goldnes Haar.
Liebst du um Jugend, o nicht mich liebe!
Liebe den Frühling, der jung ist jedes Jahr.
Liebst du um Schätze, o nicht mich liebe!
Liebe die Meerfrau, sie hat viel Perlen klar.
Liebst du um Liebe, o ja, mich liebe!
Liebe mich immer, dich lieb’ ich immerdar.
|If you love for Beauty |
If you love for beauty, oh love not me!
Love the sun; she has golden hair.
If you love for youth, oh love not me!
Love the spring, which is young each year.
If you love for riches, oh love not me!
Love the mermaid, who has many shining pearls.
If you love for love, a yes, love me!
Love me always; I shall love you evermore.
This memory really makes me smile because it feels so human! I am sure that there have been countless times when each of us have tried to predict a loved one’s habitual movements in order to form a surprise only to have to think on our feet quickly or blurt out a ginormous hint to get the ball rolling. Within my family, I am known for being notoriously bad at keeping gifts a secret, it takes all my resolve to not spill the beans, but the surprise on their faces is worth it.