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Mahler’s early songs are influenced by the Wunderhorn theme to which he returned in his first symphonies (I–IV). Mahler borrows, as it were, from his other works in his early symphonic oeuvre, with further processing of musical material in a symphonic setting.
It should be emphasised that Mahler’s musical language and compositional substance became apparent in many different characteristics at a very early stage – already in the late 1880s and early 1890s. I consider most of the early songs, therefore, to be paradigmatic of his entire compositional oeuvre. As Mahler wrote many song orchestrations himself, adding instrumentation was a major challenge and could only be tackled in a procedure of compositional recreation.
For this transcription I attempted in a kind of reverse process to incorporate musical themes, compositional techniques, instrumentation quotations and allusions from the symphonic Wunderhorn world into the song orchestration and thus ‘interpret’ them in further composition.
Elements of the Wunderhorn theme from Symphonies I–IV were marked in this score as “Episode I, II, III, IV (for the symphonies); 1, 2, 3 ... (for the movements)”. The term “lontano” or “da lontano” frequently used by Mahler himself may serve as a metaphor for the technique employed in order to create a connection between subsequent/later musical developments and the early works. The title Seven Early Songs alludes to Berg’s song collection of the same name, which was composed at the same time as Mahler’s Wunderhorn material in his symphonies.