The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein conducting, perform Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (“The Song of the Earth”), a symphony for orchestra and two voices, which belong to Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; and René Kollo, tenor.
The work was completed in 1909, after a period of intense mourning for Mahler, who in the summer of 1907 had three misfortunes befalling him: 1) the loss of his position as Director of the Vienna Court Opera, due to anti-Semitism; the loss of his eldest daughter, Maria, aged five, due to scarlet fever and diphtheria; and the loss of his health, due to having a congenital heart defect.
Yet, he soon found meaning, Peter Gutmann says in a 2007 article posted in Classical Notes:
The vehicle through which Mahler found new meaning in life was a book he had been given at some point following his crash, and that resonated deeply within his troubled soul. Mahler had always been enamored of German folk poetry, and had based most of his songs and several symphonic movements on settings of their texts, especially Das Knaben Wunderhorn (“The Youth's Magic Horn”). The new book was Hans Bethge's Die chinesische Flöte (“The Chinese Flute”). Alma claimed that he obtained it during that dreadful summer of 1907 as a gift from a friend of her father, but scholars have since pointed out that the volume was first published only that October. In any event, the book rekindled his creativity and by the next summer he plunged into a new work based on seven of its poems. Cooke notes that through the poems Mahler began a search for life on the threshold of death. He wrote Walter that he felt transformed, having found consolation in his music: “When I hear music I hear definite answers to all my questions and am wholly clear and sure.” Noted Walter: “As twilight dissolves in the glow of sunset, the gloom his illness had cast upon his spirit passed into the radiance of approaching departure.” Alma recalled that he slaved over his new work that summer without distraction; indeed the dates on the score indicate that the entire work was written within two months, and then orchestrated the following winter.You can view the original Chinese poems, as well as their English translations, Bethge's German translation and Mahler's textural adaptation here.