Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (‘Songs of a Wayfarer’) is a song cycle by Gustav Mahler on his own texts. The cycle of four Lieder for low voice (often performed by women as well as men) was written around 1884-1885 in the wake of Mahler’s unhappy love for soprano Johanna Richter (1858-1943), whom he met while conductor of the opera house in Kassel, Germany, and orchestrated and revised in the 1890s.
The work’s compositional history is complex and difficult to trace. Mahler appears to have begun composing the songs in December 1884 and to have completed them in 1885. He subjected the score to a great deal of revision, however, probably between 1881 and 1886, and some time in the early 1890s orchestrated the original piano accompaniments. As a result of this situation, various discrepancies exist between the different sources.
Introduction Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, piano score title page. [Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Lieder und Gesänge.] “Geschichte von einem / “fahrenden Gesellen” / in 4 Gesängen / für eine tiefe Stimme mit des Begleitung des Orchesters / von / Gustav Mahler / Clavierauszug zu 2 Händen.” “Aus »des Knaben Wunderhorn« / Lieder von / Gustav Mahler.” “5 Gedichte / componirt / von / Gustav Mahler.”  pp. Bound volume with fair copies of all of Mahler’s early lieder prepared by the composer for his sister, Justine. Contains all of the songs included in the 1892 Lieder und Gesänge volumes, as well as the Lieder eines fahrendes Gesellen. Four of the Wunderhorn songs (Starke Einbildungskraft; Aus! Aus!; Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz; Serenade) are found in unpublished keys, as are the middle two songs of the Gesellen cycle.
It appears to have been in the orchestral version that the cycle was first performed on 16 March 1896 by the Dutch baritone Anton Sistermans with the Berlin Philharmonic and Mahler conducting, but possible indications of an earlier voice-and-piano performance cannot be discounted. The work was published in 1897 and is one of Mahler’s best-known compositions.
The lyrics are by the composer himself, though they are influenced by Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of German folk poetry that was one of Mahler’s favorite books, and the first song is actually based on the Wunderhorn poem “Wann mein Schatz”.
There are strong connections between this work and Mahler’s First Symphony, with the main theme of the second song being the main theme of the 1st Movement and the final verse of the 4th song reappearing in the 3rd Movement as a contemplative interruption of the funeral march.
Introduction Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, score for high voice and piano.
Although Songs of a Wayfarer is the title by which the cycle is generally known in English, Fritz Spiegl has observed that German “Geselle” actually means “journeyman”, i.e., one who has completed an apprenticeship with a master in a trade or craft, but is not yet a master himself; journeymen in German-speaking countries traditionally traveled from town to town to gain experience with various masters.
A more accurate translation, therefore, would be Songs of a Travelling Journeyman. The title hints at an autobiographical aspect of the work; as a young, newly qualified conductor (and budding composer), Mahler was himself at this time in a stage somewhere between ‘apprentice’ and recognized ‘master’ and had been moving from town to town (Bad Hall, Laibach, Olmütz, Vienna, Kassel). All the while, he was honing his skills and learning from masters in his field.