I'm not precisely sure what made me think to illustrate Das Lied von der Erde. I have loved the piece since I first heard it, and it is one I have studied more extensively. I don't know where it came from, but one day I just sat down and decided to do this and started with the first page of "Der Einsame im Herbst." I'm very glad the idea hit me. It has been a very rewarding project. It has allowed me to go deeper into Mahler's music and its connection to the poetry, to get to know the work in a new way by creating something new from it. While the piece has always made me cry by the end, it has even more emotional impact on me now than before I started this project.
In a sense separate from the music, this project has also been a huge experiment in artistic technique. Each movement uses a different style and set of media, all of which are in some way different from my "usual" style for doodles and comics and such. I feel that this stretching and venturing forward has made me a much better artist even in the span of a few months. For those who are curious: "Trinklied" is prismacolor markers, india ink, and regular pen; "Einsame" is watercolor and involved almost no planning before each page/panel; "Jugend" is colored pencils on tan cardstock (the paper for all of the other movements is plain white bristol); "Schoenheit" is prismacolor markers and gold ink; "Trunkene" is just prismacolor markers; and "Abschied" is watercolor underpainting with details in colored pencil and some transparent vellum glued on top.
All translations on this site are my own.
I started this project in early May of 2005 and completed it in mid October. I barely worked on it during June and the first half of July due to travelling in Europe (though I did work on some sketches for "Von der Schoenheit" while in Toblach!). Therefore, this constitutes roughly four months of work, around the same amount of time it took Mahler to complete the short score for the piece. I am already seriously considering illustrating more of Mahler's lieder.
"Der Abschied" is a full half of the length of Mahler's piece, and illustrating this final movement took by far the most hours on my part. The imagery in the text and the contemplativeness of the music are clearly the closest to Mahler's state of mind and location at the time of composition. Thus, I put special consideration into this movement.
All of the scenery in my take on "Der Abschied" is actual imagery of Toblach. Though Mahler never explicitly said that this movement portrays the landscape there (as he said the Third Symphony is the exact capture of the landscape of Steinbach am Attersee), it is clear to me after visiting Toblach and listening to the piece there that he did intend a connection. Some of the lines from the poem are so precise to the location (for example, Mahler's composing hut/sanctuary is nestled between fir trees) that one has to wonder how it is not specifically intended to be Toblach! Each page of my illustration is therefore accurate to specific views in Toblach. I based this around contemporary photos (many of which are my own), period photos, and concrete memories of what it was like to be there and wander down the paths Mahler took every day.
Naturally, the solid figure in this chapter is Mahler himself. His gray walking suit has been described by several sources, and he did walk with a cane as one of his legs was weaker than the other. Mahler was very short (5'3"), and I made a point to draw him proportionally compared to the height of the composing hut. On page 9, the notes on the page of music lying next to Mahler in the grass are the actual notes of the instrumental interlude that page represents.
I took a little liberty with the text to include the three spectral figures in the chapter. I consider this is totally within artistic liberty, since Mahler was notorious for changing texts to his own devices. The original mentions only one friend coming to say farewell, but I figured that if Mahler were awaiting contact with someone from the other side, it would be these three equally. The first is his brother Ernst, one year younger than Gustav. Of all the Mahler siblings, Gustav was closest to Ernst, and was devastated at his death at the age of 13. There exist no photographs of Ernst, so I based his appearance on photos of the other Mahler children and of Gustav at around that age. The second figure is Mahler's mother Marie, whom Mahler described as "gentleness itself," and who died when Gustav was 29, leaving him in charge of his siblings. The final figure is his older daughter Maria, whose death haunted him up until his own.
The cursive text in this chapter is based on Mahler's handwriting. I had to clean it up quite a bit, though, since by the time Das Lied was composed, Mahler's handwriting was practically illegible. The blocky text on the title page for this movement is in the style of the text on Mahler's gravestone.