Mahler composed the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (most commonly translated as Songs of a Wayfarer but more literally translated as Songs of a Travelling Journeyman) in 1884-1885. Mahler used the compositional process as a way to deal with depression and letdown, as he did in many points during his life. This particular channeling of negative energy into creative energy was the result of an unrequited affection Mahler had for the singer Johanna Richter. He admired and praised her physical beauty and her musical prowess, but she had no interest for the twenty-four-year-old conductor. Richter's marriage to another man sent Mahler into the dark place that produced this music.
Mahler wrote his own texts for this cycle, though they are heavily influenced by the folk poetry of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, an anthology from which he later drew many song texts. The original plan for the cycle included six songs, though only four made it into the completed version. The cycle was initially written for piano and voice, but was expanded to a full orchestral version several years later.
The Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen are also important in that they started out Mahler's integration of the genres of song and symphony. The first movement of the First Symphony draws much of its thematic material from the second Wayfarer song, "Ging heut' morgen übers Feld," and the third movement of the same piece quotes the fourth song, "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz." This fascination with combining these two genres lasted throughout Mahler's entire compositional career, culminating in his song cycle-symphony Das Lied von der Erde.
After completing my illustrations for Das Lied von der Erde, I realised that I'd enjoyed working on them so much that I'd simply have to illustrate more of Mahler's songs. While that left me with many choices of what to do next, I was most immediately inspired by the imagery of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.
While most of the people and places in this set of illustrations aren't meant to be anyone or anywhere in particular, the Wayfarer himself is based somewhat off a 1881 photo of Mahler himself. At that point in his life, the composer sported a beard that, in my opinion, didn't suit him terribly well. Since the Wayfarer character is a reflection of Mahler's own character, though, I figured I should draw the character with some, but not all, of his traits. Thus, the brown-haired Wayfarer (Mahler's hair was black) who doesn't look awful with a beard.
These illustrations were done on Bristol vellum with Prismacolor markers and Staedler pigment liners. The translations on this site are my own.