"Songs of the Wayfarer" is a haunting and emotional meditation on the fleeting nature of love and happiness. It's a cycle of four songs, which chart the protagonist's lost love. The songs alter between hope and joy, melancholy, and wild, seering grief. As usual for Mahler, the orchestral colors are subtle and sublime, and the music aches with emotion. It's exquisite music.
Kindertotenlieder translates to "Songs on the Desth of Children." This tragic song cycle is narrated by a grieving father, yet the pain and sorrow of the music is often surprisingly restrained and subtle, which makes it all the more poignant. The text of one song, from a poem by Friedrich Ruckert, begins "I often think they've only gone out! Soon they will be back home again!" In the context of the song, the narrator's wishful thinking reflects his hope of an afterlife and his deep longing for his family. The music is uneasy--it rapidly alternates between major and minor, and the rhythms feel slightly off. The next song in the cycle, which begins "In this weather, in this tumult, I'd never have sent the children out; someone took them, took them out." Here the narrator is bitter and angry, his deluded hopes from the previous song turned dark. The songs reflect different stages of grief and pain, often modulating within a song from tumultuous anger to gentle sorrow. I think the subject matter is particularly painful for parents, and it's a haunting reminder that not so long ago many children didn't survive past the age of five (also, a bit off topic--vaccinate your children! They used to die of all the diseases that we stop today with vaccines!).
I love Mahler's Symphonies, and these gorgeous songs have the same subtle, exquisite orchestration and depth of emotion. I'd recommend them to anyone who enjoys Mahler.