Thomas Hampson's Hand-Picked Mahler To mark the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth, baritone Thomas Hampson hand-picks his favorite recordings and reflects on a career performing the vocal music of Gustav Mahler.

Thomas Hampson's Hand-Picked Mahler

Baritone Thomas Hampson has spent a substantial portion of his career singing the music of Gustav Mahler. Marco Borggreve hide caption

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Marco Borggreve

Baritone Thomas Hampson has spent a substantial portion of his career singing the music of Gustav Mahler.

Marco Borggreve

Since I heard my first notes of Gustav Mahler's music when I was barely 20 — on a tape-deck in my car — I have sung, studied, researched and recorded his music. Mahler has had a profound impact on me personally, and as an artist. His music is a touchstone for my life. Mahler, whose 150th birthday is celebrated on July 7, 2010, told us that all of life should be able to be heard in a symphony. True to this all-inclusive spirit, his music encompasses all of the tragedy and trivia of life, as well as its countless beauties.

Thomas Hampson's Hand-Picked Mahler

Cover for Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer; Symphony No. 1

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, song cycle for voice & piano (or orchestra) [Ging heut' morgen übers Feld]

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'Ging heut' morgen ubers feld' (from Songs of a Wayfarer)

  • Song: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, song cycle for voice & piano (or orchestra) [Ging heut' morgen übers Feld]
  • from Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer; Symphony No. 1
  • by Klaus Tennstedt

AS I WALKED THIS MORNING THROUGH THE FIELD: This earliest "song cycle” by Mahler is the first of his vocal works that I sang. I've been privileged to sing these songs for my entire career, with some of the most important conductors and pianists of our time. It is the quintessential, recognizable set of songs by Mahler, and with its unabashed youthful joy in nature, and unashamed sentiment of love lost, it is always a joy always to sing. This second song, in the hands of Mahler, is the pure sound of nature.

Cover for Mahler: Kindertotenlieder

Rückert Lieder, song collection for voice & piano (or orchestra) [No. 2, "Liebst du um Schonheit": "Liebst du um Schonheit, o nicht mich liebe!"]

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'Liebst du Schoenheit' (from Ruckert Lieder)

  • Song: Rückert Lieder, song collection for voice & piano (or orchestra) [No. 2, "Liebst du um Schonheit": "Liebst du um Schonheit, o nicht mich liebe!"]
  • from Mahler: Kindertotenlieder
  • by Thomas Hampson

IF YOU LOVE FOR BEAUTY: This is without question one of my favorite songs by Mahler. It's not entirely certain that he meant it to be published, as he wrote it for his wife Alma, and hid it for her as a surprise in a score that she had been studying. It is a song that affirms love as the only permanent refuge in life. Its luscious melody and turns of phrase fill me with wonder.

Cover for Mahler: Symphonie No. 6; Kindertotenlieder

Kindertotenlieder, song cycle for voice & piano (or orchestra) [Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flamme]

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'Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle flammen (from Kindertotenlieder)

  • Song: Kindertotenlieder, song cycle for voice & piano (or orchestra) [Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flamme]
  • from Mahler: Symphonie No. 6; Kindertotenlieder
  • by Thomas Hampson

NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY YOU FLASHED SUCH DARK FLAMES AT ME: Kindertotenlieder, Mahler’s only real vocal cycle, is an intensely personal journey from grief to redemption -- a kind of Whitmanesque requiem. It's not so much a morbid story about the death of children, but more about the spiritual release found in nature. This second song, where the father searches for solace to his grief by imagining his child’s eyes as the stars, is an essential use of the German Romantic idiom.

Cover for Gustav Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Des Knaben Wunderhorn, song cycle (12) for voice & piano (or orchestra) [Lied des Verfolgten im Turm]

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'Lied des Verfolgten im Turm' (from Des Knaben Wunderhorn)

  • Song: Des Knaben Wunderhorn, song cycle (12) for voice & piano (or orchestra) [Lied des Verfolgten im Turm]
  • from Gustav Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn
  • by Thomas Hampson

Song of the Prisoner in the Tower: Des Knaben Wunderhorn is one of my favorite collections of German poetry, introduced to me through Mahler. This song was the reason the collection almost got censored in the early 19th century because of the clarion cry of "My thoughts are free.” It’s a song that inspires any person seeking social justice to continue to fight the good fight. The last sentence of the song is a thrilling statement to make in a recital.

Cover for Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde [Hybrid SACD]

Das Lied von der Erde, for alto (or baritone), tenor & orchestra [Der Einsame im Herbst]

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'Der Einsame im Herbst' (from Das Lied von der Erde)

  • Song: Das Lied von der Erde, for alto (or baritone), tenor & orchestra [Der Einsame im Herbst]
  • from Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde [Hybrid SACD]
  • by Michael Tilson Thomas

THE LONELY MAN IN AUTUMN: In his later years, Mahler found enormous inspiration and synthesis of spirituality in Buddhist literature. This song is not so much about loneliness as it is about complete solitude. When singing this magnificent symphonic kaleidoscope of reflection, I find myself in awe of the quiet core of existence that Mahler captures. If he had never written another piece of music he would be remembered for this overwhelmingly beautiful moment of life captured in musical sound.