“I have been granted a time that was good, and I think it is the most personal thing I have done so far.”

Gustav Mahler in a letter to conductor Bruno Walter, 1908

In a year of crisis, Mahler was grieving the death of his daughter, ousted from his post at the Vienna State Opera, and finally diagnosed with a fatal heart condition which robbed him of his much-loved walks among the woods, lakes, and mountains of the Austrian countryside.

During this period, Mahler sought solace in Chinese poetry of the Tang dynasty era, newly available in translation. The poems he selected from Hans Bethge’s Die chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute) grapple with the brevity of life and certainty of death, often articulated through the motifs of music and nature.