The MGM logo: a hand-drawn cartoon of Mahler at the podium, glaring at the audience

Main heading: The Music of Gustav Mahler: A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Sources [rule] Paul Banks





Instrumental Works


Vocal Works


Unfinished Works


Lost and Spurious Works






Mahler's Publishers


Supplementary Essays




Using the Catalogue


Conventions & Abbreviations




Index of Works


Site Map













See also HLG1, 178–80 and 715–6.



It was originally planned that Mahler's last performance of Die drei Pintos would be on 29 August (see Prager Tagblatt, 28 August 1888, 5), but at short notice he took over from Stransky for the performance on 31 August (see Prager Tagblatt, 31 August 1888, 5).



Nevertheless, Marschalk does not identify the opera in question, and it it was probably Rübezahl (the libretto for which Mahler sent to Marschalk in 1896) or (less likely) Die Argonauten.










Opera Project (1888)














See notes below


Printed Editions







In conversation with Natalie Bauer-Lechner in the summer of 1901 Mahler recalled plans for an opera in the late 1880s (NBL2, 190; NBLE, 170–1):

Mahler erzählte mir, daß er in Leipzig nach Vollendung der „Pintos‟ mit Weber, auf Wunsch und Anregung von dessen Frau, eine schreiben wollte, wozu er also Text Weber folgenden Gegenstand vorschlug und Punkt für Punkt entwarf: Ein Soldat wird auf dem Wege zum Galgen durch ein Mädchen, dessen tiefste Teilnahme er erregt, nach mittelalterlicher Sitte der Strafe frei, indem sie ihn vor Volk und Richtern zum Manne begehrt. Der Trauerzug löst sich in einen Jubelzug auf und jauchzend wandert man heim. Aber der trotzige junge Bursch kan die Schmach nicht verwinden, daß er dem Erbarmen des Mädchens, für das sich auch seine Liebe tief zu regen beginnt, sein Leben verdankt, und das steigert sich zu einem so unerträglichen Konflikt in ihm, daß er das Geschenk der Freiheit und ihre Hand züruckweist und erklärt, liebe sterben wollen. Die Lösung hätte der letzte Akt bringen sollen dur das heiße Flehen und Liebesgeständnis des Mädchens.

Mahler told me that in Leipzig, after finishing Pintos with Weber, and at the request and urging of the latter's wife, he had wanted to write an opera of his own. He therefore suggested the following subject to Weber, outlining it in detail. A soldier on his way to the gallows is – according to medieval custom – spared the death penalty when a girl, whose deepest sympathy he inspires, claims him as a husband before the people and the judges. The funeral cortege turns into a jubilant procession and everyone returns home happy. But the stubborn young fellow cannot bear the shame of owing his life to the pity of a girl whom he, in turn, is beginning to love. His inner conflict becomes so intolerable that he rejects her gift of freedom and marriage, declaring he would rather die. The last act was supposed to bring about the resolution of the matter with the girl's ardent pleading and confession of love.

Nun war aber diese Vorgang von Weber sogleich verändert worden: er mengte eine frühere Liebe und Geliebte des Burschen ein, wodurch Mahlers Absicht ganz gestört wurde, so daß er die Sache alsbald aufgab.

Weber, however, had immediately altered this simple story. He introduced an earlier love and sweetheart of the young man which completely destroyed Mahler's conception, so that he soon afterwards gave up the plan.

„Der Schildwache Nachtlied‟ blieb als erster Versuch davon übrig, dem Mahler wieder sein Bekanntschaft mit „Des Knaben Wunderhorn‟ verdankte, die für ihn so bedeutsam wurde.

Der Schildwache Nachtlied remains as the best draft from it, to which Mahler owed his renewed acquaintance with Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which was to become so significant for him.

The whole plot, as remembered by Mahler, with its tragic soldier and selfless maid, is redolent of the imagined medievalism of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and in its funeral-turned-wedding march would have offered the opportunity for a characteristically Mahlerian musical juxtaposition. But Mahler's swift response to Max von Weber's proposed addition shows how serious the underlying theme – of the transformation and redemption of a man through the love of a woman – was to him.

Another anecdote about what may be the same project, was retold by Max Marschalk in 1896, probably on the basis of information provided by the composer (MMGM):¹

Mahlers unruhiger Geist duldete ihn nicht lange in Leipzig. Eines Tages erwachte der Wandertrieb in ihm, wiederum ohne ein anderes Engagement zu haben, ging er zum Director und bat um seine Entlassung, die ihm auch gewährt wurde. Er wollte nach München, um dort eine schon längst begonnene Oper, deren Text von ihm selbst herrührte, zu vollenden.

Mahler's restless spirit did not permit him to stay long in Leipzig. One day the wandering spirit awoke in him and, although without any other engagement, he went to the Director and asked for his release, which was granted. He wanted to go to Munich to complete there an opera begun some time before, based on a libretto of his own.

After a dispute with Albert Goldberg, an Oberregisseur (one of two) at the Leipzig Stadttheater, Mahler had offered his resignation, and it was accepted on 17 May (CBMiL, 299ff.). Apart from a brief spell during August 1888 when he was rehearsing and conducting Die drei Pintos and rehearsing Der Barbier von Bagdad in Prague,² Mahler was unemployed until he was approached to take over the running of the Royal Opera in Budapest in late September (ZRGMH, 22ff.). During this professionally unsettled time, Mahler twice visited Munich, in June or July, so Marschalk's report is not entirely implausible.³ However, one detail in the anecdote as reported by Bauer-Lechner is apparently contradicted by surviving documents. Mahler's letters to Justine (e.g. GMLJ, 216; GMLJE, 153) clearly indicate that it was in January 1892 that he 'rediscovered' Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the earliest dated manuscript of Der Schildwache Nachtlied  is a piano-vocal draft dated 28 January 1892. Moreover, neither this autograph, nor, more importantly, the earlier incomplete sketch of the song have any indications (character names, stage directions) of an operatic origin. As Renate Stark-Voit suggests, the reference to this song in the anecdote appears to be either the result of a misunderstanding, or a reference to a different sketch of a setting of a similar or related text (SWXIII/2b, 133); possibly, one might conjecture, Zu Straßburg auf der Schanz', for which an incomplete autograph orchestral score survives.

Select Bibliography
  NBL2, 190; NBLE, 170–71; 224–25; HLG1, 715–6; HLG1a, 332, 480; HLG1F, 927; DM2, 259–60; SWXIII/2b, 133–37.
Level A conformance icon, 
          W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 Creative Commons Licence

ORCID logo and link to author's page © 2007-21 Paul Banks  |  This page was lasted edited on 20 August 2022