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Das irdische Leben is a grim little piece, perhaps providing the negative counterpart to Das himmlische Leben, the song that became the finale of the Fourth Symphony. The music is of a decidedly eerie nature, employing divided strings in a quiet perpetual motion. Some of the string parts play pizzicato figures along with woodwind interjections into the background of the weird perpetual motion. Again, the text is a dialogue, this time between a mother and child. The hungry child repeatedly asks for food, only to be reassured by the parent that it is coming soon. The repeated pleas of "give me bread or else I die!" are set with very widely spaced and dissonant intervals.

Lied 5: Das irdische Leben

Lied 5: Das irdische Leben

The comforting nature of the parent's entreaties to wait is belied by the continuing presence of the eerie perpetual motion in the accompaniment. The child's pleas increase in intensity, and death of course arrives just as the bread has been baked. The figuration of this song is remarkably similar to that of the Purgatorio movement of the Tenth Symphony and the song is almost certainly the source for that aptly named piece. Perhaps "earthly life" is indeed seen by Mahler as purgatory.

 

Das irdische Leben

 

“Mutter, ach Mutter, es hungert mich.

Gib mir Brot, sonst sterbe ich!”

“”Warte nur, warte nur, mein liebes Kind!

Morgen wollen wir ernten geschwind!””

 

Und als das Korn geerntet war,

rief das Kind noch immerdar:

“Mutter, ach Mutter, es hungert mich,

gib mir Brot, sonst sterbe ich!”

“”Warte nur, warte nur, mein liebes Kind!

Morgen wollen wir dreschen geschwind!””

 

Und als das Korn gedroschen war,

rief das Kind noch immerdar:

“”Mutter, ach Mutter, es hungert mich,

gib mir Brot, sonst sterbe ich!”

“”Warte nur, warte nur, mein liebes Kind!

Morgen wollen wir backen geschwind!””

 

Und als das Brot gebacken war,

lag das Kind auf der Totenbahr!