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





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It is worth noting that the reference to Kronen is anachronistic: the currency in the late 1860s was the Gulden.



Die Türken




Die Türken




  ?Voice and Piano








Printed Editions






Our knowledge of this work stems entirely from Natalie Bauer-Lechner's records of her conversations with Mahler in the summer of 1896. The passage in question was not included in the original edition of her book (NBL) and was first published only in 1984 (NBL2, 69).¹ Having reported Mahler's description of how he came to write down a composition for the first time – the Polka with a Funeral March as Introduction –  Natalie recounts Mahler's memory of the second such work:

„Als zweites trug mir mein Vater auf, ein Lied in Musik zu setzen. Es wurden auch wieder ein paar Kronen als Lohn ausgesetzt, denn um so gemeinen Sold verrichtete ich meine vielen künstlerischen Taten. Ich verfiel auf ein seltenes Lessingsches Gedicht, das ungefähr so lautet:

Die Türken haben schöne Töchter,
die hüten strenge Keuschheitswächter;
ein Türke darf viel Mädchen freien.
Ich möchte wohl ein Türke sein.


Der Liebe ganz ergeben,
der Liebe nur zu leben.
Doch: Türken trinken keinen Wein, –
Nein, nein ich will kein Türke sein!

„Da hast Du eine schöne Wahl als kleines Bürscherl getroffen", sagte ich lachend, „die paßt ja auf Dich – der heut' kaum je Wein trinkt und so ein Asket in Bezug auf die Weiblein ist – wie die Faust aufs Auge!"
„Weiß Gott, wie ich darauf geraten bin, und was ich mir dabei gedacht haben mag. Wahrscheinlich nahm ich es, weil es kurz war. Ja, und dann schien es mir schrecklich poetisch, der Liebe nur zu leben!'

'For a second my father commissioned me to set a poem to music. Again there were a few Kronen set aside in payment, for it was for such base profit that I carried out my many artistic activities. I chose a rare poem by Lessing, which went something like:

The Turks have beautiful daughters

And closely guard their chastity,

A Turk may marry many maidens.

I would really like to be a Turk.


To yield completely to love,

To live only for love

But! Turks drink no wine –

No, no, I don't want to be a Turk!'

'For a small lad you had hit upon a wonderful choice,' I said, laughing, 'which is entirely out of keeping for you – who today hardly drinks any wine and is such an ascetic in relation to women!'

'God only knows how I came up with that, or I might have been thinking about. I probably chose it because it was short. Yes, and then it seemed to me awfully poetic to live only for love!'

Mahler's recall of the poem after about thirty years was impressive, but not quite accurate as  comparison with the original reveals:

Die Türken haben schöne Töchter,
Und diese scharfe Keuschheitswächter;
Wer will kann mehr als eine frein:
Ich möchte schon ein Türke sein.

Wie wollt ich mich der Lieb ergeben!
Wie wollt ich liebend ruhig leben,
Und – – doch sie trinken keinen Wein;
Nein, nein, ich mag kein Türke sein.

The Turks have beautiful daughters

And fiercely protect their chastity;

Whoever wishes can marry for than one:

I would certainly like to be a Turk.


How I wish to yield to love!

How I wish to live peacefully in love,

And – but they don't drink wine;

No, no, I'll be no Turk.

As Jens Malte Fischer points out (JMFGM, 28), Mahler's sixth line is notable, because neither Mahler nor Bauer-Lechner commented on the fact that it is a quotation from Act II sc 2 of Tristan und Isolde:

So stürben wir,
um ungetrennt,
ewig einig,
ohne End',

ohn' Erwache,
ohn' Erbangen,
in Lieb' umfangen,
ganz uns selbst gegeben
der Liebe nur zu leben.!

Thus we might die,

that together,

ever one,

without end,

never waking,

never fearing,


enveloped in love,

given up to each other

to live only for love!

Bauer-Lechner's comment on Mahler's attitude to women was not entirely true, except as a reflection of his only intermittent sexual interest in her, but she was correct about his relatively abstemious consumption of alcohol. This trait probably stemmed from his father's influence: Bernhard Mahler, though a tavern-keeper and distiller in Iglau (Jihlava), would not allow alcohol in the household (HLG1, 11). Nevertheless, in his last vocal work, Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler composed two drinking songs celebrating the benefits and pleasures of intoxication.

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  NBL2, 69; HLG1, 19 (this is a summary of Natalie Bauer-Lechner's account); HLG1a, 39
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