Bill Henson’s series ‘Kindertotenlieder’ – poignant meditation on longing, loss and sadness inspired by the works and personal tragedies of German poet Friedrich Rückert and Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.
‘Kindertotenlieder’ is a group of 428 poems written by Rückert (1788 – 1866) in 1833–34 in an outpouring of grief after the death of two of his children from scarlet fever. They were not intended for publication and appeared five years after the poet’s death. Their effect was particularly felt by celebrated composer Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) who read them and opted to set five of them to music, for a song cycle composed between 1901 and 1904. Having two young daughters, his wife Alma was against the idea fearing that Mahler was tempting fate. And indeed, three years later, in 1907, their eldest daughter Maria fell ill with scarlet fever and died during the summer holidays at the family’s house in Maiernigg in rural Austria. Devastated family closed up the home and never returned.
The series started in 1976 and 40 years later after multiple visits he made to Austria, it is finally completed and published as a photo book by STANLEY/BARKER in an edition of 150. along with a 12” record of the Mahler song cycle.