Composed between 1880 and 1883, these five songs are extremely uneven in style and quality. The first two of them are true Lieder in the style of Schumann and Brahms, one is a Gesang, and the last two are undistinguished strophic settings.
Frühlingsmorgen (Spring Morning), with its flowing pianistic accompaniment and beautifully rocking melody is quite reminiscent of Schumann. The birdcall trills are the one particularly Mahlerian touch in an otherwise derivative song.
Erinnerung is in a more serious and introspective vein, with the chromatic melody moving above the plaintive triplets of the piano. Brahms is the model here rather than Schumann, but certain harmonies and melodic turns are still distinctively Mahler-like. Erinnerung is more deeply expressive and original than Frühlingsmorgen, but does not approach the unique qualities of the next song.
Hans und Grethe was the first of his works Mahler felt worth preserving. This song is a slightly more refined version of Maitanz im Grünen from the Three Lieder for Tenor and Piano, and is actually a Ländler. It is here that Mahler first creates an accompaniment derived from short motives that lend themselves to development. This technique allowed Mahler to use many of his later songs as material for his first four Symphonies, as motives of this type are necessary for symphonic development. In addition, the strong folk song character of Hans und Grethe foreshadows Mahler's later style more so than the previous two songs. As such, this naïve little Gesang takes on great musical significance in Mahler's overall output.
Both the Serenade aus Don Juan and Phantasie aus Don Juan are extremely simple settings of texts from Tirso de Molina's famous play. Perhaps composed as incidental music to the play itself (Mahler spent his first years as a conductor in theaters), these two little settings nevertheless exhibit some of Mahler's distinctive melodic style. The Serenade has the directions "with the accompaniment of wind instruments," further suggesting theatrical use, but no score survives. In the Phantasie, the characteristic use of fourths and fifths in the vocal line anticipates the style of Mahler's later Wunderhorn Lieder.