Composed approximately 1880, these three songs are the first complete compositions of Mahler's to have survived. Mahler planned them as part of a cycle of five, the last two of which he never composed, most likely because he became preoccupied with his cantata Das klagende Lied. Mahler himself wrote all three texts addressing the first two to his hometown sweetheart Josephine Poisl.
Im Lenz (Spring) alternates a lively musical idea for the first and third stanzas with a more mysterious passage for the second and fourth that is actually quoted from Mahler's Das klagende Lied. Overall, the song vacillates from key to key and idea to idea too quickly to be musically effective.
Winterlied is better organized, being based on a single unifying motive stated in the piano at the very beginning of the song. In the central part of the song, the sixteenth-note accompaniment of the piano illustrates the spinning wheel mentioned in the text. Once again, Mahler draws upon Das klagende Lied for the song's conclusion.
The final surviving song of the set, Maitanz im Grünen (May Dance on the Green) is an early version of Mahler's first published song Hans und Grethe. This is in more of a Gesang style than a Lied style, that is, more of a folk song than an art song. In spite of that, it is musically far more original and important than the preceding two songs. Underneath the naïve-sounding surface, Mahler created here a unique musical style. Although he derived it from folk singing this new sound is utterly original and was to become a hallmark of Mahler's mature style.