Gustav Mahler: 10. Symphonie

Gustav Mahler 10. Symphonie
10. Symphonie

Gustav Mahler: 10. Symphonie

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for chamber orchestera
Gustav Mahler
Michelle Castelletti (2012)
1 1 1 1 - 1 1 0 0 - perc, hp, pno, vln, vln, vla, vc, cb
Instrumentation details:
flute (+picc)
clarinet in Bb
horn in F
trumpet in Bb
piano (+harm)
1st violin
2nd violin
double bass
for Angèle
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Work introduction

The re-creation of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony through a new performing edition made in the contemporaneous tradition of the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen as established at the beginning of the 20th century.

‘It should be one‘s sole endeavour to see everything afresh and create it anew.’1 Gustav Mahler

Possibly one of Mahler’s most passionate emotional outbursts and autobiographical creations, Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 is a fascinating journey, not only for performance aspects, but also for musicological and analytical ones, providing a deep psychological pathway into the genius that was Mahler – a mesmerising voyage for the composer, performer and conductor.

The issue of re-orchestration has been a long-discussed debate amongst music scholars and performing musicians. My work relates to, and complements, existing musicological studies, as well as several reconstructions for full orchestra that have been made of Mahler’s last symphony.

Although there are many versions, I focussed my investigation on the following: Derek Cooke (in collaboration with Berthold Goldschmidt, Colin Matthews and David Matthews); Rudolf Barshai; Alexander von Zemlinsky’s completion of movements 1 [&] 3 (with Alban Berg, Ernst Krenek and Franz Schalk); Clinton Carpenter; Remo Mazzetti and Joseph Wheeler.

While the basic material remains intact, there are very significant differences in each of these orchestrations. Deryck Cooke’s version is arguably the most ‘faithful’ one, primarily representing Mahler’s own notes, to make the symphony performable. The edited score also contains a copy of most of Mahler’s annotations and sketches, together with the corresponding short-score in smaller print on every page, where it exists; and thus, I found this version particularly helpful, especially with regard to thematic continuity.

My intention was to re-create this symphony for chamber orchestra, retaining the authenticity found in the Mahler manuscripts, combining it with the fuller orchestral palette achieved by Rudolph Barshai, rather than the thinner textures realised in the Cooke version. This approach allowed for the various contrapuntal and timbral lines and colours to form one coherent structure, imbued within Mahler’s voice. Whether fully orchestrated in specific passages, or a sole melody in others, there is one continuous line throughout the surviving manuscript pages.

The original manuscripts were published in two separate facsimiles (Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1924: 116 pages) and a more complete version in 1967 (160 pages) published by Walter Ricke under the aegis of the International Mahler Society, edited by Erwin Ratz.2 This edition included the Adagio and the Scherzo in full draft score, short score and sketch (with completion of varying degrees), 30 bars of full score of the Purgatorio, together with a short score and sketch; and short scores and sketches for the final two movements. Other pages were published in the 1976 score of the performing version by Deryck Cooke.

Through the collection of various facsimiles and scores of previous symphonies, I became very familiar with Mahler’s calligraphy, modus operandi, level of detail, instruction and intention. I also acquired the extant sketches of his ‘unfinished’ symphony, including the orchestral draft, the preliminary short score, Ricke’s and Zsolnay’s facsimiles of Mahler’s manuscript, a separate, solitary sketch-page, the surviving short score by Mahler, and, thanks to the National Library of Austria in Vienna, all existing Mahler’s sketches (including previously ‘lost’ pages) found at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

This new performing edition for chamber forces is scored for single woodwind (with flute doubling piccolo), horn, trumpet, percussion, harp, piano/harmonium and single strings. The score gives ossia lines for double-bass, for the option of the C-string extension. It also gives the option of ossia lines for the timpani, just in case the 32’ one is not available.

The harmonium of choice is the Mustel 1902 Harmonium, with two manuals and with 4’, 8’ 16’ and 32’ stops. This is contemporaneous with the period, as used in Erwin Stein’s chamber orchestra version of Mahler‘s Symphony No. 4 and Schoenberg’s chamber orchestra version of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Specifically, this instrument is a double manual, with the full complement of expressive devices on a harmonium with 20 stops, and a 5-octave range.

The percussion instruments called for are the following: Timpani (a set of 5 would allow the solo at the end of Movement IV to be played with ease), 2 Cymbals (suspended: large, small*), 2 Triangles (large, small*), Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Tam-Tam, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Tambourine, Whip/Slapstick, Finger cymbals*, Military Drum and Ratchet. The instruments marked with an asterisk are those played by the pianist, in part.

Colour and instrumentation, including Mahler’s use of unusual percussion instruments in symphonic literature to date; his use of con legno, mutes, gestopft and portamento; the culture of vibrato around the fin-de-siècle period; weight, balance, register, texture, and dynamic proportions3, had to be meticulously analysed.

The architecture and over-arching form and shape of the symphony, as well as the complexity of emotion this work carries, helped inform my interpretation. These fundamental factors also influenced the reconstruction and orchestration, and, perhaps above all, what I believe Mahler was attempting to say through this music, which is, in my opinion, overwhelmingly autobiographical, excitingly bipolar and plainly futuristic.

I have taken the decision that this edition will be treated as a performing score. There are no dotted lines, square brackets, small notes – in fact, no editorial markings whatsoever. The doctoral thesis upon which this score is based4 contains all the explanations, footnotes, annotations etc. The fact that this score is already not what Mahler intended instrumentation-wise, would make the exercise of distinguishing between what was in the score and what not, almost futile, and impossible to read. This work is being published to be performed as a version for chamber orchestra.

In her forward to the 1924 facsimile edition of the Symphony No. 10, Alma Mahler wrote:

‘While I initially considered it my absolute right to keep the treasure of the Tenth Symphony hidden, I now know it is my duty to reveal to the world the last thoughts of the master. […] It proclaims not only the last music of the master, but it shows in the impassioned strokes of his handwriting, the enigmatic self-image of the person with perpetuating effect. Some will read in these pages as if in a book of magic, while others will find themselves faced with magic symbols to which they lack the key; none will escape the power which continues to emanate from this handwritten music and scribbled verbal ecstasies.’5 There is endless debate about the ‘ethical’ issues which surround this.

Do we have the right to do this? However, when one knows that this was being done at the time through the Verein itself, and adds to that, the admiration Schoenberg himself had for Mahler, as well as how Mahler encouraged the ‘creating anew’, I think that while such discussion is legitimate, there is enough evidence to support this endeavor. One need only turn to works like Mozart’s Requiem, Elgar’s Symphony No. 3, Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9, Puccini’s Turandot or even Mahler’s own completion of Carl Maria von Weber’s Die drei Pintos; as well as the very many works arranged for chamber version by the society itself, which gave 353 performances of 154 works in a total of 117 concerts, during its existence.

Even Sir Georg Solti, who never claimed to be a composer, wanted to attempt reconstructing Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. Sadly, this was never to be, as Solti passed away in the summer of 1997.

‘My performances of the opening movement of the Tenth Symphony made me want to attempt to conduct a reconstructed version of the whole work. [...] The melodic invention [...] is heartbreakingly beautiful. [...] The English musicologist Deryck Cooke made the first reconstruction of the symphony, but I have not used it as I think it lacks the contrapuntal element in Mahler’s writing. Three further versions of the Tenth Symphony exist or are in preparation and in the summer of 1999 I would like to work on a solution to the symphony, putting together the different reconstructions that are available and adding points of my own.’6 For my reconstruction there were many compositional decisions that had to be made based on colour and timbre to capture the essence of what was intended by Mahler within the chamber instrumentation I chose to work with.

There are ‘mistakes’ or ‘oversights’ in the orchestral draft – pitch, rhythm, omission of change of clef, two different (wrong) key signatures at the same time, no indication of time signature etc., as well as unclear instructions, and opposing or contradictory passages in different sketches. There are also instances of contrapuntal vacuums, in which case, the study of the different performing editions proved essential.

In places, some performing versions have made decisions to change what Mahler wrote in the orchestral draft, assuming that these were mistakes. My version tries to remain as faithful as possible to the orchestral draft, short score and extra sketches, especially harmonically, even when the language used is not conventional. Like Michael Kennedy, I believe that Mahler was stretching the harmonic palette as far as he possibly could.7

I believe the stark contrast of an idyllic Toblach in South Tyrol, shattered by the discovery of Alma Mahler’s affair with the architect Walter Gropius8 is fully represented in Mahler’s language, colour, texture and form in this symphony. Desperate Mahler scribbles are found throughout the manuscript: Der Teufel tanzt es mit mir Wahnsinn, fass mich an, Verfluchten! vernichte mich dass ich vergesse, dass ich bin! dass ich aufhöre, zu sein dass ich ver [. . .]9 ending with ‘für dich leben! für dich sterben! — Almschi!’10 on its final pages.

It is, in my opinion, the epitome of the pain/beauty paradox, as described by Immanuel Kant.11 This is a work of excruciating beauty; a constant search for the sublime, which is found in the final movement.

Mahler is evidently distraught, as seen and heard through the pages of his manuscript. It feels like reading Mahler’s personal diary, invading his privacy and witnessing his innermost emotions being exposed to the world. It almost feels wrong. The autobiographical content of this most passionate cry in Mahler’s last symphony haunted me as much as the work itself. Yet, is there hope?

What I have attempted to give is a faithful and stylistic re-creation of Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 – a correct representation of a large-scale work, retaining its profoundness, impact and magnificence; creating clarity of lines, but revealing the intimacy of the work.

For a conductor, to delve as deep as this, not only re-orchestrating, but rebuilding an unfinished, yet completely structured work, gives an extraordinary insight into the process of how to interpret a composer’s work – even one as complex as Mahler. One explores the symphony’s inner workings, practically and physically, but, more than that – especially in this particular work – psychologically.

Even in his most impassioned symbolic tenth symphony, Mahler, the man of contrasts, remains unfaltering … the cruelty of the situation, the hurt, the anger, the tenderness, the anguish and torment … and the clinging on to hope and the longing for the beauty to re-emerge, and the acceptance of what is.

Mahler’s ‘scribbled verbal ecstasies’ are almost as powerful as his music – maybe to be read by the one who has caused him so much pain – his ‘immortal beloved’? – The Beethoven of the 20th century.

‘It is absurd for any conductor in the twenty-first century to proclaim the Tenth unperformable [...] The Tenth exists as Mahler’s last word. It reveals Mahler, in his favoured metaphor, wrestling with his angel, refusing to let go without a blessing. If the symphony reveals nothing else, it is that Mahler did not surrender to fate, nor to depression at his wife’s betrayal, nor to health fears, nor to any other force except his mission to compose. In these final pages he surmounted the fickleness of love and life in a way that only Mahler could, with a never-say-die symphony that offers in its last unfinished page a glimmer of hope. No knowledge of Mahler is complete without the live experience of his Tenth Symphony.’12

Michelle Castelletti
23 September, 2015

1 H-L. La Grange, Mahler, Volume I, Garden City, NY, Doubleday [&] Co, 1973.
2 T-L. Chew, Performing Versions of the Tenth Symphony, Naturlaut, Vol. 1 (2), 2002.
3 This includes individual [opposing] dynamics for different instruments which was revolutionary for the time.
4 I conducted the premiere of this editorial score as part of my PhD on November 23, 2012.
5 D. Cooke, Gustav Mahler – a Performing Version of the Draft for the Tenth Symphony, London Faber Music, 1989.
6 Sir Georg Solti, [with the assistance of Harvey Sachs], Solti on Solti – A Memoir. Vintage, 1998. It is the analyst/musicologist inside the conductor who takes over. Solti is well-known for discovering the right tempo marking of the second movement of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. This has forever changed conductors’ interpretations of this work.
7 Michael Kennedy, The Master Musicians – MAHLER, [from the series edited by Stanley Sadie] Oxford University Press, 2000.
8 J. Bruck, MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 10, Wheeler, 1966 version. Polish National Radio Symphony, Olson, 1999. [NAXOS CD].
9 ‘The devil dances it with me / Insanity grasp me, the cursed one! / destroy me / so that I may forget that I exist / that I cease to be / that I ver [. . .]’
10 ‘To live for you! To die for you! – Almschi!’
11 Kant, I., Critique of Pure Reason, Guyer P. [&] Wood, A.W. (trans.) Cambridge University Press, 1999.
12 N. Lebrecht, Why Mahler – How one man and Ten Symphonies Changed the World, Faber and Faber, London, 2001.

Special prints

10. Symphonie

Gustav Mahler: 10. Symphonie

study score
for chamber orchestera , 75’
Instr.: 1 1 1 1 - 1 1 0 0 - perc, hp, pno, vln, vln, vla, vc, cb

Next performances

25 Oct

10. Symphonie

Korundi, Rovaniemi (FI)

World première

Canterbury Chamber Orchestra
Michelle Castelletti

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