Mahler’s Fourth remains his most frequently performed symphony, nowadays narrowly flanked by the First and his song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde. In the short Mahler monograph written by Guido Adler (published by UE), the author had already counted more than 60 performances of the Fourth by 1915, followed at the time by the Second and First which had each been performed 44 times.
What is the justification for a new critical edition of such a popular, well-known, and thoroughly proven work?
Mahler himself was initially not at all satisfied with his symphony, which he had finished in 1901, and described it as late as 1903 as an “orphan who had not yet experienced much joy in the world”. He continually reworked and refined the instrumentation in order to find suitable expression for his intentions. And this is precisely the challenge faced by a contemporary edition that takes a critical look at the sources: decades passed before the score with Mahler’s final amendments even surfaced, as he entered them in early 1911 in New York, and the score did not reach his publisher in time owing to the illness and death of the composer in May 1911. This version of the score, which Mahler had approved in his contract with UE, was only able to be examined during the editorial work of Erwin Ratz in the 1960s. A considerable number of preliminary and intermediate stages remained unknown at the time, however, or they could not be viewed. One example of this is the song “Das himmlische Leben” which was published for the first time in the 1990s. It was not only reworked by Mahler for the final movement of the symphony, but also served as the compositional fundament for the preceding movements. Copies of this song, which he composed in Hamburg in 1892, were made for a failed printing endeavour at the time, and these copies became available only recently. Similarly, Mahler’s first conductor’s score of the symphony, a test print for the first rehearsal, had not been properly assigned until now and was not available for evaluation either. Along these early meandering paths, the search ultimately leads us very close to the conductor’s score used by Mahler in later years, which is unfortunately still lost without trace. It is fortunate that he painstakingly transferred all his changes in 1905 for a colleague in Graz; this source of inestimable value was now available for consultation for the first time.
All in all, this new edition takes us to a point where the numerous stages of reworking and countless reading errors, misunderstandings, further printing errors and contradictions missed by Mahler himself, in addition to the final version of the score, have been considered and evaluated. The new, computer-based score generation required several rounds of precise proofreading; all editorial decisions are outlined transparently in an extensive critical commentary. A preface on its genesis, performance history and printing, and notes on performance practice, facsimile reproductions and an English glossary complete this entirely bilingual edition.