About this Recording
8.554811 - MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 10 (Wheeler, 1966 version) (Polish National Radio Symphony, Olson)
English  French 

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Symphony No.10 (Wheeler version)

Gustav Mahler was not yet fifty when he began work on his Tenth Symphony in the summer of 1910. His tiny composing hut, sparsely furnished with an upright piano, table and chair, score paper, pen and ink, and the Förstel edition of Bach’s music, was tucked away in the woods of the South Tyrol near Toblach. It overlooked a scenic valley framed by jagged mountain peaks. In these quiet surroundings Mahler had found time in the preceding summers to compose Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) and the Ninth Symphony. Here he would retreat after a favourite hike or a light lunch at the Trenkers’ farmhouse, where he and his young wife Alma now made their summer home. They had abandoned their lakeside home at Maiernigg in Carinthia three years earlier after the first of their two daughters had contracted diphtheria there and died within a fortnight. Her attending doctor had also diagnosed a possibly serious heart condition in Mahler.

With his second season conducting in New York behind him, Mahler returned once more to his woodland Häuschen to start work on a Tenth Symphony. What began as an idyllic respite was shattered when he discovered Alma’s burgeoning affair with the architect Walter Gropius. Anguished outcries are scrawled in the margins of the manuscript, ending with "To live for you — to die for you — Alma!" on its final page. In a desperate attempt to save his marriage, Mahler left for Holland to seek out Sigmund Freud. Afterwards came the preparations for and the première of the Eighth Symphony in Munich. By now haggard and unwell, and with only half of the orchestral draft of his new symphony completed, Mahler embarked for another season of concerts in America. There, a streptococcus infection sealed his doom. Fatally ill, he returned to Vienna for the last time, but not to the Tenth Symphony.

Mahler died in Vienna on 18th May, 1911. It was not until 1923 that his widow decided to permit publication of the extant material for the Tenth Symphony, perhaps in deference to Mahler’s own decision that "the world could do what it wanted with it." Ernst Krenek prepared its first and third movements for performance; Franz Schalk gave the première of them in Vienna in 1924. Paul Zsolnay Verlag in Vienna published the work as a manuscript facsimile, limited to one thousand copies. So extraordinary was its reproduction that when, many years later, Alma’s own copy got mixed in with the actual manuscript, she had to request help in separating the original from the facsimile.

That accident proved propitious, for in sorting it out some fifty additional pages were discovered. Under the aegis of the Internationale Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft a second manuscript facsimile was published in 1967 by Waiter Ricke Verlag in Munich. Of particular interest to those already at work on completions was the inclusion of important new material for the second movement. Since that time, at least five more pages have turned up in libraries and private collections.

It is clear from an examination of the manuscript, which Mahler had organized into five folders, that he intended his Tenth to be a two-part, five-movement symphony. The first part was to consist of an opening Adagio followed by a Scherzo. The second part would begin with an extremely short movement, to which he gave the title Purgatorio, followed by a second Scherzo and an extensive Finale.

Mahler’s usual practice when composing was to sketch out some of his ideas, then draft a "short score," generally written on four staves. In this form each of the five movements of the Tenth is substantially complete. All of the symphony’s musical ideas and their development are laid out sequentially with the four staves being a skeletal compositional "shorthand" or draft for vertically expanding it into the full orchestral score. In that score Mahler would have elaborated the counterpoint, harmonic support, and orchestration to achieve the desired texture. He had already begun to flesh out his ideas by noting important details of orchestration in the short score. Some pages show him working to shape various materials, or trying out alternate versions of particular sections. One such example is found at the very end of the symphony, which exists in two versions differing mostly in their key signatures.

Mahler had started to prepare his full orchestral score based on the short score. The entire first movement and the first thirty bars of the third exist in full score. The A-B-A form of this third movement is clearly evident in the short score, so these bars can serve as a template for orchestrating the remainder of this eerily brief piece, the shortest of all Mahler’s symphonic movements. This, with the opening Adagio movement, forms the basis of the score published by Associated Music Publishers (AMP) in 1951 as Mahler’s "Tenth Symphony".

Portions of the second movement (Scherzo I) also exist in full score, but until the short score was discovered in the 1960s its fragmentary nature defied attempts at a convincing reconstruction. The fourth movement (Scherzo II) and the fifth (Finale) exist in short score only.

An early attempt to explore the manuscript came in the form of a four-hand piano reduction of the second, fourth and fifth movements, prepared by Friedrich Block in the mid-1930s and circulated privately. Block’s 1941 article in Chord and Discord, which claimed that the work was substantially complete, may well have been the spark that ignited efforts by others to produce a performing version of the entire score. Certainly Jack Diether, an American Mahler enthusiast, became an indefatigable champion of attempts to complete the Mahler Tenth. His own attempts to enlist Shostakovich and then Schoenberg in this project were unsuccessful, but the performing versions of Joe Wheeler and Clinton Carpenter owe much to Diether’s enthusiasm and persistence.

Meanwhile, a German musicologist, Hans Wollschläger, had also begun work on a performing version. He later suppressed it in view of the adamant stand taken by the founder and president of the Internationale Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft, Professor Erwin Ratz. Professor Ratz was the editor of the IGMG’s Critical Edition of the Mahler scores, and he strongly opposed any tampering with a work of the master. Despite his objections, musicians and audiences alike were increasingly keen to find out what Mahler’s final work might be like.

Three other efforts at completion date from the mid-1940s to late 1950s, respectively those of Clinton Carpenter in Chicago and of the Londoners Joe Wheeler and Deryck Cooke. Each worked independently, unaware of the efforts of the others until the BBC broadcast a programme "about" the Mahler Tenth Symphony in 1960. This was an illustrated talk by Cooke, followed by a performance of his conjectural orchestration of the material, omitting only a few passages Cooke found difficult to decipher in the manuscript. Alma, when apprised of the broadcast by friends who were firmly opposed to any completion of the Tenth, now claimed that the work was "a private love letter to her from Mahler" and banned further performances. When the conductor Harold Byrns finally persuaded her to hear a tape of the BBC programme, she exclaimed "Wunderbar!", and withdrew her objections. Meanwhile, with the newly discovered manuscript pages in hand, Cooke completed what he modestly referred to as a "realisation" of the Tenth. Cooke’s version was first performed in 1964 and broadcast by the BBC. Commercial recordings followed. His revised score was published by Schirmer, and at Cooke’s insistence, it documents his additions to Mahler’s manuscript bar by bar. More recently, Carpenter’s version was performed and recorded, as was that of latecomer Remo Mazzetti. Cooke’s score, however, remains the most familiar version.

And what of Wheeler’s score? Until now, no satisfactory performance has ever been given or recorded of this, one of the oldest versions of the Tenth Symphony. Wheeler began work on his score in 1952, and it is his fourth and final revision that we hear on this recording. Wheeler’s is, in texture at least, the closest to Mahler’s original manuscript, in keeping with what he regarded as its kinship to the other, more leanly orchestrated works that Mahler composed at Toblach.

In all, 171 pages of autograph manuscript for Mahler’s Tenth Symphony are known to exist, of which 116 are reproduced in the Zsolnay facsimile and 166 in the Ricke. They are contained in five folders, marked in blue crayon by Mahler with Roman numerals to indicate the order of the movements and simple, one-word titles in black ink. On the folder for the fourth movement Mahler gives vent to his anguish in an impassioned outburst. It is quoted below, along with other exclamations he wrote in the margins of the last three movements.

I. Adagio: 58 pages, 31 in full score, 27 in short score

The symphony opens without preamble: a theme, questing in character, is given to the violas alone. It arches and soars upward, returning to rest as the orchestra enters with the second subject. The horns state a broad, confident theme that gathers strength and intensity as the movement progresses. All seems well for a time, but the energy dissipates, leaving the high strings to wander beyond the opening key of F sharp and settle on a D major chord. Without warning, an outburst from the brass piles triads into a fearfully dissonant chord, held over churning low strings. The brass section thrusts upward with a grotesque fragment of the opening viola theme, then halts suddenly, exposing a solo trumpet screaming a high A. Again, the chord crashes. The trumpet grimly holds its note, fading at last as the strings, subdued, enter gently with the coda. They are joined by the rest of the orchestra as the movement subsides, leading to a peaceful conclusion. This is the movement most familiar to concert-goers; its orchestration is essentially Mahler’s own.

II. Scherzo: 62 pages, 39 in full score, 23 in short score

The second movement gets under way in F sharp minor, and jogs along with its metre changing almost every bar. A naively waltz-like trio intervenes but is overtaken by the faster section. A second trio follows, interrupted by the faster music that now brings the movement to a triumphant close. This Scherzo acts as a counterpoise to the opening Adagio, balancing the first part of the symphony’s two-part structure.

III. Purgatorio oder Inferno: 6 pages, 2 in full score, 4 in short score

Inferno is crossed out; and the lower half of the page is missing.

This brief intermezzo begins Part Two, and with it we encounter the first graphic evidence of Mahler’s state of mind (Purgatory — or Inferno). There is some speculation about whether the agonized scribblings found on the folders and in the margins of this and the subsequent movements were made at the time the music was written or added later, possibly following Mahler’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity. One provocative feature of this folder-page is that its lower half has been cut away. It is tempting to speculate that, given the circumstances, it might not have been that "private love letter" Alma wished it to be, and that she excised it prior to the printing of the Zsolnay facsimile. Whatever the case, the music itself gives potent evidence of Mahler’s tortured state of mind. Tod! (Death!) Mahler scrawls in the margin of the score at one point, and follows it with Verk!, perhaps an abbreviation of Verkommen (to perish!). Erbarmen! (Mercy!) follows, then 0 Gott! 0 Gott! warum hast du mich verlassen? (Oh God! Why have you forsaken me?). Finally, a few bars further on: Dein Wille Geschehe! (Thy will be done!).

The music itself is nervous, jittery. Despite its brevity, the movement is laden with motivic and emotive musical references. These motifs will germinate to infuse and link the remaining movements. Listeners familiar with Mahler’s much earlier song Das irdische Leben (Earthly Life), will recognise the driving ostinato figure that propels this movement along to its ominous end, where a harp glissando is suffocated by a tam-tam stroke. Mahler’s ironic Wunderhorn song tells of a hungry child repeatedly reassured by its mother that "tomorrow there will be bread" — when the bread was baked at last, "the child lay on its bier."

IV. Scherzo: 25 pages, in short score only

Der Teufel tanzt es mit mir

Wahnsin, fass mich an, Verfluchten!

vernichte mich dass ich vergesse, dass ich bin!

dass ich aufhoere, zu sein

dass ich ver…

The Devil dances it with me

Madness, seize me, the accursed!

Destroy me so that I may forget that I exist!

that I may cease to be

that I for…

Here Mahler breaks off in mid-word, unable to continue. What ensues is a Danse macabre without redemption. Fragments of the Purgatorio vie with torn scraps of waltz music as the movement careers to its close on muted percussion. Then comes a terminal, dread-laden sound: a solitary sforzando stroke on a muffled drum. Mahler writes beneath it: Du allein weisst was es bedeutet. Ach! Ach! Ach! Leb wohl mein Saitenspiel! Leb wohl, leb wohl, leb wohl (You alone know what it means. Farewell, my lyre! Farewell). Alma did indeed know what Mahler alluded to: an incident that had occurred during their stay in New York two winters previously. A veteran New York City fire chief, beloved by all who knew him, had led his men into the smoke-filled basement of a burning building. Suddenly his lantern disappeared, and his men found that he had fallen into a pit filled with water. Valiant attempts to pull him out failed, and with " I’m going, boys," he slid from their grasp. Newspapers the next day carried the story, and the entire city mourned. A funeral cortège wound its way through Manhattan, stopping just below the windows of the hotel where the Mahlers were staying. There was a brief oration, its end signalled by a muffled drum-beat. Alma describes Mahler, who had been resting, hanging out of his bedroom window, "tears streaming down his face".

V. Finale: 15 pages, in short score only

Again the muffled drum-stroke. A thematic fragment, grotesquely reminiscent of the "Resurrection" theme from Mahler’s Second Symphony, but now in a minor key, struggles upward, then is struck down by the muffled drum. It tries to claw its way out of the mire, only to be struck down again. And again. At last a flute (specified by Mahler in the short score) enters, at first tentatively, then with increasing assurance, playing one of the most beautiful melodies ever conceived for that instrument. Encouraged, the strings join in, and the whole swells to a climax. Then, the muffled drum-stroke abruptly crushes it. Again, and yet again, the drum-strokes fall, as though driving nails into a coffin. Then the music shifts to a swirl of hysterical fanfares and thematic fragments, swept along in a maelstrom until suddenly we come face to face with a resurgence of the terrifying dissonant chord from the first movement, surmounted with a piercing trumpet. But this time a horn thrusts itself into the mêlée with a defiant theme from the opening Adagio. Now alone, it rises to meet the trumpet. Locked in an embrace, they fall together as the music stills. Gently, the strings enter with a new theme, peaceful and serene (Mahler indicates this scoring). The music gains in intensity as the flute re-enters with its theme from earlier in the movement. The two melodies fuse into a single passionate utterance as the symphony draws near its end. On the last page, Mahler has written beneath its lingering last bars: Für dich leben! für dich sterben! Almschi! (To live for you! To die for you! Alma!). Then, in a last passionate outpouring, the strings leap an octave to limn a final moment of intense yearning for lost love, lost life. Resigned, they die away, dissolving into silence.

Jerry Bruck © 1999

Gustav, Alma, Walter and the Tenth

This short essay is intended as a complement to Jerry Bruck’s notes, to provide some additional information and to present my own surmises as to how the events in the summer of 1910 are reflected in the manuscript Mahler left for his last "complete" work. As Bruck explains, Mahler, having sold his villa at Maiernigg, spent his summers beginning in 1907 in rooms at a small villa in Toblach on the north side of the Dolomites in the Austrian Tyrol (now Dobbiaco, in Italy). Alma had not been well in the summer of 1910, and their doctor had prescribed a rest at a spa. Gustav took her to Tobelbad, near Graz. Upon his return to Toblach he concluded an arrangement with Universal Edition to publish his future works. Exhilarated at receiving many telegrams of friendship and congratulations for his fiftieth birthday, he was seized by his summer composing inspiration. It is my own surmise that Mahler drafted out quickly two movements of a Tenth Symphony. Some of the markings he made on the folders of the manuscript lead me to speculate further that he at first intended the new symphony to be a two-movement work. Other Mahler scholars have different ideas. The first manuscript we have of the opening movement is an ethereal Adagio, having some typical yearning themes. This is followed by a lively Scherzo, marked Scherzo finale (but finale is later crossed out).

At Tobelbad, Alma fell in love with the young architect, Walter Gropius, who met Alma’s need for the physical love which Mahler’s obsession with his own work had denied her. After Alma had returned to Toblach, a love letter to Alma arrived from Gropius, but addressed to Gustav. Henry Louis de La Grange, in a paper at the Utrecht Symposium on the Mahler Tenth 1986, writes that this was not a mistake, since Gropius had been corresponding with Alma care of Poste restante at Toblach. Mahler was shattered; he felt his whole foundation slipping away. Gropius came secretly to Toblach and was discovered by Alma. Gropius, Alma and Gustav then met at Gustav’s insistence. Gustav was terrified of losing Alma, but Alma said,

" I will not leave you." As we shall see shortly, neither did she leave Gropius.

What does the music as Mahler left it tell us about these events? Scholars differ widely on how Mahler continued to work on this symphony. I surmise that he returned to his work on the Tenth, but a change had taken place. The music and the manuscript tell me that Mahler decided to add three more movements, and then drafted them out. I also speculate that Mahler then returned to the opening Adagio to orchestrate it. In his third, nearly fully orchestrated draft of this movement, there is a great outburst of chromatic and dissonant chords pierced by a high trumpet as Bruck describes. These chords do not appear in the first draft; we cannot tell about the second draft because the pages where the chords might be found are missing. The Chicago Mahler expert, Dr Susan Filler, tells me that there is one isolated manuscript page of the Adagio in which the harmony of the dissonant chords is drafted in, but we do not know how this page fits into the compositional chronology. The dramatic chords appear in full only in the third, the nearly complete, orchestral draft. I rest my case on the fact that there are private and personal annotations only in the final three movements, as Bruck describes.

The third movement, which Mahler possibly drafted just after the Alma-Gustav-Gropius confrontation, is marked Purgatorio oder Inferno, the last word being scratched perhaps after Alma had confirmed that she would not leave him — she left him in purgatorio but not in inferno. The music of this movement is darker than the preceding movements and has marked similarity as noted by most commentators to Mahler’s earlier song Das irdische Leben.

The fourth movement is somewhat ironic, but has some tender passages, and it ends with the famous stroke on a muffled drum as described by Bruck. As an aside, Bruck queried the New York City fire department historian, who explained that it has long been the practice for such occasions to play a "tattoo" on the muffled drum, i.e., a short roll. Heard at Mahler’s upper story window, this short roll could very well have sounded like one stroke. Furthermore, Mahler does not specify a dynamic marking for these strokes, only sforzando, so the various "completers" have used their own judgements, and they are quite different.

The fifth movement is adagio-like (but Wheeler makes it an Allegretto), constantly being interrupted by strokes on the muffled drum. The music resolves soon into one of the sweetest and most ethereal themes Mahler ever penned, played on the flute as stipulated by Mahler in the short score. The dissonant chords appear, pierced once more by a shrill trumpet, following which the music develops into quite a peaceful mood.

It is interrupted by a long orchestral sigh and then fades sweetly but contemplatively away. The various pieces of information I have cited lead me to speculate that Mahler, after the confrontation with Gropius, composed the dissonant chords into the final movement, and then inserted this musical cry of anguish back into the Adagio in his third draft, to begin a circle of pain only to be closed after their repeat in the finale by some of his most sublime music.

In the fall, Mahler went to Munich for the rehearsals of the gigantic forces required for his Eighth Symphony, his only symphony dedicated to Alma. Ironically, during that time Alma and Gropius enjoyed a tryst in Munich. The Eighth Symphony was a great triumph there, but witnesses reported that Mahler evidently was ill. He embarked later for America with a low-grade fever for what was to be his final season in New York. He had planned an arduous season of conducting some hundred concerts, not the decision of a dying man. In January of 1911, however, he fell seriously ill with what was diagnosed later as a streptococcus viridans infection in the defective mitral valve in his heart. As a sidelight on his final illness, Mahler, who had a strong interest in science, was pleased that his case was one of the first to be diagnosed scientifically by blood work, and he was shown in the microscope the culture of his infection. Told that this was probably a fatal infection Mahler returned to Vienna to die, stopping on the way in Paris for an unsuccessful serum treatment. He died in Vienna on 18th May 1911, leaving his last great work, the Tenth Symphony, to present both a puzzle and a challenge for musicologists and lovers of his music.

There are Mahler "authorities" who oppose anyone daring to "finish" the Tenth, as if it were sacrilege. There are many illustrious conductors who refuse to play any of the completions. The world of music, and especially the Mahlerian world, is the richer for the four musicians, Clinton Carpenter, Joe Wheeler, Deryck Cooke, and Remo Mazzetti, who had the temerity to do what these rigid Mahler authorities said should not be done. Let the music speak for itself. The listener will then judge personally whether Mahler’s last words should be heard, or whether they should have been kept hidden in dusty archives for the enjoyment of musicologists only.

Donald Mitchell, in conversations with the Gustav Mahler Society, USA (Los Angeles, 1986), characterizes the ending of the final movement of the Tenth, and the entire symphony in general, as transcending death. He says that it is not a work of despair. It does not yield to death (only the Sixth does that). Mahler’s music here says to me that a peaceful death would after all be the culmination of the struggles of life, a life for Mahler that yielded great triumphs, tempered to be sure by bitter disappointments. Mahler said: "My time will come." He also wrote in his Second Symphony, " I shall die so as to live."

The finale of the Tenth is his final word, as if to say: My time is now!

Stan Ruttenberg © 1999

Concerning the Editing of the Wheeler Version

The question will naturally arise: "How much of what we hear on this recording is Wheeler, and how much is that of Olson, the editor?" My work as editor addressed three areas: clarifications, corrections and changes.

The clarifications were necessary because the existing versions of the Wheeler score had been photocopied so many times that many notes were difficult to read. Moreover, Wheeler wrote his Version 4 on poor paper, so that his ink ran in many crucial spots. Criteria for deriving clarifications of notes were based on the facsimile of Mahler’s often difficult-to-read manuscript and Cooke’s interpretation of the manuscript (printed at the bottom of the published Cooke score).

Corrections were the largest of the three areas, primarily because we had two "sets" of scores to correct, first Wheeler’s, then the computer-generated score the editing team created for MahlerFest X 1997. Corrections first involved errors found by the previous editors Clinton Carpenter and Remo Mazzetti. Each of these had to be researched and judged anew, for some "detections" were clearly errors of the pen, of transposition, or of interpretation of the manuscript, while others were matters of judgement. During the final hectic ten days of the festival, three people spent every waking hour poring over facsimiles of all of Mahler’s sketches of the Tenth alongside the newly-created computer print-out of the Mahler / Wheeler / Olson score, Professor Edward Reilly (Vassar College), an expert on Mahler’s manuscripts, our Dutch colleague Frans Bouwman, an expert on the Mahler Tenth, and myself. I am particularly indebted to Mr Bouwman, whose knowledge of the particells of this great work is impressive indeed. At the same time Remo Mazzetti was diligently working along the same lines from his home in Delaware and faxing his discoveries by the day. We made collective decisions on note interpretations, and when there simply was nothing to give us definitive solutions, we made those interpretations which were consistent with the majority of the other versions thereby lending a certain sense of consistency between realisations.

For me, being intimately familiar with Mahler’s canon, it was impossible to suppress totally my opinions about orchestration, and thus there are some minor changes in this performance from the original Wheeler version. I believe, however, that the performance faithfully reflects Wheeler’s thoughts about tempi, orchestration, and overall structure, ranging from the magical flute solo in the last movement recapitulation to the "quick" Allegretto opening of the fifth movement.

Robert Olson

Alma’s Ban

As mentioned in the other articles, Alma Mahler tried to get the draft score finished in the 1920s. By the 1960s, however, she evidently felt that to allow outsiders access to the manuscript would be a violation of her privacy — ironic in view of the existence of a published facsimile since 1924. She did, however, give her permission to the BBC and Deryck Cooke to prepare a lecture on the Tenth for the Mahler cycle the BBC was in planning for the centenary year in 1960. When she learned that indeed Cooke had gone further by preparing a performing version of the second, fourth and fifth movements, and that this had been played and broadcast, Alma wrote to the BBC saying that she would not allow any further performances or publication of the score. Whether or not she actually had the legal right to issue such a ban is academic; her wishes were respected.

Events, however, were to overtake her ban, as related by Diether: "In April 1963 I received a phone call from Harold Byrns. He said he was in Rome to conduct the RAI Orchestra, and that he suddenly had to come to New York on business. He was determined to see his old friend Alma, and try to change her mind about the Tenth Symphony, which she had never heard in its complete, five-movement form. Byrns explained that he had already made an appointment and asked Diether to come along and bring with him the score and the BBC tape of the broadcast".

Diether then asked Jerry Bruck to join the party and bring equipment to play the tape for Alma. Alma, according to Bruck, was sufficiently moved to ask that the last movement be played again. She is reported to have said that there was so much Mahler in Cooke’s score that he should feel free to complete the work and have it performed. Alma wrote this to Cooke and the BBC and thus rescinded once and for all her ban on the Tenth.

Stan Ruttenberg


Close the window