Mahler's graphic revisions uncovered

Mahler's graphic revisions uncovered


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2011

Sotheby’s are offering for sale a rare first edition of Mahler’s third symphony with his own revisions for the next printing.

Mahler 3 p.48

?What’s remarkable about it is its unremarkability. Mahler never regarded a work of his as finished, always trying it one way in concert, then another, driving publishers to distraction with his changes.

In the last letter of his life, for example, he talked of reworking the fifth symphony, which had been performed widely but not yet to his own satisfaction. In the sixth, he switched around the second and third movements – but not definitively.

What this score shows is Mahler at work, Mahler at his most Mahlerian, never regarding a piece of music as being fixed in time. See Why Mahler for further details.

Sotheby’s, typically, are not saying who put it up for sale (though I could make an informed guess).

Here’s the press release, newly revised:

Sotheby’s London To Offer Mahler’s Own Newly Discovered Revised Copy of the First Edition of the Third Symphony– The Rare Full Score Contains the Composer’s Extensive Autograph Revisions and Performance Markings –Gustav Mahler, composer’s own copy of the first edition of the Third Symphony, containing his extensive autograph revisions and performance markings, the full score, 1902. Est. £100,000-£150,000.Sotheby’s, London, 25th May 2011, today announces that it will offer as part of the Music, Continental and Russian Books and Manuscripts Sale on 8th June 2011, Gustav Mahler’s newly discovered personal copy of the first edition of the Third Symphony. Coming to the market for the first time, the full 1902 score of this seminal work contains the composer’s extensive alterations and performance markings, vividly amended in coloured ink, crayons and pencil. It is estimated at £100,000 – £150,000*.Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Books and Manuscripts Stephen Roe said: “This is a magnificent new source for Mahler’s Third. It is a spectacular and beautiful score revealing the passion of Mahler’s creation and the exuberance of his musical thinking.”The score itself is a very rare edition (by Weinberger of Vienna), published shortly after the first complete performance, conducted by Mahler in June 1902. The composer’s corrections were made in the light of directing the first few performances and constitute his full-scale revision of the orchestration of the symphony. Rich with successive layers of reworking, some 60% of the score’s pages contain Mahler’s autograph notes and amendments.Many pages of the score are visually striking. Mahler wrote new music directly onto the staves and margins, mainly in red ink, but also frequently in brown and blue crayon – the various colours revealing successive stages of revision (pictured left). It is not only a wonderfully textual record of the workings of the composer’s mind and his quest for perfection, but a work of art in its own right. In a substantial passage of over 20 bars, Mahler transforms the pages with new parts for oboes and clarinets in red ink, subsequently deleting these new parts in blue crayon with others for trumpets and timpani in red ink and blue crayon, then deleting entire staves for percussion in brown crayon.The Third Symphony is a unique work and colossal in its conception. It was largely composed in the summer of 1895 after an exhausting and troubling period that pitched Mahler into feverish creative activity. It is the composer’s hymn to the natural world and his longest work. The first movement alone has a duration of between 30 and 40 minutes and forms the first part of the symphony. The second part consists of the other five movements and lasts a further 70 minutes. The work presented a challenging musical experience for contemporary audiences.Recently discovered in a private collection, Sotheby’s London is delighted to bring this rare, important and beautiful piece of musical history to auction for the first time.* Estimates do not include buyer’s premium


  • Charlie says:

    The digitised score on the Harvard website ( has “Numerous emendations in red ink, in an unknown hand, possibly indicating revisions made by the composer. “. Given the similarity of the emendations and handwriting with the picture above, does this indicate that the red ink alterations on the Harvard score are more definitely by Mahler?