Sitting in the timps for Mahler 4, I saw the drumhead burst…

Sitting in the timps for Mahler 4, I saw the drumhead burst…


norman lebrecht

February 19, 2012

Paul Mauffray, a devoted reader, has sent us this account of a slightly too close encounter with Mahler’s 4th symphony in the Vienna Musikverein last night:

I spent a wonderful day in Vienna today attending two concerts in the
Musikvereinsaal, and for both concerts I had one of the few seats
offered to the public on the stage.
The first concert was with Lorin Maazel conducting Sibelius Symphonies
7, 5, & 1 with the Vienna Philharmonic. I was seated right behind the
horns and next to the bass section. The earth moved, but in a warm,
rich, and sumptuously rewarding way!

After such a wonderful afternoon experience, I was especially happy to
have the same seat for the evening performance of Mahler’s 4th
Symphony by the Niederösterreich Tonkünstler-Orchester. This time,
however, it was the percussion section that was positioned next to me.
My first thought was “Oh my God! I can not imagine what it will be
like to be seated this close to the timpani for a Mahler Symphony!”.
I was already filled with great anticipation just watching the
timpanist manually tune the calf-skin heads, but I could never have
expected even from Mahler what would come next. …

My attention had been focused on reading the parts of the Harp and
Cellos who were seated right in front of me and who were of course
playing exquisitely. Then shortly after rehearsal number 15 in the
first movement, my attention was drawn to a small storm brewing by the
timpanist. Luckily, I turned to look just in time to see a figurative
earth shattering climax, but literally a timpani ripping climax! At
the fortississimo (yes, that means 3 times forte, or “fff”) climax of
the timpani roll on a low G, the head of the timpani ripped and I saw
the stick come out of the timpanist’s hand and go right through the
head! I have never even heard of this happening anywhere before!

I was worried about how this might effect the rest of the performance
or if we would have to miss out on some important upcoming timpani
notes. After all, this was only the middle of the first movement and
there was plenty more to come. Luckily, this timpanist saved the day
by re-tuning the lower timpani to replace that tone. This was
especially clear at the biggest climax in the third movement where the
player is asked to strike that same G fortississimo with both sticks!
Luckily, no one in the orchestra, not even the conductor, seemed to
notice that anything unusual had happened, but at least I have photos
to prove my testimony to a truly unforgettable Mahler 4th!


  • Thank you for posting. I hope the timpanist does not get into any trouble for having that happen. She should really be commended for the excellent job she did of saving the performance by skillfully finding ways to get around that broken timpani for the rest of the piece!