Slippedisc daily comfort zone (67): The one Mahler made

Slippedisc daily comfort zone (67): The one Mahler made

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

July 01, 2021

The Vienna Philharmonic attacked Mahler for his Beethoven adaptations. Now they record them.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Strange that both pieces work much better in their original, while both are really symphonically conceived.

  • Sidelius says:

    I have long thought it would be a magnificent service to music for someone very adept at orchestration to arrange most of Beethoven’s quartets, and other major chamber works, for an appropriate, perhaps midsized orchestra. Many classical listeners tend to avoid the more austere, less tonally colorful pleasures of chamber, and could be lured into hearing all the greatness they are missing. The same for masterpieces of Brahms, Schubert, etc.

    • Novagerio says:

      Sibelius: What’s wrong with the originals?

    • John Borstlap says:

      The challenge is that in a scoring for orchestra you cannot use the notes literally, you have to change the textures, and write them in the appropriate style, which only a composer can do who has absorbed the aesthetics of the original composers entirely and has a comparable talent. Composers who would have the talent to accomplish such thing, would prefer to write their own symphonic music.

      Schoenberg’s scoring of the Brahms quartet is unsatisfactory because he keeps to the notes precisely, but adds silly effects to them. Mahler’s scoring of opus 95 is unsatisfactory because he does not change the textures, merely doubles the voices.

      • J Barcelo says:

        It’s not unsatisfactory – it’s one of the most thrilling, electrifying and outrageous scores in existence. Tacky, silly and cheap it may be, but every time I’ve heard it in concert, audiences just go nuts over it – that finale is a spectacular bit of orchestration. I can’t help but think Brahms himself would have gotten a good chuckle from hearing it.

      • Monsoon says:

        Schoenberg’s orchestration is purposely tongue in cheek at moments. He’s both faithful to Brahms’ orchestration style, as well as winks at the audience with some very non-Brahmsian touches.

        People who don’t like it are just no fun.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I think there’s a big difference between expanding a string quartet to a large string section, and making ‘retuschen’ of the symphonies. I wouldn’t say his retuschen have been embraced in other places either.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Mahler’s ‘Retuschen’ were merely adjusting details to the capacities of modern instruments that Beethoven did not have. But since they don’t make any difference musically, conductors ignored them.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        I like his retuschen for the 9th symphony, but I wouldn’t call starting the ‘Turkish march’ offstage and gradually bringing it on stage as, “merely adjusting details”. He also adds a second set of timpani, as I recall.

      • Joel Lazar says:

        Far more complicated than that, extensive revision of dynamics, added a tuba to the Ninth, extended ranges for all strings, and so forth.

      • Joel Lazar says:

        Far more complicated than that. Added a tuba in the Ninth, an E-flat clarinet in the Fifth, extensive alterations in dynamics throughout, extension of ranges in strings particularly, and so forth.

  • AlbericM says:

    I like Mahler’s updating of Beethoven’s orchestration–not a crime–but what I’d like to hear more often is his clarification of Schumann’s orchestration in the latter’s four symphonies. He makes it sound a little more like Beethoven and a lot more palatable.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    ==Now they record them.

    Well “now” is a loose term. I bought this CD 6 or 7 years ago (and I believe it had been out for a while by them) . This is not “Hold he front page” breaking news

  • Novagerio says:

    Now? They were recorded in 1995…

    • Carlos Solare says:

      Indeed they were, but nothing ever really happens until NL notices it (cf. the thread about the “rediscovery” of Paul Abraham’s operetta, Roxy und ihr Wunderteam).

  • Edgar Self says:

    Bernstein recorded Beethoven quartets with the VPO. My hopes for them were dashed. The only such treatment that works for me is an expansion of the Grosse Fuge with added double basses as recorded by Adolf Busch and his chamber orchestra in the 1940s, followed by Furtwaengler, Klemperer, and others. Even VPO’s strings couldn’t convince me in the C-sharp minor quartet.

    • Novagerio says:

      Edgar: I had always been under the impression that Bernstein recorded the Op.131 in Mitropoulos version, not Mahler’s.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    If you look at old music and score catalogs, there was a thriving market in the 19th century for all manner of arrangements, both expansions as with these quartets, and contractions, as with the arrangements of many symphonies (Schubert 9; Mendelssohn 4) for violin and piano. Indeed that goes back to the late 18th century.

    Where the arrangements are by a nameless but capable drayman, they are largely forgotten. But these are by Mahler and have their own interest, regardless of the “need” for, or quality of, the results. Just as the lesser works of a Renoir or Degas still have a place on the museum wall.

    Now what WOULD raise an eyebrow, if not the blood pressure, is if some enterprising string quartet would arrange the Mahler arrangements back for string quartet.

  • Edgsr Self says:

    Novagerio, I don’t recall whose arrangement it was, only that it didn’t work although I’d looked forward to hearing the VPO strings play it. Did Mitropoulos record his version?

    I’d also expected someone to mention Georg Szell’s orchestral version of Smetana’s “Aus meinem Leben”, so I’ll do it.

  • Gustav Mahler says:

    Let’s make peace with that old history, please! Better move forward!

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Yes, Gus, but remember that you said in one of your rehearsals: “Basta to the man who makes changes to my music for the sake of clarity!” . . . some like that.

      • Ashu says:

        [Yes, Gus, but remember that you said in one of your rehearsals: “Basta to the man who makes changes to my music for the sake of clarity!” . . . some like that.]

        He may well have said something like that, as his Italian is known to have been very poor.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Schoenberg’s orchestration of Brahms’s G-minor piano quartet sounds like musical elephantiasis to me.