30 Oct 2012

Mahler – Symphony No. 10: Adagio

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, harp, strings.

Duration: 22 minutes.

THE COMPOSER – GUSTAV MAHLER (1860-1911) – 1910 was marked by intense experiences at both extremes of the emotional spectrum for Mahler. The long-awaited premiere of his Eighth Symphony was a triumph but he also learned of his wife Alma’s infidelity with Walter Gropius. Mahler’s self-confidence suffered considerably, so much that he sought the advice of Sigmund Freud in Switzerland. Their meeting was short and unofficial but seemed to offer Mahler some solace.

THE MUSIC – Mahler’s attempt to cheat death by leaving his true Ninth Symphony unnumbered (Das lied von der Erde) has been the subject of many biographical studies, owing mostly to the fact that the trick failed. If you agree that Das Lied should be counted as part of his symphonic catalogue then he did indeed flout Beethoven’s curse, but the numbers do not lie. When he passed in 1911, the official Ninth stood complete while, as he always feared, the Tenth did not. Mahler did most of the initial work on the Tenth during the summer of 1910 but only the first movement and a portion of the third received an orchestration. His widow held the sketches from public view until 1924. We cannot presume to understand all of her reasons for protecting the material, but not least among them must have been the tragically sad notations Mahler had scribbled throughout the incomplete score. They are outcries of a man in torment, of a man in fear of great personal loss and the music of the first movement (Adagio) reflects much of his pathos. There have been at least five attempts at a “completion” of the full symphony, with the Deryck Cooke version from 1964 (rev. 1976) owning the majority of the market share today. Erwin Ratz produced an edition of the Adagio alone (also in 1964) that attempts to accurately convey nothing more than what Mahler actually wrote.   

THE WORLD – Montenegro declared itself an independent kingdom in 1910. Also that year was the Japanese annexation of Korea, the opening of Penn Station in New York and the launch of the Olympic, first ship of the class that included the Titanic.  

THE CONNECTION – The Mahler 10 Adagio has only been performed alone on one previous occasion by the Utah Symphony. It was 2007 and Keith Lockhart conducted.