Listening Guide – Symphony No. 10 Intro


One of the tragedies of Mahler’s brilliant career as a composer is that he could not complete what might well have been his greatest Symphony. But we are fortunate that he left one virtually completed movement and substantial sketches for the other movements of what would have been his Symphony number 10. These sketches reveal a five-movement work virtually complete in form if not in substance. Only a few gaps and inner voices remain to be filled in, and the complete orchestration to be worked out from occasional notations of instrumentation that Mahler scribbled on pages of the sketches. Although the order of the movements are not absolutely certain, there seems little doubt that Mahler intended the 10th, to begin with, the Adagio movement, which was nearly completed before his death. Most scholars who have examined the sketches agree that the two scherzo movements were to frame the brief intermezzo movement called Purgatorio, and the concluding movement was to be one in which music of deeply expressive lyricism contrasts with a demonic scherzando subject in the first decade after Mahler’s death, some of his colleagues became aware of the surviving sketches Mahler draft and during his last summer vacation in Toblach, at first, there was some reluctance to tamper with that which Mahler did not complete. But Paul Stefan, who discovered these sketches a year after Mahler died, suggested the deference to the composer would not permit anyone to ever set eyes on them.
Schoenberg, who knew Mahler and his music intimately, went even further, it seems that the ninth is a limit, he wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the 10th, for which we are not yet ready. Those who have written a ninth have stood too near to the hereafter. Perhaps the riddles of the world would be resolved if one of those who knew them were to ride a 10th and that is probably not to take place.

In 1925, after the first performance of Krenek edition of the first and third movements, Richard Specht recanted his belief that Mahler had wanted the sketches to be destroyed after his death, and he informed us that the composer had entrusted them to Alma to do with as she thought best. But the prohibition against performance of Mahler’s music in Nazi Germany caused interest in completing the sketches to wane. After the Second World War, however, that interest revived through the efforts of a few Mahler scholars, among them Jacques de Thore. He asked both honored Schoenberg and Dimitri Shostakovich to complete the symphony, but both declined. Since then, the sketches were made more accessible, and several musicologists have taken up the project in an effort to complete the symphony, Joseph Wheeler and Deryk Cooke produced performing versions of the 10th that stay close to the boundaries of the sketches, only filling in gaps and completing the orchestration. Clinton Carpenter and Remo Mazzeti Jr. have made valiant efforts to venture beyond the confines of the sketches and produce what they call full realizations of the symphony that add musical lines to what Mahler notated. Other versions, such as those by the Italian team of Somalian Masuka, and Rudolph Barshai are labeled reconstructions. Although these versions are distinguishable from one another, they retain the overall structure and order of the movements, as well as the basic musical material that Mahler had supplied in his sketches. Only the second and third edition of Deryk Cooke’s performing version and the Somali bazooka reconstruction have been published. All of the extended versions have been recorded, except for the Somali Masuka.
Cooke’s performing versions have been recorded more often than the others. Alma Mahler, despite her willingness to allow the sketches to be studied, refused to permit a public performance of a completed version. She had apparently not heard the performance of Deryk Cooke’s work in progress in 1960, under the baton of Berhtold Goldschmidt, three years later, after being reduced to tears upon hearing a rehearsal tape of this performance, she was convinced by conductor Harold Byrns and two American Mahler experts, Jack Diether and Jerry Brook to allow further performances.
Although much has been written about how Alma may have intentionally distorted facts about Mahler’s life, his persona, and his physical condition. Her granting permission to others to pursue Mahler’s sketches, with their many personal comments scrolled by him on its pages, and clearly meant for her eyes alone, must have been a great personal sacrifice. Much of the music, particularly the last three movements, was sketched after Mahler became aware of his wife’s affair with Walter Gropius. His deep anguish over the affair led Mahler to seek help from Sigmund Freud. As a result of his encounter with the great Viennese psychoanalyst, Mahler realized possibly more than ever before, how important Alma was to him, and how much the lyricism in this music expressed his deep love for her. When Mahler fully accepted that his behavior towards Alma was the principal cause of the alienation of her affections, he did all he could to make up for it. In his correspondence with her during the last months of his life, he tried to communicate his feelings to her and make up for his past failings. He supported Alma’s efforts as a composer, and dedicated the eighth Symphony to hurt. The wound he suffered at the discovery of almost infidelity is expressed in our cries of pain and torment, that he’s scrolled over the sketch pages of the 10th, “madness seizes me, the accursed destroy me, that I may forget my existence, that I may cease to be that I for” and for the moment he stops, and then later, “farewell, my liar. Farewell, farewell, farewell”. Both of these scrolling things are in the fourth movement. And then later the famous phrase, to live for the to die for the old machine written in the pages of the finale. It is interesting to note how these personal outbursts of a deeply wounded soul mirror his feelings as a young man undergoing the torments of self-doubt, personal alienation and rejection. For what would be the last time Mahler had to confront a personal crisis and exercise its negative effect upon him through his music.
The 10th focuses on that crisis and its resolution writ large. While the symphony clearly continues Mahler’s search for the meaning of life in the face of death that pervades Das Lied Von der Erda and the Ninth Symphony, his orientation becomes even more personal, because he now faces the imminent threat of losing not only his life but also his love. If love is the quintessential human attribute for Mahler, or at least the catalyst necessary for the creative act to blossom forth, the threat of its annihilation would be tantamount to a death blow for him. His inner demon continued to haunt him with Dantesque visions of the inferno and Purgatorio.
Death again functions as the antagonist, here at the end, not only of life but of love, which is the quintessential aspect of life, the human-divine spark that ignites true creativity, and thus gives meaning to human existence, foreshadow foreshadowed in the finale of the Third Symphony. This conceptualization underlies the eighth and comes to fruition in the purely orchestral 10th. In the sixth Symphony, the demonic spirit in the guise of a Mephistophelean character, tries to undermine the heroic aspect of humankind.

  • In the ninth that same spirit tries to annihilate innocence.
  • In the 10th, it is human love that is now subjected to the tortures and mockery of Mahler’s inner demon.
  • In each of the three middle movements, demonic dance music recalls the contorted waltzes and blenders in earlier works that mark the joys of life.

The tense five movement form recalls the fifth and seventh symphonies, like the ninth but different from both the fifth and seventh. The outer movements of the 10th are primarily in a slow tempo, while the middle movements are scherzo’s as in most of Mahler symphonies, each movement presents a conflict between opposing forces, represented by its principal subjects, as is Mahler’s want, thematic interconnections between movements provide cyclical connective tissue, while references to earlier works reflect Mahler’s pension for self paraphrase, and self quotation. Constantine Floros knows that the disposition of keys in the 10th is less adventurous than in the ninth, yet excruciatingly dissonant chordal explosions appear in episodic fashion during the outer movements. While the cataclysmic climaxes that emerged from these enormous outbursts are not permeated with contrapuntal interplay as in the ninth. They are bolder and more terrifying, long line themes contrast with modular figures that are treated both melodically and motivicly. Inter movement appearances of motivic figures give the impression that they hover over the work as negative symbols of fate.
Barford refers to angular corners, and unexpected twists and octave displacements, giving rise to wider leaps that act like intense stabs of feeling.

In the 10th, Mahler extends the conceptual path he tried in the ninth as Deryk Cooke so aptly put it, “a deeper self exploration eventually exercises bitterness, horror and heartbreak, and culminates in a hymn to human love, a serene unlamented acceptance of the inevitable human love”. Such an unreserved, unconditional acceptance of life, was ultimately the answer to the dilemma of human mortality that Mahler had sought to attain throughout his life. Yet, despite the disparate answers that he offered in his symphonies, he kept returning to the question of the meaning and value of life in the face of inevitable death with ever greater impetus. None of the answers apparently satisfied him. In his final period, he came to realize that life must be affirmed without reservation or compromise, no matter how absurd or illogical that may appear.

In the ninth such affirmation is only hinted at in the final measures. For many of us, Mahler’s music has become one of the most significant expressions of the human condition in the modern world. Our awareness of life as a problem and our desperate need to resolve the paradox of human mortality. Our incessant striving for fulfillment in the face of certain death, and the likelihood that our hopes and dreams will never be achieved, appears to negate the value of our efforts to achieve them. No other composer has more profoundly and uncompromisingly represented in his music, the dualistic forces of the human spirit, the humane and the demonic, the positive and the negative, the creative and the destructive, life and death.

In his last three symphonies, including Das Lied Von der Erda, Mahler seems to say along with the Hebrew Prophet, “choose life that you may find fulfillment”. Our musical analysis of the 10th is based upon two sources for the first movement, the edition published under the auspices of the International Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft in Vienna, and published by Universal Edition in 1964, and for the remaining movements, Deryk Cooke’s second performing version published by Associated Music Publishers Inc. and Favorite Music Limited in 1976. His third performing version in collaboration with Goldschmidt, and Colin and David Matthews, was published by Favorite Music Limited,, London and Associated Music Publishers in New York in 1989.

By Lew Smoley

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