Daniel Harding conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 10

28 Sep 2013

Berliner Philharmoniker
Daniel Harding

  • Gustav Mahler
    Symphony No. 10 (performing version by Deryck Cooke) (90 min.)

  • free

    Daniel Harding in conversation with Rachel Helleur (17 min.)

Not one but two great conductors took the young Daniel Harding under their wing at the beginning of his career: Sir Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado. Rattle, then heading up the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, was so enthusiastic about a CD recording made by the young man, just 17 at the time, that he made him his assistant. A position as assistant to Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker followed; Harding first conducted the orchestra in 1996. Meanwhile the British conductor, now music director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, has made an international career and is considered one of the most promising conductors of the younger generation.Gustav Mahler’s Tenth Symphony has accompanied him at key milestones in his career, such as his debuts with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler began the composition of this work, whose first movement links musically to the last movement of the Ninth Symphony, in the summer of 1910, profoundly shaken by his marital crisis with Alma Mahler. He was not to finish his Tenth Symphony: when he died in May 1911 he left it behind as a fragment. Only the first movement, Adagio, existed as a draft score and was incorporated into the Critical Complete Edition. Notwithstanding, the existing sketches have tempted musicologists to create a version appropriate for concert performance. The “performing version” of the British musicologist Deryck Cooke – not uncontroversial in professional circles – is the reconstruction of this symphony that is played most often.

Between Love and Death

Observations on Gustav Mahler’s Unfinished Tenth Symphony

On 12 September 1910 Gustav Mahler conducted the premiere of his colossal Eighth Symphony, known as the “Symphony of a Thousand”, in Munich. Many of his friends and acquaintances had come especially for the occasion, and the performance of the work became the greatest success of his composing career. What the audience at the premiere could not know was that the composer’s oeuvre was already complete at that point. Das Lied von der Erde The Song of the Earth and the Ninth Symphony were finished, and Mahler had also drafted the Tenth Symphony to a large extent during the previous months.

Shortly after completing the Eighth Symphony, Mahler learned that he had a serious heart disease. The doctors told him that he might have only a few years to live. Mahler’s confrontation with his own death dominates Das Lied von der Erde and the Ninth Symphony in particular. The Tenth Symphony, which he drafted during the summer of 1910 at his summer home near Toblach in the Dolomites, is a work of tremendous emotional, even existential significance. At the beginning of the holidays his wife Alma took a cure at Tobelbad, where she met the young architect Walter Gropius and began an affair with him. She knew that her husband was extremely jealous, so she tried to conceal the relationship from Mahler. After her arrival in Toblach, she arranged with Gropius to only exchange letters secretly, taking great precautions. At the end of July 1910, however, Gropius addressed a letter to Alma directly to Mahler. This cruel revelation came as a shock to the composer. He broke off work on his Tenth Symphony and tried to talk with Alma. She assured him that she did not intend to leave him but nevertheless continued the affair with Gropius. Mahler was desperate at the mere thought of losing his wife. He even consulted the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, after which his condition in fact improved so that he could resume work on his symphony.

The serious marital crisis left unmistakable traces in the work, however. Indications of his troubled relationship with Alma appear frequently in the sketches for the Tenth Symphony. Verbal allusions such as “Have mercy” or “You alone know what it means” in the score reflect his biographical situation, which must have caused Mahler deep distress. In the short score he noted at the end of the Finale: “to live for you! / to die for you!” “Almschi!”.

Mahler did not complete the orchestration of the draft. The five movements of the Tenth Symphony thus represent very different stages of work. The first movement exists in an almost fully orchestrated short score. The second movement, a Scherzo, is also a draft score, of which the first half is orchestrated but the remainder was only outlined by Mahler. The first 28 bars of the brief third movement are fully orchestrated; Mahler only made sketches for the following section but included numerous details on instrumentation. This movement was initially titled “Purgatorio or Inferno”, but the last word was later crossed out, whether by Mahler himself or by Alma cannot be established beyond doubt. The fourth and fifth movements exist solely as drafts; notes on instrumentation are only found in a few places.

After Mahler’s death, Ernst Krenek completed the first and third movements to the extent that they could be performed for the first time in Vienna in 1924. After the Second World War, several musicologists began reconstruction of the Tenth Symphony. The most successful was Deryck Cooke, who presented a version in 1964 which was performed publicly for the first time at Royal Albert Hall in London on 13 August 1964. Cooke called his orchestration “a performing version for the draft of the Tenth Symphony” and always emphasized that his reconstruction was in no way a completion of the work. He confined himself to filling out the texture of the orchestration where necessary, particularly in the second section of the second movement. If he occasionally incorporated new contrapuntal structures, they were derived from Mahler’s own thematic material. The third movement had to be partially orchestrated, the fourth and fifth movements completely scored. Cooke also made changes in orchestration to the first movement.

The symphony begins with a large-scale Adagio whose texture draws on the finale of the Ninth Symphony. The sombre theme of the solo violas at the opening alternates with a lyrical Adagio by the entire string section and the trombones. Typical of the viola theme, which appears repeatedly as the principal voice in a different guise, are the upbeat dotted rhythm and the descending basic melodic structure. Only in later variants is the range extended or the rhythm obscured by smaller note values. As the principal voice, this first motivic group develops different forms. The second motivic group, which is characterized by large intervals, for the most part depicts an arched line and vaguely suggests a hymn or chorale. The development of this motivic group ends abruptly, when shortly after the middle of the movement an expressive, almost shock-like eruption destroys the continuity of the previous flow. At its centre is a harshly dissonant, nine-note chord with a long sustained note in the trumpet whose force offsets the remainder of the movement, which is calm by comparison.

The second movement, the first of two Scherzos, features constant changes of metre, while the more tranquil trio, whose theme is derived from the string motif in the first movement, is reminiscent of a ländler. The coda, with its exuberantly jubilant horns, recalls the Scherzo from the Fifth Symphony. The brief third movement culminates in an expressive outburst that displays a certain affinity with the sharply dissonant section in the first movement. Mahler quotes a song that Alma had composed. At precisely this point in the short score Mahler wrote the words “Thy will be done”, a quotation from the Bible which demonstrates his resignation to his fate but may also refer to his wife. Formally, this “Purgatorio” serves as a prelude or transition to the last two movements of the work. The majority of the thematic material used there is also presented for the first time here.

The fourth movement starts out as a brisk waltz in which climax follows climax, until the dance comes to a complete standstill near the close and ends with muffled timpani strokes. At this point in the score Mahler wrote: “You alone know what it means / Ah! Ah! Ah! / Farewell, my lyre! / Farewell / Farewell / Farewell”.

The three-part Finale opens with dark sounds in the lowest registers of the orchestra. Fragments of themes are heard, until a sostenuto melody in the flute, which is subsequently taken up by the violins, leads to serene realms. At the climax of the movement, the dissonant chord from the first movement and the opening viola theme resound again, before the symphony closes with delicate tones, in a spirit of reconciliation.

Martin Demmler

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Daniel Harding was born in Oxford and began his career by assisting Sir Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which he himself conducted for the first time in 1994. He later worked as Claudio Abbado’s musical assistant, and in 1996 became the youngest conductor to appear at the BBC Proms in London. That same year he also made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Berlin Festival, conducting works by Berlioz, Brahms and Dvořák. After holding appointments as principal conductor with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway, as principal guest conductor with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, as music director of the Deutschen Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (1997 – 2003) and principal conductor of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (2003 – 2011), Daniel Harding is now music director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra and music partner of the New Japan Philharmonic. In constant demand in the world’s leading centres of music, he has appeared with many internationally acclaimed orchestras and conducted opera performances in houses as prestigious as the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, the Vienna and Munich State Operas and the Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence Festivals. In 2002 Daniel Harding was awarded the title Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government and in 2012 he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. As a guest conductor with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Daniel Harding last appeared with the orchestra in mid-October 2009, when he conducted three concerts with works by Bartók, Britten and Strauss.

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