Mahler's Tenth?

Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1997.


A recent classical music discussion on the Internet was devoted to Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 10" in F-Sharp. As Mahler wrote only nine symphonies, the cyberchat was quite interesting.

In 1910 Mahler did compose one movement of what was intended to be his "10th," and he sketched out his plans for the rest. But, except for that first movement and 28 measures of the third, he didn't live to orchestrate this work or to make detailed indications of the dynamics he wanted.

After Mahler's death, his widow asked Schoenberg to complete the work, but he refused. Shostakovich also turned down the assignment. Not being satisfied with just nine symphonies when there could be a tenth, several music scholars have made efforts to finish what Mahler started - without being asked.

The latest is Remo Mazzetti, Jr., an American musicologist with degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. After hearing a broadcast of the uncompleted work, he became possessed by the symphony and studied the various versions available, none of which he found totally convincing. He then created his own, and it was given its American premiere in 1994 by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

The same team is now offering the world premiere recording of the Mazzetti realization of Mahler's "10th" on a new RCA Red Seal release (09026-68190-2). The jewel case includes a bonus disc with Slatkin presenting a fascinating review of the differences between the various versions of the symphony, complete with musical examples. This shows clearly the variety of choices for orchestration available for each passage, and how tremendously different each option sounds.

Though you are only likely to listen to the Slatkin-illustrated lecture once or twice, it greatly helps your appreciation of the tremendous task involved in orchestrating the rest of this powerful, emotional, five-movement work.

Between 1946 and 1975 Deryck Cooke, Clinton Carpenter and Joseph Wheeler attempted to complete Mahler's "10th Symphony." The Cooke version, with "slight adjustments" by Simon Rattle, was recorded with him conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on Angel (CDC 54406). The Carpenter edition has been put out by the Philharmonia Hungarica under the direction of Harold Farberman on a hard-to-find Golden String International CD. The Wheeler effort hasn't made it to CD, although it has been performed in concert.

In an article for "The Musical Quarterly" about the different approaches and objectives of these editors, conductor Theodore Bloomfield wrote: "Cooke's aim was simply to enable the musical ideas to be heard from beginning to end, guided by exemplary humility and candor... Wheeler approached the manuscript still more cautiously, adding an absolute minimum of voices and reinforcements, producing a predominantly lean texture... and Carpenter, on the other hand, set out unabashedly to complete the symphony in Mahlerian style, not identifying his own additions, and therefore overstepping the line between editing and composing. Mr. Mazzetti, with these three versions before him, felt that Cooke and Wheeler had not gone far enough, Carpenter too far; the first two versions were too sparse, the other too dense. His own version falls between them but is no mere synthesis of their best."

Has Mazzetti succeeded? Does this really sound like Mahler's "10th"? Well, in a word, yes. The first movement, of course, sounds just like Mahler, since he composed and orchestrated it himself - although there are loud, dissonant, 20th Century chords 18 minutes into the 24-minute section which don't sound like anything I have ever heard in a Mahler composition before. According to the excellent program notes by Richard Freed accompanying the CD, "Alban Berg checked over the first movement and left detailed criticism." These chords make me wonder if he didn't leave more than that!

This first movement, "Adagio," has a beautiful, romantic, lyrical melody which, to my tastes, is by far the best in the entire symphony. The second, a scherzo, has a light, clucking theme which I must remember to try out on my pet hen, Noirette. I think she might want to mate to it.

The third, "Satz," is a short (3:48), bonus movement with a light, scherzo-like, Mahleresque theme and totally convincing orchestration. The waltz-like themes of the fourth movement, though not catchy, are colorfully orchestrated. I think there are too many mini-climaxes here -- rapid buildups which seem artificial and contrived - but this may be more Mahler's fault than Mazzetti's. This movement ends, literally, with a bang, which serves as the transition to the fifth movement, which starts without pause."

The 24-minute "Finale" begins with several very loud drum bangs, like gun shots, over a bed of otherwise quiet, peaceful music. I find this technique, which is repeated elsewhere in the movement, jolting, disturbing and unpleasant. Otherwise, I like it. No, seriously, this jumpy, partly-dissonant movement is not one of Mahler's best, and is full of themes which remind me of other Mahler symphonies which I like better. It does come to a beautiful, quiet, harmonious ending, however, and I suppose all's well that ends well.

The more I listen to the Mazzetti version, the more I appreciate what a brilliant job he did in imitating Mahler's style of orchestration. But the symphony, over all, sounds too much like what Mahler had written before, although not as good. It is as if, by the end of his life, Mahler had run out of new symphonic ideas and was saying the same thing over and over again.

If Mahler were to come back from the dead and listen to this recording, he would know, I'm sure, that he hadn't orchestrated the last four movements. Whether or not he would be pleased with Mazzetti's effort, we'll never know. But Mazzetti should receive the credit he deserves for trying. So I wish the marketers of the new CD would not refer to it as Mahler's "Symphony No. 10," but rather as Mahler/Mazzetti: "Symphony No. 10," just as the orchestrated version of "Pictures at an Exhibition" is generally credited as being by Mussorgsky/Ravel. That would be fair to the buying public... and to the extraordinary, highly successful effort Mazzetti made to bring this symphony to life.


The Internet may not be a superhighway, but it can be a two-way street! Please take a moment to send your e-mail reaction to this piece to the author at

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