Mahler’s symphonies are the summation of the rich symphonic tradition of the “long 19th century,” concurrently marking the dawn of the modern era.1 Today, despite the history of their contradictory transmission and reception, they are an integral part of the classical concert repertoire.
The 300th anniversary of the Breitkopf & Härtel publishing house in 2019 is the perfect occasion for commemorating two events of historical significance that began independently in Leipzig. From 1886 to 1888, Mahler worked as Kapellmeister next to Arthur Nikisch at the Leipzig Stadttheater. His career as one of the most important conductors of his time had its start there; his journey as one of the greatest symphonists ever began there with the composition of his first two symphonies. At the same time in Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel started developing one of the most extensive and complete repertoire collections, the score and orchestra library from which Mahler, as a conductor, directed many of his concert performances. Editions of his own symphonies, however, were not included; they were subsequently published by various other publishing houses.
The edition of all Mahler’s symphonies in Breitkopf & Härtel’s score and orchestra library ties in with the content of the symphony volumes of the Mahler Complete Critical Edition, edited by the International Gustav Mahler Society, that have been published since 1960 by Universal Edition, C. F. Peters, C. F. Kahnt, and Bote & Bock. It was the society’s commitment to present for the first time a reliable music text of what they called the “definitive version,” based on the sources known and available at that time. Its corner stone was laid by Erwin Ratz, pupil of Schoenberg and Webern. As an outstanding Mahler authority, he promoted a critical edition – partly even against the first publishers’ skepticism – , because he realized that the imperfections of the previous editions were a decisive obstacle to establishing Mahler’s symphonies in the classical concert repertoire. After his death in 1973, Ratz’s commendable work was continued by Karl Heinz Füssl and other editors. Subsequently, a whole series of improved and revised new editions has followed, all published within the Complete Critical Edition.
Such an abundance of various critical editions may come as a surprise. The reasons for this are multifarious, however. They are due in part to both Mahler’s way of composing, largely being a “work in progress,” and the complicated and sometimes confusing source situation. With his relentless revisions, Mahler did indeed aim for a work’s definitive form, but for various reasons was able only to approximate it. The most important reason of all, though, may be that as composer and conductor, Mahler merged two conflicting roles. For an editor, it is therefore difficult to decide whether the composer’s repeated retouchings (even after publication) are owing to special performance conditions and are in this respect only situational, or whether they imply his last compositional intentions. Furthermore, the extremely complex and unclear source situation resulting from Mahler’s characteristic creative process presents an immense editorial challenge. Because of the extraordinary quantity of source material to be worked through, the Critical Edition was itself a “work in progress,” especially as some sources had not been included initially because their whereabouts or source value became known only later.
Since the publication of its first volumes more than half a century ago, the Complete Critical Edition’s concern to lay the foundation stone for establishing Mahler’s symphonies in concert life by providing reliable music texts of the definitive version has fortunately been fulfilled in two respects. Mahler’s symphonies are meanwhile not only part of the canon of classical concert works, but the music text of the Complete Critical Edition has come to prevail as the standard text in music praxis.
Despite this gratifying Mahler renaissance, users had to put up with a whole range of practical problems. It was not only in content that the variously revised editions appeared confusing. Accordance between score and performance material was also not always assured. The fact that initially the results from the Critical Edition’s multiple revisions were incorporated only within the old, meanwhile outdated, engraved plates of the first edition made distinguishing the differing editions more difficult and did not contribute to improving the quality of the engraving.
The Breitkopf & Härtel edition now wishes to remedy the situation by pursuing primarily practical matters. The new setting of score and orchestral parts in a larger format and on an enlarged rastral size ensures for the first time a uniform appearance and optimal readability. Particular attention was given to making the orchestral parts more practical by collaborating in their development with librarians of leading orchestras and taking into account not only obvious requirements such as extensive orientation systems (cues, counting tools, structural rests), page-turns, and the like, but also to other, sometimes very special practical aspects such as transposed parts for instruments no longer common today, or extra parts, for example, for Mahler’s sometimes desired orchestral reinforcements.
A new critical review of the music text, starting from the ostensible “definitive version” prevalent in music praxis and in turn the basis for countless Mahler researchers’ work, appeared necessary to provide a more reliable score content. Without fundamentally questioning the Complete Critical Edition’s source evaluation, a large number of clarifications in the music text could be obtained, editorial inconsistencies rectified, and errors corrected that were discovered meantime. Information on these issues is given in the Editorial Report where also essential details on sources, their genesis and tradition as well as on editorial and performance practical particularities can be found.
In the majority of Gustav Mahler’s works it is not possible to designate unequivocally an ultimate version down to the last detail or even an “Urtext.” Mahler himself aspired lifelong to a “final text” and pursued a definitive ideal work form – from today’s perspective – only to be halted by his too early death. In conclusion, we should point out the counsel that the composer gave the conductor Otto Klemperer about how to deal with his music texts: “If after my death anything does not sound right, change it. You have not only the right, but also the duty to do that.”2 With this in mind, the present edition aims to encourage a responsible and creative approach to Mahler’s work of genius. Orchestra librarians, musicians, and conductors are here most sincerely thanked for numerous suggestions and advice.
Wiesbaden, Spring 2019
Christian Rudolf Riedel