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Main heading: The Music of Gustav Mahler: A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Sources [rule] Paul Banks





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Private communication, 7 November 1977. Prof. Abraham also remarked that the Russian Music Society had run a similar competition the previous year, but this was probably only open to Russian composers. See also Leo Kaaben, Instrumental’nyi ansambl’ v russkoj muzike [The Instrumental Ensemble in Russian Music] (Muzgiz, Moscow, 1961), 169.



The same information was published in the Musikalisches Wochenblatt, 15 June 1877, 8.











Piano Quartet (1877)




Piano Quartet




  Piano, violin, viola, cello






None located


Printed Editions






On 21 June 1896 Mahler recalled his early works in conversation with Natalie Bauer-Lechner (NBL2, 55; NBLE, 57 (revised):

„Das Beste davon war ein Klaqvierquartett,‟ erzählte er mir, „welches am Schluß der vierjährigen Konservatoriumszeit entstand und das großen gefallen erregt. Graedner beheilt es monatlang bei sich und es gefiel ihm so, daß er es bei Billroth zur Aufführung brachte. Bei einer Preiskonkurrenz, zu der ich das Quartett nach Rußsland schickte, es ist mir verloren gegangen.‟

'The best of them, he told me 'was a piano quartet, which I wrote at the end of my four years at the Conservatoire, and which proved a great success. Grädener kept it for months, and he liked it so much that he performed it at Billroth's. I lost it through a competition, for which I sent the Quartet to Russia.'

Hermann Grädener (1844–1929) was an organist, conductor, teacher (at the Vienna Conservatoire and the University) and a composer: his contacts with Mahler seem to have been few, and indeed during his tenure as conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic concerts Mahler turned down a symphony by him for performance (HLGIV, 54).

As a young researcher keen to pinpoint, if possible, the competition mentioned by Mahler, I contacted the late Professor Gerald Abraham who advised me that he believed that the competition to which Mahler referred was organised by the St Petersburg Society for Chamber Music in 1877, that 95 entries were received, but that no first prize was awarded, the second going to Bernhard Scholz (1835–1916).¹ The competition was indeed announced in the western European musical press:

Announcement of the 1877-78 Composition Competition organised by the St Petersburg Society for Chamber Music

Fig. 1. Announcement of the 1877-78 Composition Competition organised by the St Petersburg Society for Chamber Music

Signale für die musikalische Welt, 1877/37 (June 1877), 534²

The response was so great – 95 submissions from all over Europe – that the planned date for the announcement had to be put back from 'not later than 1 March [O.S.]' to sometime in April 1878 [O.S.]:

Facsimile of the announcement that the result of the competition would not be announced until April 1878 (Musikalisches Wochenblatt, IX/13 (22 March 1878), 164)

Fig. 2. Musikalisches Wochenblatt, IX/13 (22 March 1878), 164

So far no report on the outcome of the competition has been located in either of the journals cited above, but from an advert (Musikalisches Wochenblatt, IX/36 (30 August 1878, 437) and a report of the 1877/8 concert season of the Society (ibid., IX/48 (22 November 1878), 582) it is clear that Scholz did win a prize for his String Quintet in E minor, op. 47, that it was performed in St Petersburg, and was published by Julius Hainauer in Breslau.

The rules of the competition may offer an explanation as to why Mahler's Piano Quartet was not returned: if they wanted their manuscripts back, the composers of works that did not received a prize or honourable mention had to pay the return postage (§8). However there is a postscript to the competition: in 1879 Breitkof & Härtel announced that they had some of the competition entries and would be willing to send them to their rightful owners, raising the possibility that Mahler's score and parts had at least found their way back as far as Leipzig.

Coulour facsimile of the notice placed in the Signale für die musikalische Welt by Breitkopf & Härtel.

Fig. 3. Signale für die musikalische Welt, 1879/45 (September 1879), 713

The problem with this narrative is that it does not fit comfortably with Mahler's recollections: even allowing for his mistake over the length of his conservatoire studies (three, not four, years) Mahler seems to be suggesting that the competition dated from c.1878–1880 or possibly later. Although Signale and the Musikalisches Wochenblatt both reported regularly on the St. Petersburg Society for Chamber Music, they seem not to contain any reference to another composition competition organised by the society within this period: the next was the 1880/1881 competition for an essay on the subject of  'Die geschichtliche Entwicklung der Kammermusik und ihre Bedeutung für Musiker' ('The historical development of chamber music and its significance for musicians') (Musikalische Wochenblatt, XII/6 (3 February 1881), 76). Another outstanding issue is whether this Piano Quartet was in anyway related to one or both of the surviving fragments by Mahler for this combination, the Piano Quartet Movement in A minor, and the Scherzo in G minor: at present there seems to be no strong evidence that might contribute to a resolution of that question.

Select Bibliography
  DM1, 128; HLG1, 720; HLG1a, 112
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