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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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Not specified, but probably his Concerto Pathétique in F sharp minor, op. 23. 



Schraml had performed this piece on 28 June at the annual competition for the second year of the violin course, and won second prize (see  Die Presse (1 July 1876, 10).



In a passage omitted from the first edition of her book, Bauer-Lechner makes another reference to a Violin Sonata, but in the context of Mahler's earliest works, composed before he attended the Vienna Conservatoire (NBL2, 69). So, there may have been an earlier Violin Sonata, or this could be a reference to the work written in Vienna.



The same story taken directly from Hruby, can be found in GAAB, IV/1, 451–2. For a discussion of this reminiscence from a different perspective, see the entry for the 'Conservatoire' Symphony.



This passage quotes from an otherwise unpublished portion of Bauer-Lechner's collection of Mahleriana.




Sonate für Violine und Piano




Sonate für Violine und Piano




  Violin, piano








Printed Editions






In July 1876 two students at the Conservatoire of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna returned to their home town, Iglau, and – under the auspices of the Städtische Musikkapelle – organised a concert at the Hotel Czap on the last day of the month. The musicians were the pianist/composer Gustav Mahler, and the violinist Richard Schraml, who together gave what was probably the first public performance of Mahler's Violin Sonata at the event (Martner2, 13). The programme announced in the Mährischer Grenzbote (30 July 1876) was:

  1. Kittl: Concert Overture in D major, op. 22
    Städtische Kapelle, Iglau, conducted by Heinrich Fischer

  2. Mahler: Sonata for Violin and Piano
    Richard Schraml, violin; Gustav Mahler, piano

  3. Beethoven: Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello
    Gustav Mahler: piano; Richard Schraml: violin; Professor N. Eichler

  4. Ernst: Violin Concerto¹
    Richard Schraml, violin; Gustav Mahler, piano

  5. Liszt: Gnomenreigen
    Gustav Mahler, piano

  6. Quartets for Male Voice Choir
    Männergesangverein, Iglau

  7. Vieuxtemps: Tarentella, op. 22, no. 5²
    Richard Schraml, violin; Gustav Mahler, piano

  8. Schubert: 'Wanderer' Fantasy, D 760
    Gustav Mahler, piano

At the end of the summer, on 12 September 1876 Mahler organised a second concert at the Hotel Czap, and again performed the Sonata (though this time with another fellow conservatoire student, August Siebert) and also repeated Schubert's 'Wanderer' Fantasy. Unfortunately the July Concert seems not to have been reviewed, and the account of the September concert reports only that the violin part was 'very difficult' and the work had 'a decided vein of drama'.

A hint about the work's compositional history is provided by an anecdote reported by Natalie Bauer-Lechner:

Sein Konservatoriumskollege [Julius] Winkler erzählte mir einst, Mahler sei nach einer Probe seiner Klavier-Violinsonate aus dem Musikverein – es war im Winter – so vertieft in Gedanken weggerannt, das er Mantel, Stock und Hutt vergaß; ja auf der Ringstraße verlor er selbst die Hälfte der Noten, die zum Glück die ihm folgenden Kollegen fanden und nebst den Kleidungsstücken ihm nachtrugen.

His conservatoire colleague [Julius] Winkler once told me [that] following a rehearsal of his sonata for violin and piano - it was winter - Mahler ran out of the Musikverein so deeply in thought that he forgot his stick, hat and coat; indeed he lost half of the music on the Ringstraße, which, fortunately the colleagues who followed him found and carried after him, along with his articles of clothing.

Since Winkler graduated from the Conservatoire in the summer of 1876 this story presumably can be dated to the winter of 1875–76, indicating that work was begun several months before the first performance. According to Paul Stefan, writing in 1909, the Sonata acquired 'a certain celebrity' among Mahler's friends (PSGM1, 14), and Mahler referred to the work when reminiscing to Bauer-Lechner on 21 June 1896 (NBL2, 55; NBLE, 57–8 (revised here)):³

Ein Klavierquintett und zwei Symphonien sowie ein Vorspiel zun den „Argonauten‟, das er früher gemacht, und eine preisgekrönte Violinsonate hat er nie ganz zu Papier gebracht. „Das war mir damals zu umständlich und mein Geist hatte sich noch zu wenig beruhigt und gesetzt. Ich schritt von Entwurf zu Entwurf und führte das meiste nur im Kopf aus; da wußte ich aber jede Note, daß ich es allezeit vorspielen konnte – bis ich es eines schönen Tages vergessen hatte.‟

A piano quintet, two symphonies, a prelude to Die Argonauten, composed earlier, and a prize-winning violin sonata were never fully written out. 'In those days I couldn't be bothered with all that – my mind was too restless and unstable. I skipped from one draft to another, and finished most of them merely in my head. But I knew every note of them, and could play them whenever they were wanted – until, one day, I found I had forgotten them all.

The reference to the 'prize-winning' success of the violin sonata is not supported by any currently available documentary source and may simply be an exaggeration on Mahler's part. However, an anecdote, one of Bruckner's favourite stories retold by his pupil Carl Hruby, refers to a sonata movement that was submitted as part of the examination process at the Conservatoire (CHAB, 13):

Mahler studierte bei Professor Krenn Compositionslehre und hatte zur Jahresprüfung einen Symphoniesatz vollendet. Da kam einen Tag (!) vor der Prüfung „hoherenorts‟ (von der Direction) die Weisung, man wünsche von den Schülern keine Orchestercompositionen, sondern Sonatensätze vorgelegt zu sehen. Mahler setzte sich hin und schreib über Nacht (!) einen Sonatensatz (Andante), der – nach Professor Krenns eigenem Ausspruch – „würdig war, den Namen des grössten Meisters an der Spitze zu tragen!‟ Diese interessante Reminiscenz aus der Jugendzeit Mahler's wurde uns von Bruckner – als von Professor Krenn selbst  – wiederholt erzählt.

Mahler studied composition with Professor Krenn and completed a symphonic movement for the annual examination. Then, one day (!) before the examination there came from 'above' (the administration) the instruction that it was desired that sonata movements rather than orchestral compositions should be submitted by the students. Mahler sat down and overnight (!) wrote a sonata movement (Andante) which, according to Professor Krenn's own opinion 'was worthy to bear at its head the name of the greatest master'. This interesting reminiscence about Mahler's youth was repeatedly recounted to us – as having come from Professor Krenn himself – by Bruckner.

Although Winkler's narrative is firmly set in winter, it is tempting to connect the 'sonata movement (Andante)' with the one sonata by Mahler that is firmly documented, the Violin Sonata of 1876. In any case Hruby's anecdote suggests the possibility that success at examinations and at competitions may have been muddled in Mahler's memory and, moreover, it is striking that in outline his narrative parallels two accounts of an orchestral work (in these variants, a whole symphony) that could not be performed at a conservatoire competition and was replaced at short notice by a work that won the prize.

Whether more than one or two movements of this work were composed and performed is not clear, but in July 1893 Mahler admitted to Bauer-Lechner that he rarely completed compositions (HLG1, 719–20):

It was not only because I was anxious to begin something new...but because, while still involved in the work, I had already outgrown it and was no longer content with it...but who could have known then that it wasn't [because of a] lack of creative urge, of strength or perseverance. 

In any case, in light of  Mahler's comment to Bauer-Lechner in 1896 (see above) it would appear that the piano part, at least, may have been only partially notated, and an example of Mahler's use of shorthand (figured bass) in non-thematic accompanimental passages can be found in the surviving autograph of the Piano Quartet in A minor (1876), bb. 203–15.

According to Guido Adler (GA, 96–7) the Violin Sonata was one of the early works destroyed by Mahler in the years 1877–9.

See also: Symphony (1876–8); Piano Suite (1876–8); Movement for String Quintet (1876–8); Sonata Movement (Andante) (1876–8); Scherzo for Piano Quintet (1878).

Select Bibliography

  HLG1, 3638; HLG1a, 39, 69, 71–72, 112; DM1, 34, 299–301, 308–9; Martner2, 13–17.
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