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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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Movement for String Quintet








  String quintet?








Printed Editions






The only early reference to such a work with this instrumentation appeared in an article on Mahler published in 1907 by the music critic and advocate of Mahler's music, Richard Specht (1870–1932) (RSpGM2, 152–3):

[Diese Anekdote] handelte sich um eine vom Konservatorium ausgeschriebene Kompositionskonkurrenz, an der sich Mahler mit einer Symphonie beteiligte, weil er durch den zu erringenden Preis seinen Eltern den Beweis seiner berufenen Künstlerschaft geben wollte. Einen Tag vor Ablauf des Einreichungstermins wird die Symphonie vom Schulerorchester vor der Jury durchgespielt: ein heillos kakophonisches Chaos, eine unkenntliche Mißklangsorgie kommt zutage. Es stellt sich heraus, daß freundliche Mitschüler heimlich in Partitur und Stimmen beliebige entstellende Noten eingefügt hatten, um das Werk des Kollegen zu disqualifizieren. Mahler ist verzweifelt; unmöglich, bis zum nächsten Tag die Partitur wieder herzustellen und neue Stimmen kopieren zu lassen — man kann die Stimmung des um seinen Wunsch durch albernste Gehässigkeit betrogenen Jünglings begreifen. Aber diese Stimmung ist nicht von Dauer: er überlegt, daß bis zum Ablauf des Termins doch noch mehr als zwölf Stunden übrig sind, rafft sich zusammen und konzipiert aus schon gehegten Themen einen Streichquintettsatz — Freunde erzählen sogar von einem ganzen Quintett — , den er über Nacht niederschreibt. Und erringt damit den Preis.

[This anecdote] concerns a composition competition announced by the Conservatoire in which Mahler participated with a symphony because he wished to give his parents evidence of his artistic calling. One day before the expiry of the period for submissions the symphony was played before the jury by the student orchestra: an unholy, cacophonous chaos, an unbelievable orgy of discords was revealed. It turned out that obliging fellow students had secretly introduced arbitrary, disfiguring notes into the score and the parts in order to disqualify their colleague's work. Mahler was in despair. It was impossible to correct the score and have the parts re-copied by the next day – one can imagine the mood of the youth cheated of his wish by such absurd malice. But this mood did not last long: he reflected that there still remained over twelve hours before the closing date for submissions, pulled himself together and drafted a movement for string quintet from pre-existing themes – friends even speak of a whole quintet – which he copied out overnight. And with it he won the prize.

Specht's report, that Mahler adopted the pragmatic solution of composing (one might wonder whether it was more arranging) a replacement work based on existing material, is plausible. The reference to a quintet (its designation as a string quintet may simply be the result of a faulty memory or mis-transcription) would seem to connect the events with the end of Mahler's first or third years of study at the Conservatoire, since on both occasions he won composition prizes at the Conservatoire  with movements for piano quintet as listed below.

The narrative motif of a work being composed overnight and winning a prize recurs in connection with a number of lost works by Mahler.

See also: Symphony (1876–8), Violin Sonata (1876), Piano Suite (1876–8), First movement of a Quintet (1876), Scherzo for Piano Quintet (1876–8)

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  RSpGM2, 152–3
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