A Cartoon of Mahler



Symphony No. 1

Autograph full score – [AF1]


Present location, if it survives, unknown






Leo Liepmannssohn, Autographen z. T. aus den Sammlungen Edmund Weiss, München (†) und Jan van Santen-Kolff (†):[Versteigerung am] Freitag, den 28. und Sonnabend, den 29. November 1919 (Katalog Nr. 45, Berlin, 1919): lot 534, p. 50 (accessed 6 Nov. 2020).



Leo Liepmannssohn, Autographen: literarische Autographen, historische Autographen, Musiker ... z. T. aus der Sammlung des Herrn Fritz Jonas †. Versteigerung am 10. und 11. Juni 1927 (Katalog Nr. 50,  Berlin, 1927): lot 601, p. 52 (accessed 6 Nov. 2020). The estimate was 20 RM.



It is possible that at some time after the summer of 1888, [AF6] found its way into the collection of Marion von Weber.

















































  [January-March 1888]



The 'pre-history' of the Symphony is not altogether clear. Henry-Louis de La Grange reports that Nathalie Bauer Lechner wrote on a folder containing material relating to the symphony that it was sketched in 1885 (HLG1, 746) and in a chronologically confusing list (GA, 99) Guido Adler reports sketching for the symphony in an entry that follows a paragraph referring to July 1885, but before one recording the composition of the incidental music to Der Trompeter von Sakkingen (which Adler fails to date, but actually occurred in 1884). In any case, one of the lines of inspiration – from the song Maitanz im Grünen, which has some connection with scherzo of the Symphony – clearly extends back to 1880.  The Trompeter music, which provided at least one movement of the Symphony (a serenade that became Blumine) was composed in 1884, as were the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen which contributed themes to the first and fourth (later, third) movements of the Symphony. However, in the absence of any relevant manuscript sources, the nature of the sketching undertaking at this early stage in the work's history is unknown.

Nathalie Bauer-Lechner reports Mahler's account of the main work on the piece (NBL, 150; NBLE, 158–9):

Mahler machte die ganze Symphonie in Leipzig binnen sechs wochen neben fortwährend Dirigieren und Einstidieren; er arbeitet vom Aufstehen bis 10 Uhr vormittages and die Abende, wenn er frei war. Dazwischen – in einem herrlichen März und April – ging er fließig im Rosental spazieren. Wie geschenkt kamen ihm die Ferien durch den Tod Kaiser Wilhelms: zehn Tage, die er aufs intensivste benutzte.

Mahler composed the whole symphony in Leipzig within six weeks, while constantly conducting and rehearsing. He worked from the time he got up until ten o'clock in the morning, and in the evenings when he was free. Otherwise he seized every opportunity - during a glorious March and April - of taking walks in the Rosental. He received the windfall of an unexpected holiday through the death of the Emperor: ten days, of which he took the fullest advantage.

Kaiser Wilhelm 1 died on 9 March 1888, but Mahler's letters suggest that the composer had started work on the Symphony rather earlier and that the process took longer than six weeks. On 5 January 1888 he wrote to Max Staegemann (GMB, 70–2; GMSL, 110), the Director of the Leipzig Stadttheater, asking for a couple more months patience; although the cause of Mahler's admitted negligence is never made explicit, a period of absorption in creative work would be a plausible explanation; if so, then the sketching and drafting process may have begun in the winter of 1887. Certainly by the second half of February Mahler was hard at work on a Symphony, as he reported to his parents on 14 or 21 February (GMLJ, 88; GMLJE, 50):

Daß ich so lange nichts von mir hören lasse, hat seinen besonderen Grund, der Euch nicht un[bekannt] sein dürft[e]: nämlich ich arbeite wieder an einem neuen Werke, einer großen Symphonie welch ich im Laufe des nächsten Monates fertig gebracht haben möchte. – Darum stecke ich jetzt wieder so fleißig drin, daß ich nicht einmal dazu komme, Euch zu schreiben. Jede freie Minute benütze ich.

There is a particular reason – which ought not to [surprise]' you – why you haven't heard from me for so long: namely, I am working again on a new composition, a large symphony that I would like to have finished over the course of next month. – Because I am so hard at it again, I have not got around to writing you even once. I use every free moment.

On 2 March he could report (GMLJ, 93; GMLJE, 53)

Sonst bin ich sehr fleißig, und komme mit meinem Werk rüstig vorwärts; die wenigen Menschen, denen ich es vorspielte, sind davon ganz entzückt.

Apart from that, I am very industrious and am rapidly coming along with my piece. The few people I have played it for were completely taken with it.

Later in the month completion was in in sight (GMLJ, 91; GMLJE, 51)

Ich arbeite fleißig an meinem Werk – noch in diesem Monat – spätestens Hälfte des nächsten hoffe [ich] das Werk in der Reinpartitur fertig zu haben. Dann wird gefaullenzt [sic]. Jedenfalls komme ich dann auch auf ein paar Tage zu Euch. – Dies dürfte eben [die] 2. Hälfte des April sein.

I am working hard at my piece, and still hope to have the final copy finished this month – the middle of next month at the latest. Then I'll laze about. Anyhow, I will also come home for a few days. – This ought to be the second half of April, then.

In conversation with Bauer-Lechner, Mahler recalled the circumstances in which the DGraphic: flat sign material in the finale (fig. 16) was composed (NBL, 150; NBLE, 159):

Der göttliche Geigennachgesang des letzten Satzes fiel Mahler in einer Abendgesellschaft bei Stägemann während des Soupers ein. Er ging ins Nebenzimmer, ihn aufzuschreiben, wobei es ihm in einem Guß zuströmte; und er lief damit, unerachtet der erstaunten und etwas verletzten Gesellschaft, mitten in der Unterhaltung weg; es kümmerte ihn wenig, daß man es ihm als Künstlerschrulle auslegte.

The idea for the divinely lovely melody of the violins in the last movement came to Mahler during an evening party at the Stägemanns', while supper was being served. He went into the next room to write it down, and found himself in a full flood of inspiration. Ignoring the amazed and somewhat offended company, he had run out with it in the middle of the conversation. It did not worry him in the least that his behaviour was put down to 'artistic temperament'.

On 28 March Mahler wrote to Hans von Bülow (HLG1F, 271–2, fn 53; HLG1, 866, fn 39). Although the letter seems not to have been located in any publicly available collection, the 1919 and 1927 auction catalogues in which it was offered for sale quote a passage from it that provides a terminus ante quem for the completion of the work:¹

Ich habe soeben die Partitur einer Symphonie vollendet. Bevor ich dieselbe in die Welt sende, wäre es mir ein großes Bedürfnis, sie zuerst Ihrem, mir ungeheuer werthvollem Urtheil zu unterbretten...

I've just finished the score for a symphony. Before I send it out into the world, I would very much like to submit it for your judgement, which is enormously valuable to me ....

Soon afterwards he announced its completion to his friend Fritz Löhr (GMB, 63–4; GMSL, 111–12) and his parents (GMLJ, ; GMLJE, 53–4):

So! Heute ist mein Werk fertig geworden, und ich kann, Gott sei Dank, sagen, daß es wol gelungen ist. Damit hoffe ich wieder einen großen Schritt vorwärts zu thun.

Morgen ist Familie Stägemann und Weber bei mir zum Kaffee (ich habe nämlich eine wundervolle Wohnung, und oft sind St. od[er] W[eber]'s bei mir) und dann spiele ich ihnen zum 2. Male die Symphonie vor. Das 1. Mal hat sie bei ihnen geradezu Sensation erregt, und sie wollen sie gleich noch einmal hören.

Mit der Aufführung habe ich natürlich keine Schwierigkeiten, da ich jetzt eben ein – »berühmter« Mann bin.

Well! Today my work is finished and I can say – thank God – that it has turned out well. With it, I again hope to take a large step forward.

Tomorrow the Staegemann and Weber families are coming for coffee (in fact, I have a wonderful apartment and the Staegemanns and Webers are often over) and I shall then play the symphony for them a second time. The first time, it virtually caused a sensation amongst them, and they wanted to hear it again immediately.

Naturally, I won't have any difficulty having it performed, since I'm now a "famous" man.

Mahler's optimistic expectation of an early performance proved to be misplaced. In mid May 1888 he expected the first performance to be in Dresden on 7 December 1888 (GMLJ, 96; GMLJE, 56) but at the end of the month he was considering the possibility of a performance of the Symphony in Leipzig (GMB2, 72–3). By August of 1888 Mahler was attempting to interest Herman Levi in giving a performance of the 'Symphony' in the next concert season in Munich, and attempted to enlist Richard Strauss's support. It is is possible that it was around this time that Strauss and Levi played through the work 'four-handed from the score' (GMRSB, 13; GMRSBE, 19). If so, this might suggest that at least one copy (perhaps ACF1) had been made by the late summer of 1888, as it seems unlikely that Mahler would have relinquished his only copy of the work – he specifically refers to his fears in such matters in a later letter to Strauss (GMRSB, 36; GMRSBE, 35).² All these attempts to arrange a performance proved fruitless: the work had to wait until Mahler had moved to Budapest before any organisation showed an interest in it.

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© 2007 Paul Banks | This page was lasted edited on 07 November 2020