From the Orchestra Library

Is Mahler 5 the Same as Mahler 5?

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on July 12, 2009

A few words about Mahler symphonies from the library perspective:  not everything is always as it seems.

Although probably most librarians realize this (so please forgive the tutorial), it may bear repeating for those just getting started professionally (not only librarians, but also players, conductors and administrators).  Mahler made lots of changes in the symphonies during his lifetime, and editors have added their opinions, so one must proceed with caution when acquiring the parts.  If your conductor or artistic administrator says you are doing Mahler Symphony No. 5, for example, your first question needs to be “Which version?” If your conductor says “the critical edition” then you need to get a rental quote from C.F. Peters and tell your administrator.  If your administrator then says “but I looked in the Kalmus catalogue and you can buy it for much less” then your response is “only the original version is available for purchase and the conductor wants to do the critical edition which is still under copyright and a rental.”  Your administrator may then reply “Aren’t they basically the same thing, and can’t we just buy the Kalmus and make the changes? We have to save money.”

Your answer at this point must include the following:  “NO. They are very different, that would be considered a copyright violation, and if you want to save the money and buy the older version, then the conductor will have to use the same score and that is not what he/she wants to do. ”

For the record, I don’t know of a conductor who would ever agree to do the original version of this particular work.  The critical edition incorporates Mahler’s own changes made fairly soon after the original edition was first published.  These were his wishes. It is one situation in which the money needs to be spent if an orchestra is going to enter the arena of performing such a major work and represent the composer’s artistic intent accurately.  Kind of the cost of doing business.  My vote (and most conductors’ votes) would be that if you aren’t going to do the correct version, don’t do the piece.  Of course, librarians don’t get a vote, so I digress.

To complicate matters there are now three critical edition scores done by different editors and published by Peters: the 1964 edited by Ratz, 1988 by Füssl, and 2002 by Kubik.  So you have to find out which of the critical edition scores the conductor is using on top of it.  (If you aren’t sure, fax or scan score pages or send full scores around to compare, but always know exactly what the conductor is using.  ALWAYS.) There are enough editorial differences that the conductor will be expecting to hear what is in front of him/her and some of the changes are definitely noticeable.  Many conductors want to perform the latest edition of any work, but some do not. People can get very heated about what they believe to be the correct editorial decisions and why — I know, as geeky as it sounds, it’s true. (One of our MOLA conferences in recent years brought in leading editors for a panel discussion and you would have thought we were trying to solve global warming.)

Finally (well, in this kind of situation, one should never use the word “finally”), no matter what you do, the sets of parts will have errors that need to be corrected.  I’ll talk more about MOLA errata lists later on, but suffice it to say, get the list that goes with the edition you are doing and make the corrections.  That is not a copyright violation, it is just correcting errors the publisher missed.  Yep, it takes a bunch of time, and is a pain, but don’t be tempted to not do it.  That decision will come back to bite you later on. (Some librarians love to do this kind of work, and for me it depends on the piece.  If I have enough time, I think it’s kind of fun, and it’s certainly a musical learning experience.  I suppose this admission firmly establishes my nerd bona fides once and for all, as if they weren’t already clear.)

Just for some comfort and relief, not all Mahler symphonies are this complicated.  It’s pretty well-known in the library world which ones you can buy and which ones you really have to rent — some of the so-called “critical editions” of a few of them are not that much different than the original versions, and just get into the area of of different editions rather than different versions.  If the original version was the last one published in Mahler’s lifetime, then you can feel safe buying and correcting it.  Of course, then we are back to those editorial decisions and discussions, but that subject can barely be covered in a thesis, much less a blog entry.

So, on a summer Sunday, I just wanted to give you an idea of what went into preparing Mahler Symphony No. 5 for our performances this past season, including out here in Vail (I haven’t gone home yet, lucky girl that I am!).  And that is quite enough scholarly thinking for today.  It is making my vacation brain hurt.


2 Responses to 'Is Mahler 5 the Same as Mahler 5?'

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  1. Cristobal said,


    I read your article about Mahler editions. I am a musician (timpanist) I had realize of this because I had studied Mahler symphonies all of them with my Dover scores, but I realize that especially timpani parts do not match with the CDs that I am listening (usually really new recordings ) this happen to me especially with Number 6. I have the Universal Edition for Mahler3 which was really expensive but it matches with all the performances that I listen to. I was wondering if you could tell me if I buy the symphonies in the universal edition will that be the last edition? or at least the one that most of the people performs?
    Thank you very much.

    P.S.: Anyway is going to take me a while to buy them all. I am still a student.

  2. kschnack said,

    Hello Cristobal,

    Thanks for your very good question. Looking at it from a student musician’s point of view — studying your individual parts and trying to buy the right scores — here’s what I would do:
    If I could swing the money, I’d buy the Universal scores to Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, & 9, the latest Kalmus scores to Nos. 6 & 8, and the latest Peters score (Kubik, 2002) for No. 5. BUT, if money is a big issue, you can buy the latest Kalmus scores to Nos. 1 & 9 also and you’ll be okay. There are errors, but there are errors in everything and those Kalmus scores are going to represent pretty closely the latest edition published in Mahler’s lifetime. For No. 6, just realize that the order of the middle movements is switched in the “critical” edition, but as a player learning the part, that’s easy enough to accommodate.

    Buying a bunch of scores to No. 10 isn’t going to do you that much good because you can’t know in advance how many times in your life you’ll play which completion — there are several. Most often the Cooke versions have been performed and recorded, so if you want to learn what conductors seem to want these days, get the score to the 3rd Cooke version. The Dallas Symphony recorded the Carpenter completion in 2001, but I don’t think it’s done that often.

    Dover scores are very helpful educational resources (and very good value for the money) when there aren’t any of these edition issues. For Mahler, I wouldn’t choose them, too many variables.

    Hope that helps, good luck!


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