From the Orchestra Library

More Mahler Means More Marking

Posted in MOLA,Preparing Parts by kschnack on August 30, 2009

Like everyone else, our 2009-10 season will “officially” open soon, but in the case of the Dallas Symphony that event also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the opening of  our hall —  the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.  The gala on September 12th kicks things off and then we will have the first classical programs with our music director.  (Of course, by then, we will have presented two specials and two of our pops series programs, adding up to 9 concerts with four guest artist groups, not counting the gala with two more guest artists.) On the second classical program the orchestra will give the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ new cello concerto followed by Mahler Symphony No. 1.   This symphony has a less-complicated and confusing publishing history than the composer’s 5th (see post from July 12) and, therefore, is a more straight-forward music preparation project.  In a way.

By that, I mean an orchestra is safe to buy the most recent Kalmus printing of scores and parts (no need to rent anything), correct the errors, mark the parts, and it is good to go.  Although Mahler made profound changes in this work early on, eventually omitting the original Blumine second movement, and then continued revising it for more than another decade, there were only two publications of it in his lifetime.  The Kalmus edition that is available for sale these days is a reprint of the second and final version.  (The older Kalmus edition is NOT, and is quite different, so don’t get them mixed up!)

But don’t assume this is a short or easy marking project; you certainly can’t just buy the set, mark in some bowings and put it on the stands.  Remember what I said a few sentences ago about errors?  Lots of errors.  Between the various errata lists that MOLA librarians have created and other sources, there are between 750-1000 errors to fix in both the scores and parts.  We have been though our set in great detail two different times, so we have double and triple checked things, fixed all of those errors and any others we found along the way (because you always do find more).  We have used the set for a few performances and it is in good shape to use again.  This is a relief, because on top of everything else, having to correct Mahler 1 again would clearly have put us back a few months.

Although you will find a more expansive explanation of the why, how, and what orchestra librarians do about errata  in an article written for a few years ago (, I want to reiterate that there are errors in everything.  No publisher gets everything right every time.  It is sometimes hard to believe how many errors or omissions have been reprinted over the last three hundred years or so, but editors, publishers (and librarians) continue undaunted to try and accomplish the impossible — making perfect parts!  We will never succeed 100% (whenever a new edition of a standard work comes out, there are a whole new batch of errors to contend with), but every time we fix a set of parts we feel like we have lived to fight another day.

Probably the most sought-after resource created by MOLA librarians is our catalogue of errata lists.  Hundreds of lists have been compiled for major and minor works, through patient, painstaking perseverance by those who have done this detailed work.  It’s a huge project to sit down to compare scores, parts and resource materials, studying every single note, articulation, dynamic, tempo marking, musical instruction, key, key change, measure number, rehearsal letter, page number, movement number, accidental, and on and on, correcting materials and compiling the errata in a format that others can then use to correct their own sets.  This gift of musical expertise, time, research, and work cannot be overstated.   Every single player and conductor in a professional orchestra has at some time or another benefited from what is truly a labor of love for the art form by the librarians who have taken it upon themselves to prepare the materials to this degree.

At the DSO library, we don’t have the luxury to proofread materials from scratch very often (although we do it when we can and have taken on some rather overwhelming projects such as de Falla’s complete La Vida Breve, for one example), but we regularly use the lists others have created and then add to them in collaboration.  We also don’t just go through the list and automatically insert everything on it.  We carefully review each item for ourselves, making sure we agree with the suggested change while checking the parts and scores.   To be sure, most of the corrections are correct, and, while many of them wouldn’t stop a rehearsal if they weren’t inserted, they save a ton of rehearsal time.  And there are many that would stop the rehearsal — something we librarians try to avoid at any cost.

We all owe the former librarians of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Clint Nieweg and Nancy Bradburd, both now retired, for their trail-blazing in this area, and for the thousands — tens of thousands — of errors they have catalogued in the symphonic repertoire over the last 25 years.  As co-founders of MOLA, they were always looking at the big picture and towards the future (an interesting irony considering that this process is as tedious and detailed as anything one could imagine).  Their editions and teaching show a dedication to this process as yet unparalleled in our profession that they continue to this day.

For some photos of and information about the Meyerson:


2 Responses to 'More Mahler Means More Marking'

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  1. christian said,

    Hi dear Colleague,
    I was just finding your blog, in a small pause between bowing the parts of Alti and celli for the 5th of Mahler ….
    And you were right !!!! Mahler and Marking are the same words …..
    kind regards from Belgium

  2. kschnack said,

    Thank you so much for writing Christian! We are, to use the American phrase, “in the same boat” all over the world, are we not? I hope your Mahler Markings go smoothly and quickly!

    Your colleague,


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