Recordings of Mahler's symphonies were once as rare as the finest Austrian Eiswein, objects of desire to be savoured by those who recognized the particular genius of a composer neglected for decades after his death. Today's record catalogue, by contrast, reflects the extent of the Mahler boom. Youth orchestras, amateur bands, provincial symphonic ensembles and the world's great orchestras compete for attention with a multitude of Mahler discs, the majority recorded during the last 30 years. Any new version must make special claims if it is to stand out from the crowd.
When it comes to the composer's Second Symphony, an amateur conductor tops the record bestseller list. But Gilbert Kaplan, founder and publisher of the influential financial magazine Institutional Investor, has done much more for Mahler than just notch up impressive record sales statistics. His critically acclaimed 1987 recording of the work confirmed that driving passion for a composer and one particular composition could be translated from passive to active involvement. And how! Kaplan, fully hooked by a performance of Mahler Two under the quixotic direction of Leopold Stokowski, later decided to crack the conductor's code from scratch and perform his own interpretation of the work. While other men in their early 40s turned to Harley Davidson for salvation, Kaplan chose Mahler. He booked New York's Avery Fisher Hall and the American Symphony Orchestra, veterans of the Stokowski performance that caught his ear, and negotiated the notoriously challenging Second Symphony just over a year after his first conducting lesson.
In addition to conducting the work at the invitation of over 50 orchestras since, Gilbert Kaplan and his Kaplan Foundation have also engendered pioneering work in Mahler studies and scholarly publishing. His latest project underlines the seriousness of Kaplan's commitment to the composer and, specifically, to the Second Symphony. In 2000 The Kaplan Foundation launched a painstaking process of research into the symphony's original sources, an enterprise that led over three years later to the preparation of a carefully revised critical edition of the score. Mahler scholar Renate Stark-Voit served as co-editor of the new edition and worked closely with Kaplan to untangle the web of corrections and revisions made by the composer in 14 surviving sources. Word of the new edition excited the Mahlerian instincts of the Wiener Philharmoniker, especially so its principal clarinettist and co-chairman Peter Schmidl, who felt it was right and proper that the band responsible for the Second Symphony's Viennese première in 1899 should be first to perform and record the score in the version closest to the composer's final intentions.
Stark-Voit and Kaplan's edition contains many changes from the familiar text. The score as most commonly heard and recorded is littered with mis-readings, not just of dynamic markings but also of Mahler's more extensive written instructions. The new edition, given official backing by the prestigious International Gustav Mahler Society, makes good over 400 errors, blemishes, and oversights, revealing important symbols and words omitted by the editor or printer. Among the 14 consulted sources, one was deemed by Mahler to be the only accurate corrected score.
"Most of the changes are refinements," Kaplan concedes, "but they go further than that. When it comes to Mahler, he was constantly refining his works. To him this was a matter of life and death. When Mahler came to Vienna as a conductor, someone interviewed a musician who had been in the orchestra for 27 years and asked what the new man was like. 'Well,' he said, 'it's a strange curiosity. He actually wants us to play everything that's written in our parts!' Most conductors don't play what's already in the score, so it's true that audiences will probably never get to hear the real differences in the new edition. I believe this new score now provides the first accurate road map of Mahler's Second Symphony. What you make of it as a performer is another matter. How you drive the roads, whether you slow down or exceed the speed limit is up to the conductor. But at least you'll have the most accurate score in front of you. I would be the first to admit that my performance is highly personal and idiosyncratic: I don't follow everything in the score. But I probably come closer than most."
It is hard to fault Kaplan's knowledge of wrong directions in the Second Symphony's accepted printed edition. After all, he speaks with authority as owner of Mahler's autograph manuscript score. "People ask me what use is that source if he then changed his mind. The answer is that if you know what he changed, you know what to pay attention to. The alterations in the new edition, I think, will change performances on a subtle level. My goal with the new edition has simply been to clear up problems. Every time I've conducted the work, somebody has asked if particular points in the score can be right."
Kaplan points to the Wiener Philharmoniker's long Mahler tradition. He says he was delighted that they wanted to present the first performance and world première recording of the work's new edition. "For this project, here was the orchestra and chorus, the Wiener Singverein, that Mahler had used for the work's Viennese première and also for the last time he performed in Vienna in 1907. We performed it in the same venue, the Musikverein, and I used one of Mahler's batons, which I now own, to conduct quite a bit of the recording. With that combination, it's as if you just need to click a switch and the performance goes by itself! The Viennese aspect of the music - its sentimentality, its need for portamento in the second movement's Ländler - comes through clearly with this great orchestra."
At the time of recording the Second Symphony in the late 1980s, Kaplan recalls that he had only performed the work around five times. Fifteen years on, he admits that his conducting technique has improved with experience to enable him greater control over certain passages. "I've no complaints about the first recording, but there are some moments on the new recording which I feel are real ear-openers," he says. "The other advance is that the new disc is issued in Super Audio format."
Kaplan is not shy to debate the psychology of Mahler's Second Symphony, a work in which profound aspects of life and death are never far from the surface. "Mahler's music is very autobiographical, more so than even the music of his time. I think the conductor Bruno Walter once said that every one of Mahler's symphonies asks questions such as 'Why?' and 'How come?' Mahler himself said that he had to compose the Second Symphony to answer those three burning questions about why we live, why we die, and is there life after death. This is all wrapped up in the music. I must confess that when I write about the music, I discuss these topics; when I conduct the music, I never have any sense of them at all. It is really, to me, only the music I'm responding to."
He recalls one critic who suggested that the scherzo of Mahler's Sixth Symphony could be heard as prophetic of the First World War and the rise of Hitler's Nazi regime. "On the other hand, he wrote, Mahler might just have been writing a scherzo! I think programmatic issues are important in Mahler's work, but they can be too heavily interpreted. I do think that the music has its own energy even if you don't buy in to the programme. In the case of the Second Symphony, the idea of resurrection is not one that everybody believes in or accepts. The Mahler scholar Deryck Cooke offered an acceptable alternative reading of resurrection as a form of self-renewal. When I conducted the Chinese première of this symphony, I discovered that the Chinese word for resurrection is synonymous with self-renewal! That sort of cultural background can make a big difference to how people write about the work."
Mahler's programme, says Kaplan, does impinge on his approach to the music at several key passages in the Second Symphony. He cites the example of the third movement, described by the composer in his accompanying literary explanation as an evocation of the senseless, apparently chaotic gestures of dancers viewed from a great distance. "You must imagine that," says Mahler, "to one who has lost his identity and happiness, the world looks like this - distorted and crazy, as if reflected in a concave mirror. Life then becomes meaningless."
Kaplan links the composer's words directly to the music. "He goes on to say that you can't stand this existence any longer and cry out in a scream of anguish. To me, you can hear that anguished scream in the music. When I build to that point in the third movement, I sometimes almost feel the need to scream. I want to draw the orchestra in to that state of mind, which can make the performance more riveting than if you just observed that here is a crescendo leading to a loud tutti passage. Mahler's programme, which speaks of crying out in desperation, really does inform the performance here. The shock of Mahler's music at first hearing is there in great performances today, but it only comes if you first do what the composer asks you to do. These details are what makes Mahler Mahler."
Première Recording of the New Edition
This is the first recording of Mahler's Second Symphony to use the new critical edition, in which hundreds of errors of almost every type in the previous published score have been corrected: wrong notes, omitted notes, notes mistakenly assigned to the wrong instrument, wrong tempo indications, inaccurate dynamics, missing accents, misplaced crescendos, and diminuendos, and confusing instructions to the conductor, chorus, and soloists.
The previous edition (1970) had already corrected some errors, but the editor confined himself to those changes he considered essential. Even more significantly, he was unaware of the existence of several sources, including the most important one: a score maintained by Mahler that contains his handwritten corrections intended for the next printed edition, some entered as late as 1910, less than a year before he died. On the cover he wrote that the score was "corrected and deemed to be solely valid". It was his "last will and testament" for the Second Symphony.
The significance of the changes Listeners will not be struck by anything as radical as, say, a melody familiarly played by a flute now played by a trumpet. The differences are mostly subtle refinements, many of them from the composer's final stages of editing. He spent a lifetime constantly reworking his scores to make them more precise, because he said he never trusted conductors. For Mahler, these changes were vital, and here, when taken together, they make an audible impact.
The research program The Kaplan Foundation launched its initiative in 2000, under the direction of co-editors Renate Stark-Voit and Gilbert Kaplan, who consulted 14 original sources in Vienna, Basle, Munich, New York, New Haven, and Washington, D.C., tracing the evolution of Mahler's changes. The new edition incorporates Mahler's last-known decisions. Special care was taken to include only those changes Mahler actually intended to be transferred to the permanent score.
Authority and publication The new critical edition has been designated as the official score of Mahler's Second Symphony of the International Gustav Mahler Society's Complete Critical Edition of Mahler (Chief Editor: Reinhold Kubik). It is published jointly by Universal Edition and The Kaplan Foundation.
Gilbert Kaplan: Chronology
"Moving and majestic." (The New York Times)
"Few conductors have ever come so close to realizing the composer's intentions."
"Whether in London, Salzburg, Rio, Milan, or Jerusalem, Kaplan sweeps the public off their feet." (Die Welt, Berlin)
Widely considered one of the foremost interpreters of Mahler's Second Symphony ("Resurrection"), Gilbert Kaplan has conducted more than 50 orchestras in performances of this work that have received great acclaim all over the world.
Hears Mahler's Second Symphony for the first time, performed by the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski at New York's Carnegie Hall
Launches Institutional Investor magazine which reaches a circulation of 140,000 in 150 countries and receives more than 45 awards for distinguished journalism, including the US National Magazine Award for reporting - the only business magazine ever to win this coveted award
Elected to the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Hall
Begins conducting lessons in preparation for performing Mahler's Second Symphony
Conducting début: a private concert celebrating the 15th anniversary of Institutional Investor with the American Symphony Orchestra and Westminster Choir at Lincoln Center, New York
First invitation for a public concert, also with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall
Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Westminster Choir College of Princeton, New Jersey
Acquires Mahler's original manuscript score of the Second Symphony and publishes a facsimile edition
Records Mahler's Second with the London Symphony Orchestra. The recording is selected as one of the "Records of the Year" by TheNew York Times, and with sales in excess of 175,000 copies, becomes the best-selling Mahler recording ever made
Début in Sweden with the Stockholm Philharmonic
Makes début in UK with the London Symphony Orchestra and in Japan with New Japan Philharmonic
Receives the George Eastman Medal for distinguished musical achievement from Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York
Début at La Scala in Milan
Début in Vienna with the Prague Symphony Orchestra
Elected Vice-Chairman of Carnegie Hall
Australian début with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Guest lecturer at Harvard University: "The inner world of Gustav Mahler"
Début in the Netherlands with the Residentie (Hague Philharmonic) Orchestra
in The Hague and Amsterdam
Début in China with the China National Symphony in Beijing - the first performance of Mahler's Second in China
Appointed by Harvard University Board of Overseers to the Visiting Committee
Conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Début in St. Petersburg with the Kirov Opera
Publishes The Mahler Album, an illustrated biography
Guest lecturer at Oxford University: "The challenge of conducting Mahler's music"
In Vienna, conducts the orchestra of the University of Music and Performing
Arts - the conservatory where Mahler studied
Conducts the opening concert of the Salzburg Festival with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Vienna State Opera Chorus
Début in Moscow with the Russian National Orchestra
Hosts 13-week radio series on Mahler which is broadcast on 350 stations
Appointed to the Board of Governors of the South Bank Centre (Royal Festival Hall) in London
Commissions a portrait of Mahler by R.B. Kitaj for the Vienna State Opera
Début in Spain with the Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla
Steps in at the last moment for Zubin Mehta at Munich's Bavarian State Opera
Début with the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv
Début at Berlin's Deutsche Oper
Joins the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music (evening division)
Launches and serves as host of "Mad about Music", a radio show featuring interviews with classical music-loving celebrities (Jimmy Carter, Helmut Schmidt, Condoleezza Rice, Alan Alda, Richard Meier)
Conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony in a memorial concert on September 11th, the first anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon
Completes work on a new critical edition (as joint editor with Renate Stark-Voit) of Mahler's Second Symphony
Conducts the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester
Première recording and release of the new critical edition with the Wiener Philharmoniker for Deutsche Grammophon
Symphony No.2 in C minor - "Resurrection" - Ritenuto