At his death in May, 1911, Gustav Mahler left sketches, partly realized in full score, of a Tenth Symphony. Thirteen years later, in 1924, his widow, Alma Mahler, had the sketches published complete in facsimile. Two movements, the first (Adagio) and the third (Puirgatorio), were prepared for performance by Ernst Krenek and were first performed in Vienna under the direction of Franz Schalk on October 12, 1924.
In preparing the Adagio and Purgatorio movements, Krenek decided that only these two movements of the five-movement layout could be presented without "free paraphrasing upon the ideas of a departed master." Since then, several musicians have filled out the entire symphony from the sketches Mahler left behind. While intending no disrespect to these accomplishments, Maestro Abravanel (along with such other distinguished conductors as Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein, and Sir Georg Solti) preferred to record only the opening Adagio movement, which in the words of Krenek, "was as good as completely finished by [Mahler's] own hand." In further describing his part in the realization, Krenek wrote,
"As I remember it, there were just expression marks missing now and then, slurs, ties and other such accessories. Franz Schalk, who was startled by the thinness of the orchestration, disagreed with me on this point. He tried to point out that the fact that all the measures in which some instruments did not have any notes were empty (not containing any rests) proved that Mahler wanted those instruments to play something, or else he would have put rests there, according to his proverbial careful penmanship. … My answer to this was that since Mahler had listed on each page of his score all instruments (not only those which were actually engaged at any given time, such as we poor 'moderns' nowadays do to save precious paper), Schalk's theory would mean that Mahler wanted all instruments to play all the time from beginning to end of the piece, which was obviously silly. Furthermore, I argued that the thinness of the orchestration was an entirely logical consequence of the stylistic tendencies of the Ninth Symphony. To me it seemed to prove the vitality of Mahler's genius that, after having manipulated the gigantic masses of the Eighth Symphony, he should embark upon experimentation with the new trend toward subtle, chamber music-like features."
The plan of the Tenth Symphony, as Mahler finally evolved it before his death, was as follows:
The order of the two Scherzos was ultimately reversed, according to the evidence of Mahler's blue pencil. In a foreword to the 1924 published facsimile, Mahler's widow wrote that she had kept the sketches for a long while as her
"… precious right to protect as my own the treasure of the Tenth Symphony. … But now I feel it my duty to make known the last thoughts of the master. The great structure of these symphonic movements arises now for all to see. There are unfinished walls; scaffolding conceals the architecture, although the whole, the plan, is plainly recognizable, the orchestra of the Adagio gleams forth in wonderful clarity and beside it the slender tower of the Purgatorio-Scherzo. Many will read these pages as a book of magic; others will stand before the magic signs lacking the key; no one will be able to draw from them or comprehend their full strength.
"The basic sentiment of the Tenth Symphony is the certainty of death, the suffering of death, the contempt of death. I was witness to an experience which became a source of [the Purgatorio]. One winter day in 1907, Gustav Mahler and I stood at the window of our hotel in New York. Far below us there was a funeral service. A fireman who had lost his life while performing his duty of rescue was being carried to the grave. A great crowd of people accompanied the hero. There was a distant murmur and then there was quiet. A speaker stepped out from the crowd. We could not hear him but there was music playing, and suddenly we heard the short, hollow beat of a drum. I looked at Gustav Mahler. There were tears in his eyes, his face was distorted with emotion."
It is barely possible that Mahler originally intended the Adagio movement to be the last one in the symphony. In the facsimile reproduction of the manuscript, there is a different order for the other four movements than the one that became final; ultimately, over the word Adagio, Mahler blue-penciled the Roman numeral I. The movement begins pianissimo in the key of F-sharp major. The violas alone have a fifteen-measure melody whose mood is gentle and meditative but impassioned. The next section is slower but with the propulsion and animation of multiple voices. Then the first violins have a long-breathed theme accompanied by divided strings and winds. The entire movement is an alternation between slow and slower tempos, full-voiced and single-voiced orchestration. Twice the unaccompanied violas return, and there is an undercurrent of dark bass and anguish of discord. There is occasional relief from the pervasive somber quality by woodwind trills or high strings. Dissonant chords, following explosive arpeggios from the harp and strings, bring almost unbearable tension and then suddenly leave an eerie void as flutes, violins and trumpet are poised on an unearthly, high note. There is then a gentle subsiding, the orchestration becoming sparser, the mood turning lingering as if this were a farewell to life.
The orchestration calls for 3 flutes and piccolo, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, gong, harp, and strings.
— Martin Bookspan
Recorded May 27-June 1, 1974 at the Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah
Producer: Seymour Solomon
Engineer: David Baker
Originally release: Vanguard Everyman Series SRV 321-2 SD (2 LPs, coupled with the Adagio from Symphony No. 10)