Mahler 6: SA or AS?

Sorry Mahler, Bruckner has a bigger problem

This is the second of three posts related to Mahler’s sixth symphony, the Tragic, my personal favorite Mahler symphony. Like all his other symphonies, this one covers a massive emotional spectrum, and builds a world. This world, however, is realistic; life sucks.

As I mentioned in the caption to the picture, there are some issues with different versions of Mahler’s symphonies. When I say some, I mean there is only one actually worth discussing, and that is the order of the middle movements of the 6th. Should the Scherzo go first, or should the Andante?

The situation: When Mahler first wrote the symphony, he had the scherzo going second, following the model of his 1st and 4th symphonies. This was how the first conducting version of the score was printed. As Mahler was rehearsing the symphony for its premier in Essen (the birthplace of my ancestors) he decided to switch the order of the two inner movements. At the premier and all other performances, Mahler conducted it AS. However, at the end of his life he was considering switching the movements back to their original order. The evidence suggesting this is a bit shady, but Alma, his cheating wife, told a conductor after Mahler’s death, that the order should be SA.

Even today conductors are divided. Some do AS, others SA. Now I introduce my opinion; it should be SA. Why? Think in context of the symphony as a whole. One of the main themes in the work is major turning to minor. The first movement ends in A Major. The Scherzo begins in A Minor. Sound familiar? Also the finale begins in C Minor. The Andante ends in E-flat major, the relative major to C Minor. Coincidence? I think not. Mahler didn’t do these kind of things on accident. Maybe another reason why I think it should be SA is because my first exposure to it was the Solti version, which is SA. Also, most of the conductors I like do SA: Bernstein, Tilson-Thomas, Szell, Karajan, Haitink. These guys know a thing or two about ol’ Gustav.

In conclusion, the order of the middle movements of Mahler 6 should be SA. If you disagree, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re wrong. This is my blog. Deal with it.

About Why must you use all the notes

So much to do, so little reason to do so much of it...
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