The Cooke version of Mahler's 10th...

Discussion in 'Music' started by Daniel J.S., Dec 13, 2003.

  1. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

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    Here's a topic that's never been shy of controversy: is Deryck Cooke's performing version of Mahler's Tenth Symphony valid? Was it even ethical? As many know, Mahler died in 1911 and it was eventually discovered that his Tenth (thought to be left unfinished) was in fact complete in short score. Musicologist Deryck Cooke, I believe in the 60's set about making a "performing edition" of the draft. This was not a case like Mozart's Requiem, where music had to be composed by Sussmayr to complete the work. The music was entirely Mahler's, with no missing bars. Cooke simply orchestrated the draft. But did Cooke have the right to do this? Although the music was complete, Mahler would have significantly re-worked, even re-composed it during orchestration. But, the catch is that Cooke never regarded it as a completion; he knew that only Mahler could complete the work. Rather, it was simply the draft score made performable.

    Now, as a Mahler fanatic, I wholeheartedly endorse this fascinating "might-have-been." To say that the Tenth should have been buried, unheard, with the draft only available to historians would have been a travesty; this wasn't someone taking preliminary jottings and composing the piece themselves and calling it a completion. The music does not deserve to be buried and forgotten, it deserves to be heard. Although some of the music is obviously lacking the refinement it would have had Mahler lived to complete it, much of it is glorious. As for the orchestration, well, Cooke was no Mahler (in fact, the scoring sometimes sounds too much like an effort to sound "Mahler-like." And that bass clarinet part at the end of the Finale, ugh.), but that's a small price to pay. I think the symphonic repertoire is richer for having this performing edition. Many have begged to differ, including Theodor Adorno, a brilliant cultural critic from the Frankfurt School in the early to mid-20th century. Check out his preface to Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy for a rather vicious rebuke to Cooke's project. At least the Tenth is in no danger of being withdrawn these days.

    I recommend Simon Rattle's recording of this work with the Berlin Philharmonic. Although I've never really liked the sound of their brass section in any era (too harsh, IMO), the strings are sublime and that wonderfully dissonant nine-note chord at the end of the first movement will give you goose bumps. I understand it's on DVD-A as well.
     
  2. Seth--L

    Seth--L Screenwriter

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    According to Alma,when Mahler was dying he at first intended to destroy the score since he would be unable to finish it, but eventually decided against, and gave a general blessing for anyone that might want to try and complete it.

    I prefer Rattle's first recording with Bournemouth. The premier recording with Ormandy/Philadelphia also remains excellent (though uses an early draft of the score).

    IMO, overall it is a musical oddity that only gets as much attention as it does because Mahler's name is attached to it.
     
  3. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

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    If that was the case, why did she impose a ban on performances of the piece until 1964?
     
  4. Seth--L

    Seth--L Screenwriter

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    She did so at the insistence of Bruno Walter. After hearing it recording of a live performance of it in something like '62, she changed her mind on the matter.
     
  5. andrew markworthy

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    I don't think that Cooke was in any way unethical in his approach. Alma Mahler objected to the basic idea of an adaptation because she feared that it would be crass. When she heard Cooke's version, she was won over. In any case, Mahler was notorious for adapting other composers' work (e.g. adding in instruments or changing clarinet types in variuos works, including Beethoven).

    Actually, in some parts Cooke did rather more than simply arrange. The first movement was reasonably intact, but by the fourth movement, things were in a very sketchy form indeed (e.g. sometimes just the principal melody). Sir Simon Rattle has said that Cooke's fleshing out of these meagre resources was remarkable. E.g. he said that in going through the score, the bits he thought were idiosyncratic turned out to be Mahler's, whilst Cooke's own contributions were at worst innocuous and at best inspired.

    Incidentally, I prefer the latter of Rattle's recordings. The Bournemouth version is good, but some of the playing is a little ragged IMHO.
     
  6. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

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    Very true. Mahler tried to "improve" the scoring of the Schumann symphonies. As we all know, Schumann had a predeliection for thick orchestration with lots of doublings. Coupled with his dense, chromatic harmonies, it often made for a rather muddy texture. No doubt he was influenced by Beethoven's style, but his music had simpler harmony; he could get away with the thick texture more easily. Mahler may have been a brilliant orchestrator, but I don't think he should have done this.
     
  7. Steve Y

    Steve Y Supporting Actor

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    Not "unethical" given the (reported) circumstances, but even without Mahler's (or Alma's) consent there are gray areas. Everyone knows the story about Franz Kafka and Max Brod - countless hours have been spent discussing this ethical dilemna. No satisfactory answer seems forthcoming!

    As a Cooke/Mahler work, I find it only slightly more "odd" than the famous Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrations or some of the Busoni transcriptions. But it's not exactly a musical aberration! I find Stokowski's overwrought Bach orchestrations far less ethical (heh - by that I really mean I just don't like them).

    I do not, however, feel it is a "Mahler symphony". As mentioned in this thread, if often just doesn't "feel" right. But no one ever accused it of being "pure" Mahler.

    It's funny this discussion comes up now; I've been digging into Mahler a lot recently.

    s
     
  8. Seth--L

    Seth--L Screenwriter

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    I think that his Bach arrangements are a mixed bag, but some of them truly are masterful (especially when conducted by him).
     

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