One hundred years ago in 1910, the symphony was standing in the doorway between the late romantic and modern eras. On the romantic end was its great heritage of Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, and Bruckner; on the other would be endless re-invention of the form, variety, and some would say, chaos: from Anton Webern's pithy, two-movement, 10 minute effort of 1928 to Olivier Messiaen's massive, 10-movement Turangalîla-symphonie of 1948 and beyond. However, opening day for modern music was still at least a couple of years away in 1910; the three 1910 works examined here show the symphony as tottering on the edge of the precipice.
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 10 in F-sharp minor
Gustav Mahler was deathly scared of composing a tenth symphony, as the very prospect of it, to him, foretold death. Beethoven had died after nine symphonies and Bruckner had perished mid-ninth; Mahler believed that Franz Schubert had also succumbed to the "curse of the ninth" without knowing the true statistics on Schubert's symphonic output. After completing his Eighth Symphony, Mahler composed his Das Lied von der Erde, a symphony disguised as a song cycle, then happily composed his Ninth, figuring that he was in the clear. However, Mahler's turbulent relationship with the New York Philharmonic -- and the discovery that his wife Alma was having an affair -- helped to weaken a constitution already challenged by chronic heart disease. Mahler worked on his Tenth Symphony in July 1910, but set it aside to prepare for the next New York Philharmonic season. Mahler never returned to his symphony, dying in Vienna on May 18, 1911.
Mahler left the symphony in a very sketchy short score on four staves of the whole work and a complete -- though disheveled -- draft orchestral score of the opening Andante-Adagio, the second movement Scherzo, and 30 measures of a movement marked "Purgatorio." Mahler's Tenth is a work rife with psychic pain; Mahler became a patient of Sigmund Freud during this time partly as a means to save his marriage to Alma, and the score is marked with spontaneous declarations of Mahler's love for her. In outer movements the orchestra builds up an 11-note cluster chord containing all the notes of the chromatic scale but one. While Mahler's sympathies for the modernist music of his friend Arnold Schoenberg was no secret, and certain earlier symphonies contain quite a bit of dissonance, Mahler had never before attempted anything quite as bold as this.
Although the Tenth lay unfinished in the wake of Mahler's death, Alma Mahler was particularly keen to hear it played, and in 1924 she hired Ernst Krenek to fashion what he could out of Mahler's manuscript. Krenek created a performing score for the Andante-Adagio and Purgatorio only, and after some unauthorized changes were made to Krenek's score -- which he later repudiated -- the two-movement version of the work was first heard October 12, 1924, in Vienna. The ex-Krenek score was published in 1926, and in 1929, Alma Mahler decided to a have a lithograph facsimile of Mahler's sketches made, exactly as he left them. Over time, this publication convinced several others that Mahler's complete score -- though lacking a consistent orchestration, and in some stretches, only notated in a single line of music -- could be raised from the depths of its incompleteness. The most famous of these realizations is that of English musicologist Deryck Cooke, whose initial realization was first heard in 1960. Alma Mahler subsequently turned over to Cooke some material not included in the 1929 print, and Cooke created three more realizations of the Tenth before his own premature death in 1976.
By this time, most conductors had made up their minds about the work; either they accepted Cooke's version or they didn't, and the ones that didn't -- like Leonard Bernstein and Rafael Kubelik -- usually only performed the Krenek version and then just the first movement; Georg Solti never performed the Mahler Tenth at all. Even before Cooke, however, American composer Clinton Carpenter was working on an edition of the full symphony, and another Englishman, Joseph Wheeler, was not far behind him. And there are yet others: Remo Mazzetti, Jr., whose first version was recorded by Leonard Slatkin, and conductor Rudolf Barshai. While Cooke's versions remain the best known, listeners have lined up behind their favorite realization of the Tenth; even Mazzetti has acknowledged Wheeler's fourth realization as one he prefers. So how authentic are these editions? All, and none -- ultimately we cannot know what was in Mahler's mind, and not enough of the Tenth got onto the page to so inform us. However, if he had lived, restored to full health, perhaps he might not have finished this symphony anyway -- it's such a yawp of pain, rife with anxiety, inadequacy, feelings of failure and an uncomprehending dread and fear of death. Such stuff can make for a good symphony, and Mahler did have a self-confessional streak. However, Mahler never touched the manuscript again after July 1910.
Rafael Kubelik, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra - Mahler: Symphony No. 10, I. Andante-Adagio (Krenek edition)
Robert Olson, Polish National Radio Symphony - Mahler: Symphony No. 10, III. Purgatorio oder Inferno (Wheeler III)
Eugene Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra - Mahler: Symphony No. 10, V. Finale (Cooke I)
Charles Ives: Symphony No. 4
Although some scholars regard the story as myth, Charles Ives claimed that he gave a copy of his Third Symphony to Gustav Mahler in 1909-10 that Mahler took back with him to Europe, and in the 1970s an ancient Vienna Philharmonic musician recalled running through it under Mahler one time. By September 1910, however, Ives was already busy composing his Fourth -- and last numbered -- symphony. Some sources cite the year 1910 as the start of the Holidays Symphony as well, though that it is not entirely true -- some of the material that went into it existed before 1910, and the idea of combining its four movements into a symphony did not occur to Ives until the 1930s.
Ives' Fourth Symphony begins with a short, mystical movement based on the hymn "Watchman Tell Us of the Night" which functions like a prelude. This is followed by the symphony's longest movement, a huge, noisy celestial "comedy" that's essentially a giant collage of colliding, superimposed elements. The third movement is a fugue based on the hymn "From Greenland's Icy Mountains" that Ives orchestrated from the first movement of his String Quartet No. 1. The final movement calls for a separate percussion ensemble and wordless chorus; it is a humanistic impression of the cosmos on a vast scale, possibly in anticipation of Ives' forthcoming, though never to be finished, Universe Symphony. According to Ives, the Fourth Symphony was completed in 1916, though that did not forestall him from reworking it later, particularly in the case of the second movement which he overhauled in the early 1920s. The second movement "comedy" -- and some parts of it are indeed funny -- was the first music from any Ives symphony publicly heard, premiered by Eugene Goossens at a Pro Musica Society concert held at Town Hall in New York, January 29, 1927. Reviews were almost uniformly negative, yet its relative lack of success did not prevent the movement from being published for the first time in New Music Quarterly in 1929. This print is a mess; Ives realized that multiple conductors would be required to make the symphony work, and included a number of special conductor's cues in the score to facilitate them. In the New Music print, these cues were scrambled, or altogether missing.
On May 10, 1933 budding Ives fanatic Bernard Herrmann presented the premiere of the first and third movements at the New School of Social Research (now Mannes) utilizing an arrangement for chamber orchestra prepared by Jerome Moross. Finally Ives' friend and editor John J. Becker prepared a fair copy of the whole symphony in 1934, which somehow got lost. That was the end of Ives' own experience with his Fourth Symphony; he never heard any part of it again, and when Ives died in 1954 there was some question as to whether there was enough left of the score to raise the whole work.
However, in 1960 Oliver Daniel -- a powerful figure at BMI and at Associated Music Publishers -- made the startling announcement that he had "discovered" the Ives Fourth Symphony. This was likely an enlarged Photostat copy Ives had made of the Becker score, to which he had added some handwritten instructions and corrections. Although the AMP edition was nominally under the supervision of arch-Ives expert John Kirkpatrick, Daniel assembled an expert team of composers and editors to create a performable edition by 1965; that version has since been challenged, and in 1988 a staff of Ives Society editors fashioned another. Nevertheless, the premiere of Ives' full Fourth Symphony was held at Carnegie Hall on April 26, 1965, with Leopold Stokowski conducting with the help of José Serebrier and David Katz. Within days of the premiere, CBS Masterworks recorded the piece with the same forces and issued it as an LP. Charles Ives won the "Best Contemporary Classical Composition" Grammy award for 1966, and afterward this Grammy category subsequently disappeared from the roster for nearly 20 years; perhaps the Grammys needed to regroup, having awarded the "contemporary" Grammy to a composer already dead 12 years.
José Serebrier, London Philharmonic Orchestra - Ives: Symphony No. 4, II. Allegretto
José Serebrier, London Philharmonic Orchestra - Ives: Symphony No. 4, III. Fugue
José Serebrier, London Philharmonic Orchestra - Ives: Symphony No. 4, IV. Largo Maestoso
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 in A minor
Early on, Jean Sibelius demonstrated a strong tendency towards edgy and innovative harmony in advance of most other European composers, as in his early, unnumbered symphony Kullervo. However, with the international success of his symphonic poem Finlandia (1899) and his Symphony No. 1 in E minor (1899), Sibelius was building an international reputation as a standard-bearer of the romantic symphonic style. In 1908, Sibelius had a tumor removed from his throat and was in deathly fear of its reoccurrence; such feelings of dread can be heard in his Symphony No. 4 in A minor, in which Sibelius uses tri-tones as pivots for melodic movement and a number of muscular, dissonant clashes in the harmony. As Sibelius was working on his Fourth he was also attempting to set Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Raven for famous Finnish soprano Aïno Ackté; Sibelius was never able to complete the song, but its style and atmosphere leaked over into his symphony. Premiered in Helsinki on April 3, 1911, Sibelius' Fourth Symphony attracted a perfect storm of criticism that accused Sibelius of going over to the side of the "futurists" -- one critic remarked that it sounded "like the peculiar efforts of a badly trained or uneducated amateur composer."
Even at the time there were trickles of appreciation from various quarters; composer Oskar Merikanto wrote, "I feel as if entirely new worlds are now opening for Sibelius as a composer of symphonies, worlds which have not been shown to others that he can see and describe to others." Although it is not as popular as his Fifth Symphony in E flat major, the Fourth Symphony is now regarded as one Sibelius' signature achievements. Sibelius was as well informed as anyone in his time about developments in modern music; Ferruccio Busoni was a close friend, and Sibelius was enthusiastic about composers like Claude Debussy and Arnold Schonberg. Like Ives, Sibelius had stopped composing by 1930, but afterward Ives continued to tinker with his older works up to his death in 1954, but Sibelius seemed content to leave well enough alone, particularly in regard to the Fourth Symphony. Late in life, Sibelius commented, "Even today I cannot find a single note in it that I could remove, nor can I find anything to add. The Fourth Symphony represents a very important and great part of me. Yes, I'm glad to have written it."
Neeme Järvi, Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra - Sibelius: Symphony No. 4, I. Quasi Adagio
Leif Segerstam, Helsinki Philharmonic - Sibelius: Symphony No. 4, III. Il tempo largo
Lorin Maazel, Vienna Philharmonic - Sibelius: Symphony No. 4, IV. Allegro
Among other remarkable symphonies written in 1910 was Alexander Scriabin's Symphony No. 5 in F sharp major, "Prometheus: The Poem of Fire." Neither fish nor fowl, though called a symphony, it takes the form of a symphonic poem and its prominent piano part likewise suggests the concerto. Prometheus was originally designed with the proviso that colored lighting flood the darkened auditorium during its performance; at its 1911 premiere under Sergei Koussevitzky in Moscow, the lights weren't utilized and only a weak version of the lighting was used in its 1915 New York premiere. The lighting scheme has been done successfully since, though it hasn't been widely adopted. The Symphony No. 3, "Sinfonia espansiva," of Sibelius' Danish counterpart, Carl Nielsen, also from 1910, established Nielsen's international reputation and remains one of his most popular works. Although Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony, his first, was composed from 1902-9, its premiere was held at the Leeds Festival on October 12, 1910; it is the earliest English symphony to take a place in the permanent repertoire. Vaughan Williams, like Sibelius, would have some measure of critical trouble with his own Fourth Symphony in 1935. Although it was not finished and premiered until 1911, Edward Elgar worked on his Symphony No. 2 in E flat major steadily throughout 1910. While modern ears pick up something more intrinsically subtle, enigmatic and personal in this work, Elgar's symphony at least represented the status quo of established symphonic tradition in 1910. Apart from Elgar's, the 1910 symphonies that we know, revere, and continue to hear in 2010 are all exceptions to that tradition.
Martha Argerich, piano; Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic - Scriabin: Symphony No. 5, "Prometheus, The Poem of Fire"
Herbert Blomstedt, Danish Radio National Symphony - Nielsen: Symphony No. 3, "Sinfonia espansiva," III. Allegretto un poco
Sir Adrian Boult, London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus - Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony, I. A Song for All Seas, All Ships
Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra - Elgar: Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, IV. Moderato e maestoso