Poll

What's your preferred running order of the middle movements of Mahler's Sixth Symphony?

Scherzo then Andante
42 (64.6%)
Andante then Scherzo
8 (12.3%)
I like both orders
4 (6.2%)
I'm undecided
1 (1.5%)
I don't care
10 (15.4%)

Total Members Voted: 48

Author Topic: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?  (Read 8528 times)

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eyeresist

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #40 on: June 05, 2011, 04:18:02 PM »
Yeah, that's right, bland old Mahler. The Telemann of his day!
 

Offline jochanaan

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #41 on: June 07, 2011, 07:55:36 AM »
Yeah, that's right, bland old Mahler. The Telemann of his day!
I had a notion to write a similarly sharp comment--but then I got another notion: to give the previous comment exactly the attention it deserves. :)
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eyeresist

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #42 on: August 18, 2011, 09:34:15 PM »
I wonder if any accomplished musical theorists could clear this up for me:

The finale of Mahler's 6th begins in C minor. The score verifies this. So why does it certainly sound like eight bars of A flat major? Was the classicist in Mahler unable to mark the score up that way?
 

Offline LKB

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #43 on: May 31, 2021, 06:50:56 AM »
The eight bars of Ab basically function as an augmented-sixth chord within C minor. It doesn't sound that way because of the subsequent interruption of the A Major/minor motif from the first movement, but within the key of C minor, that's how it work's theoretically.

( l know... it's over nine years since the question was posted, but what the hey, someone else in Mahlerland may be wondering. )

 :-\,

LKB
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #44 on: May 31, 2021, 08:08:30 AM »
I’m of the Scherzo then Andante school of thought. It just makes more sense to me as a listener. The other way around makes the Andante sound out-of-place to me, because typically a slow movement that comes earlier in a symphony of this size gives it a top-heavy structural feel. Of course, there are exceptions and I’m sure I could think of many at the current moment, but, anyway, I just prefer the Scherzo first.
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Offline OrchestralNut

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #45 on: May 31, 2021, 08:26:03 AM »
I’m of the Scherzo then Andante school of thought. It just makes more sense to me as a listener. The other way around makes the Andante sound out-of-place to me, because typically a slow movement that comes earlier in a symphony of this size gives it a top-heavy structural feel. Of course, there are exceptions and I’m sure I could think of many at the current moment, but, anyway, I just prefer the Scherzo first.

Ditto. Scherzo/Andante all day long. Need the uplifting Andante as a reprieve before that massive and dramatic finale.

Offline André

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #46 on: May 31, 2021, 09:06:25 AM »
Ditto. Scherzo/Andante all day long. Need the uplifting Andante as a reprieve before that massive and dramatic finale.

That, and also the fact that the huge coda of I hasn’t exhausted the movement’s energy yet. Following it with the scherzo helps dissipate it and reset the emotional meter. Then the andante completes the process. I see it as a more logical progression.

Offline LKB

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #47 on: May 31, 2021, 03:38:48 PM »
I think it's " easier on the ear " ( regarding tonal relationships ) having the Scherzo second. And I'd agree that the Adagio, with its gentle E b resolution, serves well as an emotional deep breath before plunging into the maelstrom of the Finale.
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Offline Raymond

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #48 on: July 08, 2021, 05:55:58 AM »
It's been a long time since I contributed to this discussion on the order of movements on Mahler's 6th. I forgot about it and also was involved in various other online - and offline - activities. Anyway, a recap maybe: An increasing number of conductors in recent years have chosen A/S (Andante/Scherzo) but S/A is better from the point of view of key relationships. And as the poll on this site suggests it actually sounds better that way for most listeners. The fact is that Mahler wrote and published the work with S/A. He took that score to the rehearsals for the first performance. During that time something happened...Mahler developed a severely troubled mental state, as witnessed by his friends, and he became uncertain as to how the work would go down with audiences. So what could he do to change it - it was unusual to have two quickish movements together. And it was a severly tragic work. Could they take it, etc.etc. He reduced the hammer blows in the finale from three to two (originally there were five), to see if that would help, perhaps.  So A/S was something of an impulsive afterthought. He then had the work republished with A/S. In his lifetime there were only one or two performances. The conductor Mendeleburg actually discussed the symphony with Mahler in 1907or 8 in advance of a possible performance in Amsterdam, but in the end he chose the 7th Symphony. Yet in 1920 when Mengelburg was producing a cycle of the Mahler symphonies he had always remained uncertain about the order of the movements! So he contacted Alma Mahler to ask her. She immediately replied with "First Sherzo, then Andante" and seemed quite certain. Commentators are often quick to jump in and remark that Alma often got facts wrong. This was true but not all the time! And how could anybody possible know what Mahler had discussed with her in private during the years remaining to him after the 6th was premiered? In any case he was always changing his mind and altering his music in one way or another.

Offline amw

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #49 on: July 08, 2021, 02:26:21 PM »
Andante-Scherzo is the correct order from a musicological perspective; there is no evidence to support that Mahler changed his mind and reverted to Scherzo-Andante at any later point. If he was confident enough in his change to have a completely new score published with the new movement order, and to perform it that way every time, we can't gainsay him. I find the idea that Gustav Mahler was too superstitious or mentally ill or cowardly to present the work exactly as he had envisioned it, or to be capable of correct judgment, to be fairly offensive, speaking as both a composer and a person of clinical depression. (I also don't think there is any evidence to suggest that the changes were made specifically to please the audience. An 80 minute symphony without an intermission is going to be a difficult prospect for a premiere audience regardless of movement order.)

That said, the existence of both versions does allow us to speak of a "1904 version" and a "1909 version" (incorporating also all of the orchestrational changes Mahler made during the rehearsal process and codified in Mengelberg's copy of the score). If conductors intend to perform the piece in Scherzo-Andante order they should also then restore the orchestration of the first edition/autograph (which goes far beyond simply adding extra hammer blows; dynamics and instrumentation are often wildly different).

I don't have strong feelings on issues of key relations, or tension/relaxation curves, etc, and don't think those things are particularly relevant to why most people prefer Scherzo-Andante; I think most people prefer Scherzo-Andante because they were first exposed to the piece in recordings using that order (Bernstein, Karajan, etc) and imprinted on it. This also seems to apply to musicologists, who have come up with plenty of ex post facto justifications for why Scherzo-Andante is best, even though all these justifications can be equally repurposed to favour Andante-Scherzo. ("The Scherzo's A minor immediately negates the A major of the end of the first movement, and that's why it's good/bad", etc.) The only evidence that should really be considered is something along the lines of a letter, telegram, e-mail, Instagram story, etc from Mahler saying "you know, I'm really unsure of this change in movement order, maybe I should change it back sometime" or whatever.

People can, of course, have preferences, and preferences can change, and I am sure there are some people out there who first heard the work in Andante-Scherzo order and then decided they preferred it the other way round (or vice versa). I think both ways of performing the piece work, to various degrees, and have my own musicological hypotheses about why Mahler changed the movement order. But that should not be relevant to attempts to determine Mahler's final thoughts on the piece, which as far as I know, are clear.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2021, 02:28:53 PM by amw »

Offline Raymond

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #50 on: July 08, 2021, 10:35:55 PM »
Thank you. Perhaps I was a bit harsh in commenting on Mahler's mental state during the rehearsals for the first performance of the 6th, yet from witnesses and friends all was not well with the work, nor himself, and he did wonder about its reception. Making the change during rehearsal does seem a more impulsive reason for the change than any careful reconsideration. My comments about the order of movements stem from an intelligent outline given by Henri-Louis de La Grange in his monumental biography of Mahler. True, there is no evidence of Mahler changing his mind again. If he did he left the matter aside. After all, it would have made himself look rather silly to have changed back again. The question of Alma Mahler's answer to Mengelberg of course cannot be solved, but it seems as if it has depended upon one's attitude to Alma herself. But Mengelburg followed her advice. In order to ask her the question he must have spent the intervening years wondering about the order of the movements as obviously he wasn't sure. The best way is to treat, play and conduct the symphony from one's personal view and feeling. I think both ways are equally valid. Mahler may well have had a similar view. Who knows? One conductor, taking the symphony on a tour, alternated the movements with each concert. His was a sensible attitude I believe.

Offline Biffo

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #51 on: July 09, 2021, 12:56:56 AM »
Mahler's state of mind at the first performance is irrelevant. He actually made the changes to the score several weeks later. He didn't 'superstitiously'  cross out the third hammer blow (as one set of sleeve notes has it). He removed the hammer blow and rescored the whole passage. He always performed the work in public in the order Andante-Scherzo.

Offline amw

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #52 on: July 09, 2021, 02:04:36 AM »
Perhaps I was a bit harsh in commenting on Mahler's mental state during the rehearsals for the first performance of the 6th
Oh I didn't mean to come down on you specifically—this is something I see a lot, about a number of composers, including in several other places in this thread. (The whole thing about the symphony "predicting" the various tragedies in his life for example; the evidence that Gustav actually believed this comes mostly from Alma, who did tend to present her husband's life in terms that are.... somewhat sensationalised, and in places outright fabricated.)

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he did wonder about its reception.
He was correct to do so, since he expected the critics to be hostile to the work, which they were. Perhaps he may have even been stressed because he wished to change the movement order but knew his artistic opponents would mock him for doing so (as they did). Worrying about critical reception, though, is not uncommon for composers; nor is making changes only during rehearsal when one actually has a chance to hear the work rather than simply imagine it. In rehearsals I've made changes ranging from orchestration and dynamics, to composing an entirely new movement for a piece because the one being rehearsed didn't work.

Quote
The best way is to treat, play and conduct the symphony from one's personal view and feeling. I think both ways are equally valid. Mahler may well have had a similar view. Who knows? One conductor, taking the symphony on a tour, alternated the movements with each concert. His was a sensible attitude I believe.
I agree with basically all of this—I don't know if Mahler necessarily would have agreed, but in a very real sense, the symphony stopped being his to control once it was released into the world. His intentions may help clarify ours, but we shouldn't be completely bound by them.

Offline krummholz

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Re: Mahler's Sixth Symphony - Scherzo then Andante ... or the reverse?
« Reply #53 on: July 12, 2021, 08:32:40 AM »
Interesting discussion.

I was first exposed to the work via the Bernstein/NY Phil recording from the 1960s and so naturally was "imprinted" on the S/A order. (I don't think Bernstein ever performed the work the other way, did he?) And I have to say that to this day, I think S/A makes more sense and is structurally better, for two reasons:

1) The length of the Finale - the Finale is better balanced by having the Allegro and Scherzo "paired" together, with the span of the Andante separating the two parts, than by pitting the Allegro against the Scherzo and Finale heard consecutively. The symphony in the A/S order seems too unbalanced with too much weight in the second part.

2) The key relationships - in the order S/A, Mahler jumps between A minor and E-flat once and only once. Going from the Andante to the Finale, he returns to A minor by way of C Minor, the relative minor of E-flat. Also, because A major/minor hasn't been heard since 2/3 of the way through the Andante, the "fate" motto (A major dissolving into minor) at the opening of the Finale really comes out of left field, tonally speaking. Far more effective than if the Finale follows the A minor Scherzo directly.

But... I haven't listened to the symphony in that order in several years now, ever since the Bruck paper was published. Musicologically, I don't think there is any room for doubt that Mahler changed his mind once and only once, and that the A/S order represents his final intentions for the symphony. I don't consider Alma's word reliable - especially since she never revealed what her basis for that pronouncement was - and it may very well have been nothing more than her preference. It's a valid preference - it's the way she first heard the work, played to her on the piano by Gustav himself at Maiernigg, and it's evidently the way Mahler first conceived the work. It's my personal preference too, by far. But alas, it's not what Mahler ultimately decided the order should be.

And that, for me, settles the issue... pending any further evidence that emerges in the future.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2021, 08:35:23 AM by krummholz »