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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Unwelcome echoes from beyond

By Norman Lebrecht / November 21, 2001

NOTHING, it seems, can stop bounty hunters disturbing the peace of dead composers. This year so far, they have excavated a Handel Gloria in London at the Royal Academy of Music, a Mozart-reworked Handel oratorio in a Yorkshire attic, Beethoven's sketches for Macbeth which Leonard Slatkin premiered in Washington DC, and a Rachmaninov concerto reconditioned in Russia. Heaven knows what else they'll dig up for Christmas.

The latest dressed-up exhumation, fresh in from Perugia, is a new version by two Italian musicologists, Nicola Sammale and Giuseppe Mazzuca, of Gustav Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony. This is not, by a long mile, the first reconstruction of the four skeletal movements that Mahler left in 1911, along with a completed adagio. Forty years ago, Deryck Cooke, a BBC producer, created a performing version of the symphony from sheets given to him by the composer's widow. His second version was later modified by the composers Colin and David Matthews and by the conductor Sir Simon Rattle, who has recorded the work twice.

Cooke's enhancement of Mahler's dry bones is frugal. An American, Clinton Carpenter, hazarded a more daring version in Chicago in 1983. His assistant, Remo Mazzetti, made an independent stab at the symphony, recorded by Slatkin in 1995. Mazzetti tinkered on; his second attempt was recorded last year by Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

Still keeping score? A realisation by a British friend of Cooke's, Joe Wheeler, was done in Colorado in 1999 and is due for release on Naxos. Russian conductor Rudolf Barshai presented his own take on the symphony last winter in St Petersburg.

What Sammale and Mazzuca have constructed, then, is not Mahler's Tenth Symphony but, on current reckoning, his 19th. I can happily report the results as someone sneaked a recording machine into the Perugia premiere, beautifully performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Martin Sieghart. The tape found its way (without money changing hands) to a New York pair of Mahler enthusiasts, who have circulated it discreetly on a need-to-know basis.

As far as I can judge, the Italians add very little to the sum of Mahlerian knowledge. A clash of timps here, an extra trumpet there, some distension of tempi. Not enough to displace Cooke as the paramount performing version.

So why bother? Because Mahler is a household brand. Any package that carries his name and the adjective "new" is a licence to print money. Samale and Mazzuca have form in this field. Ten years ago, they constructed a limp finale to Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, which was recorded in Frankfurt, then a slightly stiffer one, which was produced in Linz.

In the Burke-and-Hare world of symphonic sketches, business is brisk. Scholars have appended to Bruckner's nine a disinterred early symphony, numbered 0, then an even earlier one, numbered 00. A movement of an planned Tenth of Beethoven's was dusted off in 1988 by an Aberdeen musicologist, Dr Barry Cooper, amid prime-time hullabaloo.

The latest relic of Beethoven's, some doodles on a Shakespearean theme, was dressed up by a Dutchman, Albert Willem Holsbergen, with the help of his home computer and some friends he met on a website, It lasts eight minutes and is said to be the first music of Beethoven's ever premiered in America. Fancy that.

Most resoundingly, there is the Anthony Payne elaboration of Edward Elgar's Third Symphony, which received more than 100 performances worldwide within two years of retrieval. The rewards for musical grave-robbing have, it appears, never been greater.

But, before you dash up to the attic in search of the six-bar autograph Granny got from Grieg that can surely be extended into a new piano concerto, a word of caution. None of the above-mentioned torsos, except Cooke's, has legs. The kerfuffle that greets each and every "lost masterpiece" and "performing version" is ephemeral.

Beethoven's Tenth is heard no more often than Bruckner's Nullte. The "new" Handel Gloria is a nine-day wonder. A flash on the news, a fat contract, a dozen performances, and the thing is decently allowed to resume its eternal rest. I wonder how often the Elgar Third will be heard in five years' time.

In the concert repertoire, there are few posthumous insertions. Mendelssohn's exhumation of Schubert's Great C Major Symphony eight years after the composer's death is the exception that proves the rule. Composers, as they lie dying, tend to remember if they left a masterpiece in the bottom drawer. As for symphonic skeletons, there is one best way to make them dance - and no point in applying fresh lipstick.

All this necromancy is unhealthy. It's time to shut the coffins and get on with the music of the 21st century.

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



(c) La Scena Musicale 2001