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Mahler's second symphony manuscript sells for record £4.5m

on Donnerstag, 08 Dezember 2016. Posted in General Autograph News

The manuscript belonged to the Mahler enthusiast Gilbert Kaplan, who caused controversy by conducting the work himself
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Stave to love … the manuscript for the Resurrection symphony.
Photograph: Sotheby's

It was the ideal Christmas gift for someone with several million spare pounds and a love of Mahler: the complete manuscript of the composer’s second symphony – known as the Resurrection – was up for auction at Sotheby’s in London on Tuesday morning.

The buyer had to part with a record price for a music manuscript, paying £4,546,250 for the 232-page document. Sotheby’s said it was “the most significant musical manuscript ever to have been offered at auction”, noting that the only comparable symphonic manuscripts to have been sold at auction were those of nine Mozart symphonies (which sold for £2.5m at Sotheby’s in 1987) and Schumann’s second symphony (£1.5m in 1994).

“No complete symphony by Mahler, written in the composer’s own hand, has ever been offered at auction, and probably none will be offered again,” said Simon Maguire, Sotheby’s senior specialist in books and manuscripts.

The Mahler manuscript is unaltered since it was first set down by the composer, including his own deletions, alterations and annotations.

The manuscript was sold by the estate of Gilbert Kaplan, an American economist and businessman, who became obsessed with the Resurrection symphony after seeing it performed at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1965, and it became a dream for him to conduct the piece.

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Gustav Mahler … pictured in 1907. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

Kaplan began learning conducting in 1981, and went on to conduct the symphony in more than 100 performances. He conducted two recordings of the work, with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1987 and the Vienna Philharmonic in 2002. He also established the Kaplan foundation, dedicated to Mahler scholarship and promoting the composer’s work.

David Finlayson, a trombonist who took part in the New York Philharmonic’s 2008 performance of the work under Kaplan, took a dim view of the amateur conductor. “As a conductor, he can best be described as a very poor beater of time who far too often is unable to keep the ensemble together and allows most tempo transitions to fall where they may,” he wrote.

“His direction lacks few indications of dynamic control or balance and there is absolutely no attempt to give phrases any requisite shape. In rehearsal, he admitted to our orchestra that he is not capable of keeping a steady tempo and that he would have to depend on us for any stability in that department. Considering his Everest-sized ego, this admission must have caused him great consternation upon reflection … Mr Kaplan and his assault on conducting leave many musicians angry, bewildered and befuddled.”

Others, however, defended Kaplan. The writer Norman Lebrecht, who attended the performance, wrote: “Having watched him master the work over almost 25 years, I am convinced – and so are many musicians – that no one alive has such detailed knowledge of the score … There were rhythms in the second and third movements that he delivered more idiomatically and true to score than I have heard from most professionals. The performance as a whole achieved its intended catharsis – and if the New York Philharmonic think they can do that without a conductor, as the trombonist suggests, well, let’s see them try.”

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