For all their massive tuttis, the textures of Mahler’s symphonies often have the feel of chamber music. Not only do chamber arrangements afford more opportunities for performance in times of austerity, but once one adjusts they bring their own rewards (for a useful post on the wider background in WAM, see here). The loss in scale is a gain in intimacy.
Left to right: Arnold Schoenberg, Otto Klemperer, Hermann Scherchen,
Anton Webern, Erwin Stein, 1924.
After Mahler’s death in 1911, Arnold Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances was active in Vienna from 1918 to 1921. Among the contemporary orchestral works arranged there for chamber ensemble (Berg, Webern, Erwin Stein, Hanns Eisler, and so on) was Mahler 4 in Stein’s 1921 arrangement. Here it is in full:
and the gorgeous slow movement:
Schoenberg had begun arranging Das Lied von der Erde, a project realized by Rainer Riehn in 1983. Chamber versions of the symphonies have become popular since 2008, with versions by Klaus Simon and others. Here’s his arrangement of Mahler 1:
and the world premiere of his Mahler 6 in 2019:
The Ensemble Mini (site and YouTube channel) has recently recorded the 9th and 10th symphonies. Here’s a trailer for their recording of Klaus Simon’s arrangement of the 9th (with seventeen performers!!!):
with the complete symphony available on Spotify.
And a trailer for their Mahler 10, from the finale (arranged by Michelle Castelletti):
Here’s the 9th as performed by Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, directed by Pierre-Alain Monot:
While such versions can never replace the glories of Mahler’s massive symphonic soundscape, they make a refreshing complement.
Not to be confused with Great works missing the crucial element…