Mahler hits a high note

The Aus­trian com­poser’s orig­i­nal man­u­script sells for a record price, a six-shot re­calls a scan­dal and two por­taits have a tale to tell

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

Some ar­ti­cles take more re­search than oth­ers. This week’s has re­quired pre­cisely 1 hour 26 min­utes and 28 sec­onds. I do not be­grudge a mo­ment of it, in­deed I am de­lighted to have ex­pe­ri­enced mahler’s Sec­ond Sym­phony, the ‘Res­ur­rec­tion’, for the first time.

I felt that I could not write about the enor­mous price that the orig­i­nal score (Fig 1) had just made at Sotheby’s with­out ever hav­ing heard the work. The in­ter­net duly served up the 2003 per­for­mance by Clau­dio Ab­bado and his Lucerne Fes­ti­val or­ches­tra, which must stand as a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge to all suc­ces­sors.

There is a greater sense of con­nec­tion be­tween the writer and reader of a hand­writ­ten man­u­script than pro­duced by al­most any other hu­man arte­fact, al­though sculp­tures, es­pe­cially ma­que­ttes, and hand-thrown ce­ram­ics may come close. The im­me­di­acy of rest­ing your hand where the hand of the writer rested, while reading the words that were leav­ing that mind as they are now en­ter­ing yours, cre­ates a pow­er­ful phys­i­cal sen­sa­tion.

I have writ­ten be­fore that touch can be as im­por­tant as eye to a con­nois­seur. In the case of a mu­si­cal score, a third sense, hear­ing, re­in­forces the ef­fect—even if one can­not read the mu­sic, one could have it play­ing as one looks and holds. Per­haps, at view­ings, auc­tion­eers might sup­ply head­phones with rel­e­vant pas­sages.

I re­mem­ber the thrill I got when, at a pre­vi­ous view, I was al­lowed to hold a sheet of a score by We­ber, to whom I have al­ways felt a tie, as my par­ents got my name from him (the tenor Huon de Bordeaux in Oberon; Ki­pling may have been an­other ‘god­fa­ther’). How much more must a mahle­rian feel on hold­ing the ‘Res­ur­rec­tion’?

The most ex­tra­or­di­nary mahle­rian of all, Gil­bert Ka­plan (1941–2016), knew that feel­ing very well, as, in 1984, he bought the score from the es­tate of the con­duc­tor Willem men­gel­berg, who had been given it by mahler’s widow, Alma, in 1920. Ka­plan, who made a for­tune on Wall Street, be­came ob­sessed by the sym­phony on first hear­ing it in 1965. He learned to con­duct and pro­ceeded to play it (and it only) more than ad­e­quately with 50 of the world’s great­est or­ches­tras. Al­though opin­ions dif­fered as to his skill, he was no Florence Fos­ter Jenk­ins.

Af­ter his first per­for­mance, in 1982, he said: ‘Peo­ple in the au­di­ence were urg­ing me to ful­fill my dream be­cause each of them had a se­cret am­bi­tion. They were up with me that night, play­ing base­ball for the Yan­kees, writ­ing the book they never wrote, get­ting the girl they never got.’ His per­for­mance with the Lon­don Sym­phony or­ches­tra is said to be the best sell­ing of all mahler record­ings.

The new owner, who paid £4,546,250 for the heav­ily anno-

Fig 2: French poet Paul Ver­laine’s six-shot re­volver.

Fig 1: The orig­i­nal score for Mahler’s Sec­ond Sym­phony.

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