Exploring the extraordinary music of Mahler

Martin Cullingford
Thursday, August 18, 2022

Gramophone's Editor introduces our new special edition celebrating the composer

The music of Mahler has been much on my mind – and more importantly, emerging from my speakers – these past weeks. For a start there is the revelatory new recording from François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles of the composer’s Fourth Symphony that we’ve named Recording of the Month. In last issue’s cover story the conductor unveiled the rationale behind his approach, one that employs the instruments of Mahler’s time (a reminder that ‘period performance’ doesn’t only mean gut strings and harpsichords but the deeply considered application of authenticity to all eras). It was a joy, then, when the Harmonia Mundi recording proved to be just as exciting as he promised.

And just a reminder that Les Siècles is one of the ensembles in contention for Gramophone’s Orchestra of the Year 2022, the only Award voted for by our readers. There’s still time to have your say – visit our website, where you can read about, and listen to recordings of, all 10 shortlisted nominees, ensembles that span style and countries, and where you can also find two special editions of our Podcast in which James Jolly and critics Rob Cowan and Andrew Mellor discuss what makes each orchestra worthy of the accolade. The winner will be announced at the Gramophone Awards on October 4. 

But Mahler’s music has run like a thread throughout our entire century of publication, and that’s what we’ve been exploring in the latest of our ‘Gramophone Presents…’ special editions, available now. We’ve immersed ourselves in our archives, and across 100 pages we present some of the most thought-provoking reviews and interviews with musicians about Mahler and his music. There’s a reproduction of the Mahlerian Odyssey Michael McManus took on our behalf back in 2010, interviewing leading conductors – not all of whom are still with us – about one symphony each (plus Das Lied von der Erde). There’s a fascinating interview with Klaus Tennstedt by Edward Seckerson from 1987 about the symphonies, and more recent encounters with Sir Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado and others. 

Our founder Sir Compton Mackenzie made a plea as early as 1925 for more Mahler to be recorded – though the fact that, a decade later, a series of letters from readers requests the same reminds us that the place of Mahler’s music in the studio and concert hall, let alone the canon, took time to gain traction (perhaps partly due to the sheer scale of Mahler’s symphonies, which needed the LP in order to be accommodated comfortably!). Once it did, it became powerfully woven into the tapestry of cultural life, and now stands among the most profound of all contributions to our art form.

So it’s no surprise that what stood out for me preparing the publication is just how personal everybody’s response – musicians and listeners alike – was, and continues to be, to Mahler. As I write in my introduction, this isn’t music about which you can be detached – analysis (of which you’ll still find plenty!) only gets you so far. The publication is thus a lovingly presented souvenir of the ongoing and deeply felt journey of exploration taken by the world’s finest musicians into Mahler, as reflected in Gramophone’s pages. If you’d like to find out more, and order your own copy, click here.

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  • Digital Archive
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