I read this review of a performance of Mahler 1 today:
“Among the rare highlights were the impressively unisono Frère Jacques (played by the basses in tutti with just the right amount of dread)”
Jens F Laurson, reviewing the London Symphony Orchestra playing Mahler 1 with Gergiev in Leipzig this week (I appreciate Laurson’s openness to Gergiev’s flawed approach)
Which reminded me of this:
“However, assigning the new edition of the First Symphony to Sander Wilkens unfortunately proved to be a mistake. His confused arguments in support of the claim that the famous double bass solo at the beginning of the third movement was a solo for the whole group rather than for a single player contradicted the sources and surviving reports of performances under Mahler’s direction, and exposed the Critical Edition to ridicule from all Mahler researchers….”
Reinhold Kubik, editor in chief, New Critical Edition, International Gustav Mahler Society, Vienna
Cambridge Mahler Companion, p 224
Which mercifully contradicts this:
“NOTE ON THE BASS SOLO (3rd mvt., p. 78)
The “solo” instruction for the basses at the beginning of the third movement is a relic that has survived several revisions and has therefore occasioned a misunderstanding. [A] notes “Celli” and “Bässe” before systems 1 and 2 respectively, Bar 3 “Solo (mit Dämpfer)”, pp; Vc. Bar 11 “Tutti (mit Dämpfer)”; [K1] corrects this (autograph) to “1. Kontrabass”, “Dämpfer” added later, and strikes out Vc. Bars 3-11 including the “solo” at Bar 11; [StV1] repeats this version–1 Kb. mit Dämpfer, Vc Bar 11 tutti (system cues continue in the singular as in [EA], except for the timpani). In point of fact, the first edition abandons the system cues identifying the solo (1 Kb.) and prints all the basses in Bars 3-11; this permits only one conclusion, that Mahler was resolved in [EA] to keep this version, whereas the parts merely copied [K1], and in no version passed down to us, including [St1], do they appear to be corrected. The meaning of the “solo” marking which remains in the score thereby changes to a unison section soli”
I’ve gotten great pleasure from my Mahler 1 score as edited by Sander Wilkens, but his reasoning for insisting that solo doesn’t mean solo is ludicrous and not the least bit logical, musical or credible. I’m amazed anyone has ever fallen for it- it just goes to show how blindly we sometimes accept the word of scholars. As Wilkens and Kubik show on this point, or as Kubik and Ratz illustrate in the case of the movement order of the 6th Symphony, a conductor who blindly follows the opinions of the scholar-de-jour is going to be changing his or her interpretation every few years without fully understanding the reasoning. A critical edition should still be challenged and questioned, and when it is wrong, its suggestions should be ignored. In this case, I’m pretty darn sure Mr Wilkens got it wrong and Mr Kubik gets it right.
For a more detailed explanation of why, see Paul Banks’ essay here. Note what he reports about Mahler’s own performances:
“But the most compelling testimony concerns Mahler’s own practice: in his review in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt (20 November 1900) of the first performance of the work in Vienna (i.e. after the publication of the score and parts), Max Kalbeck refers specifically to the use of a single double bass at the opening of the slow movement (I’m most grateful to Donald Mitchell for drawing this review to my attention). To this can be added the fact that in all seven of his recordings of the work, Bruno Walter (who made the piano duet transcription) gives the opening statement of the theme to a solo double bass. All of this provides strong evidence that what was awry here was not the score, but the first edition of the orchestral parts: for once a long-established performing tradition is correct.”
It’s a bass solo!