The symphonies and song cycles of Gustav Mahler largely disappeared from the repertory after the composer’s death in 1911, and waited half a century until Leonard Bernstein reintroduced them to a wider public. That has been the conventional view since the 1960s.
An erroneous view, according to Sybille Werner, a conductor who worked with the authoritative Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de la Grange. During her research, Werner “collected information on about 4,000 instances of a Mahler orchestral work performed by around 300 conductors between 1911 and 1961.”
In addition to well-known examples such as Willem Mengelberg’s Mahler cycles with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, beginning in 1920, and frequent performances by Mahler protégés Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and Oskar Fried, Werner found that Mahler symphony cycles were staged in a number of Central European music centers before World War II, and that “Das Lied von der Erde” was performed 67 times in Vienna before the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938.
“It was due to the emergence of recordings that Mahler’s music eventually became generally well known,” Werner writes for Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog:
Comment of the week: The secret life of Mahler symphonies