Performances by Gustav Mahler


  • 1904-1906: There is some controversy over the order of the two middle movements. Mahler is known to have conceived the work as having the scherzo second and the slow movement third, a somewhat unclassical arrangement adumbrated in such earlier gargantuan symphonies as Beethoven's Ninth and Bruckner's Eighth and (unfinished) Ninth, as well as in Mahler's own four-movement First and Fourth. It was in this arrangement that the symphony was completed (in 1904) and published (in March 1906); and it was with a conducting score in which the scherzo preceded the slow movement that Mahler began rehearsals for the work's first performance, in May 1906. During those rehearsals, however, Mahler decided that the slow movement should precede the scherzo, and he instructed his publisher Kahnt music publishers to prepare a "second edition" of the work with the movements in that order, and meanwhile to insert errata slips indicating the change of order into all unsold copies of the existing edition. The seriousness of such a decision is not to be underestimated: as Jeffrey Gantz has pointed out, "A composer who premières his symphony Andante/Scherzo immediately after publishing it Scherzo/Andante can expect a degree of public ridicule, and [the reviewer of the first Vienna performance] didn't spare the sarcasm". Moreover, this revised, "second thoughts" ordering was observed by Mahler in every single performance he gave; it is also how the symphony was performed by others during his lifetime.
  • 1919: The first occasion on which the abandoned, original movement order was reverted to seems to have been in 1919, after Alma had sent a telegram to Willem Mengelberg which said "First Scherzo, then Andante". Mengelberg, who had been in close touch with Mahler until the latter's death, and had happily conducted the symphony in the "Andante/Scherzo" arrangement right up to 1916, then switched to the "Scherzo/Andante" order. In this he seems to have been alone: other conductors, such as Oskar Fried, continued to perform (and eventually record) the work as 'Andante/Scherzo', per Mahler's own second edition, right up to the early 1960s.
  • 1963: In 1963, however, Erwin Ratz's "Critical Edition" of the Sixth appeared, and in this the Scherzo preceded the Andante. Ratz, however, never offered any support (he did not even cite Alma's telegram) for his assertion that Mahler "changed his mind a second time" at some point before his death; but his editorial decision was questioned by few musicians—and even those who did not accept his "third thoughts" ordering (such as John Barbirolli (1899-1970) in his acclaimed 1967 recording) could find that their 'Andante/Scherzo' performance would be changed by the record company to "Scherzo/Andante" so as to make their recording agree with the "Critical Edition". The utter lack of documentary or other evidence in support of Ratz's (and Alma's) reverted ordering has caused the most recent Critical Edition to restore the Andante/Scherzo order; however, many conductors continue to perform the Scherzo before the Andante. Moreover, Henry-Louis de La Grange, Mahler's biographer, referring to the 1919 Mengelberg telegram, has questioned the notion of Alma simply expressing a personal view of the movement order:
  • It is far more likely ten years after Mahler's death and with a much clearer perspective on his life and career, Alma would have sought to be faithful to his artistic intentions... it is stretching the bounds of both language and reason to describe [Andante-Scherzo] as the 'only correct' one. Mahler's Sixth Symphony, like many other compositions in the repertory, will always remain a 'dual-version' work, but few of the others have attracted quite as much controversy.
  • The dual-version view is one echoed by another major Mahler writer, Donald Mitchell. The matter therefore remains hotly debated.


1906. Score by Kahnt music publishers.

1906. Score by Kahnt music publishers.

1906. Score by Kahnt music publishers. Piano version (4 hands) by Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942).


  1. Recording premiere: F. Charles Adler conducting the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, 1952.
  2. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (1933-2014), 09-2005.



  • Recorded and performed examples on the inner movements' order by several prominent conductors:


  • John Barbirolli (1899-1970)
  • Leonard Slatkin
  • Claudio Abbado
  • Simon Rattle
  • Mariss Jansons (1943)
  • Charles Adler
  • Charles Mackerras
  • Riccardo Chailly (1953)
  • Günther Herbig
  • Ivan Fischer (1951)
  • Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • Daniel Barenboim (1942)
  • Edo de Waart
  • Valery Gergiev
  • Franz Welser-Möst
  • Lorin Maazel
  • Alan Gilbert
  • Gustavo Dudamel
  • Stefan Sanderling
  • David Zinman
  • Carlos Kalmar
  • Fabio Luisi
  • Hermann Scherchen
  • Vladimir Ashkenazy
  • James Conlon
  • Manuel Lopez Gomez
  • Daniel Barenboim
  • Myung-whun Chung
  • Evgeny Svetlanov
  • Jakub Hrusa
  • Antonio Pappano
  • Andris Nelsons
  • Harold Farberman: When Harold Farberman's version came out on lp, the order was Andante-Scherzo. This was changed by the record company to Scherzo-Andante for the cd edition. It was not Farbermans intention.


  • Herbert von Karajan
  • George Szell
  • Jascha Horenstein
  • Pierre Boulez
  • Klaus Tennstedt
  • Bernard Haitink (1929)
  • Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
  • Christoph Eschenbach
  • Giuseppe Sinopoli
  • Seiji Ozawa
  • Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Rafael Kubelik
  • Eliahu Inbal
  • Thomas Sanderling
  • Claus Peter Flor
  • Benjamin Zander
  • Lim Yau
  • Georg Solti
  • Michael Gielen
  • Yoel Levi
  • Zubin Mehta
  • Erich Leinsdorf
  • Neeme Järvi
  • James Levine
  • Gary Bertini
  • Semyon Bychkov
  • Pietari Inkinen
  • Jukka-Pekka Saraste
  • Maurice Abravanel
  • Fabio Mechet
  • Harold Byrns: Forgotten Records released a performance of the 6th, conducted in 1955 by Harold Byrns. The order on this release is Andante-Scherzo. This was done by Forgotten Records. The original tape in the NDR-archive proofs the chosen order by Byrns was Scherzo-Andante. Byrns was a personal friend of Alma Mahler, and he never would have cheated on her. Also, there is another performance from the late 50's by Byrns in the Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA), so far unpublished, which again has the order Scherzo-Andante.

Share this article with:

Submit to FacebookSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn