Brussels Philharmonic | Mahler 6

Mahler 6

Music director Stéphane Denève shines his light on Mahler's Sixth symphony.

The order of the two middle movements of Mahler's Sixth Symphony is reason for discussion. Initially, Mahler placed the Scherzo before the Andante, but just before the premiere he switched the two movements.

Today most performers follow the – musically most logical – order of the original manuscript. As will Stéphane Denève in his performance with Brussels Philharmonic.

To summarise this fascinating topic, the whole controversy about the order of the two middle movements of Mahler's sixth Symphony is this: which 'Mahler' is right? Mahler the composer who wrote a score with a Scherzo-Andante order or Mahler the conductor who reversed it right before the premiere into Andante-Scherzo? But above all, why did Mahler feel he was wrong? The reasons seem unclear. Therefore, a few years ago, taking Mahler 6 on tour with the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra des SWR, I decided to try both versions, alternating them during the tour. My goal was to try to feel what may have urged Mahler to change the printed order (both the score and the piano reduction for four hands by Zemlinsky, published right before the premiere, show a Scherzo-Andante order). I failed to understand Mahler's reasoning, but what I discovered is that the emotion of the Andante was stronger to me when it came as a third movement, and furthermore, I really liked the Scherzo to follow the first movement, as a distorted mirror-image... So I will go with my own experience and propose in Brussels the Scherzo-Andante version. I only wish I could have discussed the matter with Mahler himself, but that won't be possible in this life...
Stéphane Denève, music director