A score of Mahler’s First Symphony that contains his own handwritten revisions was uncovered by chance in the archives of the Jerusalem Academy of Music.
A teacher at the academy, Charles Bornstein, came upon the score as he was searching the archives while preparing for a class. It had been unknowingly filed away at the academy for over 40 years, said academy chairman Avner Biron.
“It’s a fantastic discovery for Mahler scholarship,” Leon Botstein, a Mahler expert and music director of the American Symphony Orchestra told the Associated Press. Botstein and other musicologists said the discovery of such a rare manuscript held enormous value for Mahler scholars, shedding light on the Austrian composer’s thought process, although they also noted that Mahler constantly revised his works and that this was likely one of many versions of the First Symphony.
The Israel daily Ha’aretz called it “the most sensational musical discovery in its field for the past half-century: a manuscript of the greatest symphonic composer of the twentieth century.”
Bornstein, a conductor himself who immigrated to Israel from New York only last month, said that the score was an early version of the First Symphony, published by the Viennese music publisher Josef Weinberger, probably in the 1890s, and that Mahler subsequently thoroughly revised it. While using the century-old manuscript in a class lecture, he saw red-inked M’s crossing out a whirlwind of trumpets that sounded throughout the first movement’s frenetic end.
“I got shivers down my spine,” he told The Associated Press. “I was really shaking. I realized that I had given a lecture on Mahler’s First Symphony, holding his own score. This was something sacred.”
The Israel Police’s forensic unit has confirmed that the paper and ink date back over 100 years, which correlates to the period during which Mahler composed his symphonies. Mahler lived from 1860 to 1911.
The head of the laboratory, Chief Superintendent Aya Shohat and her staff were thrilled to receive such an unusual document amid the usual suspected forgeries of money and letters of various kinds that they deal with. Their findings proved that the score was in fact printed using an old relief print technique and that the markings were done by hand using a fountain pen or a nib, in red ink. These and other findings, the laboratory stated, match the printing and writing methods and the type of paper that were in use at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Botstein, who has written extensively on Mahler and is to conduct his First Symphony at the Vienna Festival in May, theorized that the score made its way to Jerusalem sometime after Mahler’s death, probably with a Viennese Jewish emigre who was a student or a collector.
Botstein estimated that the score could fetch in the millions of dollars if it ever went to auction because of Mahler’s enormous popularity and the fact that his manuscripts are rare.