'In thirty or forty years,' Gustav Mahler is said to have said, 'Beethoven's symphonies will no longer be played in concerts. My symphonies will take their place.' The line comes from a dubious source - an ageing critic - but it is not out of character. Mahler, the most generous of megalomaniacs, often prophesied great things for his music, and, to judge from the programmes of recent seasons, his roll-over-Beethoven fantasy is coming true. The Mahler symphonies now occupy the dead centre of the repertory. This past season, in New York, Carnegie Hall put on the Ninth on a Sunday, the Third the following Thursday, and, about a week later, on successive evenings, Das Lied von der Erde and the First. One loud night in February, the Second and Fourth were done simultaneously, at Carnegie and at the Philharmonic. The Fifth, the Sixth, the Seventh, the Eighth, and part of the Tenth also showed up at various times. The First and the Ninth came back at season's end, while Thomas Hampson sang the complete Mahler songs. Each of the major works, then, was performed at least once, and it wasn't even an anniversary year. Beethoven's little things, by contrast, received, by my count, seven performances - by the Philharmonic and by all orchestras visiting from out of town.
LRB 24 August 2000 | PDF Download