Books & Manuscripts

The Discovery of a Previously Unrecorded Mahler Manuscript

By Mark Stephen

To be sent images of a leaf of music by Gustav Mahler from the online enquiries platform is unusual enough, but even more unusual was the fact it was a hitherto unknown and unrecorded leaf. Simon Maguire in the London Books and Manuscripts department recognised how important the leaf was in market terms, thus giving a realistic estimate for it and it was confirmed by a musical consultant that the leaf is part of the 1899 working draft of Symphony No. 4, from the first movement. 

The current vendor was able to acquire the manuscript at a relatively modest cost at a Californian auction because Gustav Mahler’s own name does not appear on the manuscript, only that of Alma Mahler in her attestation of its authenticity. Our estimate of £60,000-80,000 reflects the strong market for Mahler manuscripts and related work from the artistic hub that was Vienna at the turn of the century. Sotheby’s has unparalleled experience in selling Mahler: we sold the autograph manuscript of the complete Second Symphony for £4.5m in 2016.

The leaf has the expected Vienna watermark, Mahler’s typical blue crayon numbering and is signed on the back by his wife Alma Mahler who presumably annotated his paperwork after his early death in 1911.  It is known that there are 11 leaves from Mahler’s composing manuscript, of which the first is lost and unknown, this page, numbered 4, had been lost until now, and the other nine are in museums, or in one instance, in a private collection. Some rejected leaves from the first movement are also known, and two of these have appeared at auction, but an autographed worked leaf from the 4th Symphony to appear at auction is incredibly rare.

Alma Mahler remarried and fled Europe to escape the Nazis, moving in turn to France, then Spain and finally to the States, settling in Los Angeles, living there in the 1940s, before moving to New York in 1951.  In her autobiography she mentions giving Mahler leafs away to friends, so it seems probable that the leaf has been in the Los Angeles area for around 70 years.

The framer’s label, given the lack of a five digit zip code and the CA prefix would date the framing to the early 1960s, so it seems it has been in the same house for many years and has presumably resurfaced as a result of a house clearance to now allow another collector a chance to own an autographed sheet of music by Gustav Mahler.

Mark Stephen is Deputy Director in the London valuations department, responsible for online valuations with 35 years experience in the auction world. The variety and breadth of antique and often, not so-antique, objects and paintings sent to Sotheby’s via our on-line platform is an experience to see.  We sift through watches, jewellery, wine, paintings from every period, silver, ceramics and objects so bizarre they cannot be categorised. The good, the bad, and the ugly of the antiques world passes through our hands on a daily basis. For more information and to have your objects valued click here.

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