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mahler’s instructions

As we get into the process of rehearsing Mahler’s Fourth Symphony this week, there is that perennial problem of the many, often unfamiliar, German instructions that Mahler writes in nearly every line (sometimes every bar).

This made the rounds of the internet mailing madness a few weeks ago, and then I discovered the provenance of the delightful mistranslations: David Pesetsky, principal second violin of the New Philharmonia Orchestra of Newton, Mass.  The list was posted on the blog of Neil A. Kurtzman, MD.


Several weeks ago, we sent you a list of translations of the German
markings in the Mahler. We now realize that this list contained many
serious errors. These sheets contain the correct versions. So we
don’t waste valuable rehearsal time on this, copy these corrections
into your part immediately.


Langsam – Slowly

Schleppend – Slowly

Dampfer auf – Slowly

Mit Dampfer – Slowly

Allmahlich in das Hauptzeitmass ubergehen – Do not look at the conductor

Im Anfang sehr gemaechlich – In intense inner torment

Alle Betonungen sehr zart – With more intense inner torment

Getheilt (geth.) – Out of tune

Von hier an in sehr allmaehlicher aber stetiger Steigerung bis zum
– From this point on, the spit valves should be emptied with
ever-increasing emotion

Hier ist ein frisches belebtes Zeitmass eingetreten – Slowly

Haupttempo – Slowly

Noch ein wenig beschleunigend – Slowing down but with a sense of
speeding up

Immer noch zurueckhaltend – With steadily decreasing competence

Sehr gemaechlich – With indescribably horrific inner torment

Etwas bewegter, aber immer noch sehr ruhig – Somewhat louder, though still inaudible as before

Alle Betonungen sehr zart – With smallish quantities of fairly mild
inner torment

Gemaechlich – Intermission

Ganz unmerklich etwas zurueckhaltend – Slowly

Etwas gemaechlicher als zuvor – Slowly

Von hier ab unmerklich breiter werden – As if wild animals were
gnawing on your liver

Ohne cresc. – Without toothpaste

Immer noch etwas zurueckhaltend – Slowly

Vorwaerts draengend – Slowly

Hauptzeitmass – Slowly

Allmaehlich etwas lebhafter – Screaming in agony

Ohne Nachschl(age) – Without milk (sugar)

Kraeftig bewegt – Slowly

Mit dem Holze zu streichen – Like a hole in the head

Mit Parodie – Viola solo

Sehr einfach und schlicht, wie eine Volksweise – Slowly

Daempfer ab – Eyes closed

Ploetzlich viel schneller – Even more ploddingly

Den ersten Ton scharf herausgehoben – Do not play until the buzzer

Am Griffbrett – As if in tune

Aeusserst zart, aber ausdrucksvoll – Radiantly joyful, despite the

Wieder zurueckhaltend – Increasingly decreasing

Noch breiter als vorher – Better late than never

Nicht eilen – No eels

Allmaehlich (unmerklich) etwas zurueckhaltend – Much faster (slower)
than conductor

Lang gestrichen – Heads up

Lang gezogen – Heads back down

Die werden allmaehlich staerker und staerker bis zum (fp) – In the
event of a water landing, your seat cushion may be used as a
flotation device

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

2 replies on “mahler’s instructions”

ach mein gott, dat is sehr fantastico! thanx for publishing it, Charles.

i think i already shared Messiaen’s comment about Mahler with y’all a month or so ago, yes? anyway, George Benjamin asked Ollie what he thought of Mahler’s music one afternoon and “Le Maitre” responded thusly (in mock surprise):

“Mahler? Quel malheur.”

That was it. No further discussion.

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