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Gustav Mahler. (Music Reviews).

Gustav Mahler. Die drei Pintos: Based on Sketches and Original Music of Carl Maria von Weber. Edited by James L. Zychowicz; libretto translated by Charlotte Brancaforte and Salvatore Calomino. (Recent Researches in the Music of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, 30-31.) Madison, Wisc.: A-R Editions, c2000. [Pt. 1: Introduction, Libretto, Act 1, Entr'act[e]. Acknowledgments, p. vii; introd., p. ix-xx; libretto and trans., p. xxi-lxxiii; 4 plates; score, p. 3-236. ISBN 0-89579-423-3. $175.]

Pt. 2: Act 2, Act 3, Critical Report. Score, p. 237-559; crit. Report, p. 561-70. ISBN 0-89579-424-1. $175.]

Like Mozart, Carl Maria von Weber was drawn to the theater at an early age, and rapidly acquired practical experience with a few lesser works, not all of which survive: Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (1802), the incidental music for Turandot, Prinzessin von China (1809), Silvana (1810), Abu Hassan (1811), and the incidental music for Preciosa (1820) all had performances in Weber's lifetime, and excerpts are occasionally heard today in concert performances. It was with the brilliantly successful premiere of Der Freischutz in 1821 that Weber's name was made all over Europe. The two operas that followed, Euryanthe (1823) and Oberon (1826), never achieved a comparable popularity, in large part because of weak librettos, although Weber's music has sustained them intermittently on the stage ever since.

The astounding success of Der Freischutz probably impeded Weber's nearly simultaneous efforts on Die drei Pintos. He had obtained a libretto for a three-act comic opera from Theodor Hell, based on Carl Seidel's novella Der Breutkampf, and had sketched Out seven numbers for it--a little less than half of the total--in various stages of detail. But although he went back to the opera now and then, perhaps as late as 1824, he failed to complete it, and Die drei Pintos remained his only unfinished opera. Weber's widow approached several other composers, notably Giacomo Meyerbeer, hoping to interest one of them in realizing a performable score from Weber's sketches, but all these tentative efforts were unsuccessful.

The sketches remained in the Weber family, untouched until 1887, when Carl von Weber, the composer's grandson, showed them to the young Gustav Mahler, then Arthur Nikisch's assistant at the Leipzig Stadttheater. Mahler was immediately attracted to the possibility of finishing Die drei Pintos, especially after Carl von Weber drafted a major revision of Hell's libretto. There was another reason, too, for Mahler's interest: he had become involved in a short but intense romance with Carl's wife Marion, with some lurid consequences that have been described by Henry-Louis de La Grange (Mahler, vol. 1 [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 19731, 172) and others. Once he had a grasp of Weber's sketch materials, Mahler worked quickly and completed a score in only a few months in the summer and fall of 1887. The opera received a successful premiere in Leipzig on 20 January 1888 under Mahler's direction and was soon taken up by other theaters. C. F. Kahnt of Leipzig published a vocal score in the same year, and a copyist's orc hestral score, prepared under Mahler's supervision, was reproduced lithographically in a small edition by Kahnt, also in 1888. Within a few years after the initial success, however, the popularity of Die drei Pintos dwindled, and performances in the twentieth century were rare until well into the Mahler revival that began in the 1960s.

Die drei Pintos was recorded in 1976 (RCA Red Seal PRL3-9063 [1976], LP; reissued on CD in 1995, BMG 74321-32-246-2) with a first-rate cast (Lucia Popp, Werner Hollweg, Hermann Prey, and Kurt Moll) and the Munich Philharmonic conducted by Gary Bertini; a generation of new enthusiasts of Mahler's music, not to mention older admirers of Weber, was able to get a good idea of what the opera, which had up to then mostly been a footnote, sounded like. And now the new orchestral score, in a critical edition by James L. Zychowicz, makes the complete opera available to a wider public for the first time.

Most of all, Die drei Pintos is a fascinating example of the fruitful interaction of two composers who never met each other. Where others had tried and failed, or shied away, Mahler was able to develop a very clear sense of what needed to be done to rescue the opera. At the age of just twenty-seven, Mahler had not only the skill, but especially the good sense, to fill the gaps in Weber's sketches with Weber's own music, drawn from unpublished or little-known vocal pieces. Only in the entr'acte after act 1 and in the first part of the act 3 finale, did Mahler extensively supply his own original music, using Weber's existing melodic motifs. Thus all through the score we are impressed by how fortunate the intersection was for both composers: Weber's opera, begun with such promise, was saved from oblivion, and Mahler, in his first brush with fame, gained a significant success with the only operatic project he ever actually completed. It is interesting that Richard Strauss, three years younger than Mahler, was at first enthusiastic about Mahler's completion of Die drei Pintos, hut backed off quickly when Hans von Bulow, reaching the end of his career, grumpily disagreed: "em infamer, antiquierter Schmarren" (a shameless, antiquated mess), as cited in Zychowicz's introduction (p. xvi). Yet although Bulow remarked "Wo Weberei, wo Mahlerei--einerlei" (here Weber-ly [woven], there Mahler-ly [painted]--all the same) in punning derision, today we can regard it as a compliment, as his unwitting testimony to the smooth stylistic unity of the whole.

From the standpoint of orchestration, Die drei Pintos would represent a special challenge. Weher was an expert and particularly imaginative orchestrator, especially in Der Freischutz with its many opportunities for dramatically effective color. (I remember Oliver Strunk's comparison with Fidel io "The orchestra of Der Freischutz sounds like a million dollars." Particular orchestral subtlety is noticeable in even the most dramatically undemanding passages in Der Freischutz, such as the varied accompaniment each time the opening oboe motive recurs in Aennchen's act 1 arietta "Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen.") Mahler recognized the challenge from the start when he saw that the Pintos sketches contained not even a hint of orchestration. His solution was, I believe, not to strive for anything orchestrally extraordinary, nor even to emulate Weber's special coloristic imagination, but to find practical and familiar orchestral textures such as Weber or many of his contemporaries might have come up with in ordina ry situations, and in this Mahler was fully successful. Much of what we hear orchestrally in Die drei Pintos might be indistinguishable in timbre and texture from operatic accompaniment in Franz Schubert, Luigi Cherubini, Louis Spohr, Albert Lortzing, Otto Nicolai, or Weber himself. Mahler did, however, take advantage of the valved horns and trumpets unavailable to Weber, but this difference is not readily noticeable to most listeners.

It is in the D-major entr'acte following the first act of Die drei Pintos that Mahler's orchestral individuality is immediately apparent. Even though based on Weber's motives, this little gem is all Mahler, and is full of adumbrations of his more familiar later music, beginning with its first note, the solo horn's accented A, which Mahler used again in his song "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft." Much of the piece sounds like fragmentary sketches of the First Symphony's first movement, on which Mahler had already been working when he took up Die drei Pintos.

The new score is carefully and beautifully prepared in every detail, and the critical apparatus is as complete as it is expert. Zychowicz's introduction gives a detailed history of Weber's work on Die drei Pintos and Mahler's reconstruction, including Weber's original plan, a tabular comparison of the different stages of the libretto from novel to final version, and a comprehensive listing of the source materials that Mahler used. Zychowicz comments in detail on considerations of performance, including Mahler's revisions to his own score based on his experience in later productions. The reader will notice that Zychowicz does not discuss Weber's sketches themselves, and how Mahler proceeded from them, a subject treated in detail in Birgit Heusgen's Studien zu Gustav Mahlers Bearbeitung und Erganzung von Carl Maria von Webers Opernfragment "Die drei Pintos" (Kolner Beitrage zur Musikforschung, 133 [Regensburg: G. Bosse, 1983]), cited in the introduction's notes.

Mahler's autograph full score of Die drei Pintos was probably lost soon after the copyist's full score was prepared for the publisher under Mahler's supervision. The new edition thus is perforce based on the copyist's full score. Zychowicz's critical report gives a complete explanation of his editorial approach, followed by five double-column pages listing editorial changes. An additional page lists Mahler's own changes, representing his second thoughts about details of the score and which Zychowicz believes derive from Mahler's Prague performances of the opera in August 1888. These are chiefly details of expression and tempo, rarely changes in orchestration; significantly but perhaps not surprisingly, the entr'acte after act 1 shows the greatest number of these changes.

The score, presented in two volumes, is as beautifully and flawlessly printed as any I have ever seen. I found only a single obvious error, in the Terzett (no. 6) on page 85: the sixth and seventh notes of violins I and II are given as E and F**These should clearly be C**and D**,as in the vocal score. At other places, some questions might be asked, as at m. 155 on page 266, where a crescendo hairpin in the cellos and basses is not duplicated in the upper parts. I find no explanation for why the act 2 Ariette (no. 9) appears in D major, when both the recording and the vocal score have it in C.

Die drei Pintos formerly enjoyed a considerable success with the public, and certainly deserves further hearing today, since there is no doubt of its dramatic practicality. The new edition bodes well for making this sparkling opera better known.

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Author:DeVoto, Mark
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Previous Article:Richard Leveridge. (Music Reviews).
Next Article:Johann Strauss. (Music Reviews).

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