Monumental Manuscript of Mahler's Complete Second Symphony to be Offered at Sotheby's

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.35.01 PM.pngOn 29 November 2016, Sotheby’s in London will offer at auction the complete manuscript of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony (the “Resurrection”). This dramatic manuscript, spanning 232 pages and written in the composer’s distinctive hand throughout, is the highest-estimated musical manuscript ever to be offered at auction, estimated in excess of £3.5m.

This hugely significant monument of musical history is made all the more noteworthy by its remarkable provenance. It is being offered by the estate of the American economist and businessman, Gilbert Kaplan (1941-2016), who, having become infatuated with Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 upon seeing the piece performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1965, dedicated his life to realising his dream of conducting the piece with the world’s greatest orchestras.

“No complete symphony by Mahler, written in the composer’s own hand, has ever been offered at auction, and probably none will be offered again. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a manuscript of truly outstanding historical importance.”--Simon Maguire, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist, Books & Manuscripts


The “Resurrection” symphony, which premiered in Berlin in 1895, is a truly monumental work—one of the grandest, longest, and yet most accessible of Mahler’s creations. Performed with a 90-piece orchestra, soprano and alto soloists, chorus and organ, the epic symphony extends to 90 minutes. This was the first major work that saw the composer confront the universal themes of life and death, which were so characteristic of his oeuvre.

Written in the composer’s own hand, the manuscript remains completely unaltered, untrimmed and unbound-including deletions, alterations and annotations, many in vivid blue crayon. The work retains the form in which Mahler left it, reflecting and revealing the compositional process for the work. This manuscript was given by Alma Mahler, the composer’s widow, to Mahler’s friend the conductor Willem Mengelberg in 1920 and acquired directly by Gilbert Kaplan from that conductor’s estate in 1984. It has never been offered or sold on the open market, and is the most significant music manuscript ever to be offered at auction*.


Witnessing a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1965 had transformative effect on the American entrepreneur and publisher Gilbert Kaplan. “Zeus threw the bolt of lightning. I walked out of that hall a different person”, said Kaplan. He was later quoted as saying that “Mahler’s Second wrapped its arms around me” and told the Boston Globe that, “there’s been nothing that put me in orbit the way this did.” Enlisting the help of the world’s leading conductors, he worked tirelessly to learn, from scratch, how to conduct the piece-a feat that has been compared to scaling Mount Everest. Over the course of three decades, this improbable transformation would see Kaplan perform the piece—and only ever this piece—more than 100 times across the globe. Kaplan’s concerts intensified his identification with the work: his acquisition of the manuscript was the culmination of his obsession with the symphony. 

*The only comparable autograph music manuscripts of major symphonic works to have been sold at auction are the celebrated manuscript of nine Mozart symphonies (which achieved £2.5 million in 1987) and the manuscript of Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony (which sold for £1.5 million in 1994).