The sensational find allows scholars to draw conclusions about the dates of composition of the "Kindertotenlieder," among Mahler's best-known works.
Last year a private collector in Munich discovered a handwritten score in a pile of music notes - and nearly threw it away. That the paper didn't go into the recycling bin is of great fortune now, not only for the collector but also for musicological research: it turned out to be a precious autograph (original score) by Gustav Mahler.
Berthold Over, an instructor at the University of Mainz until October 2016, has written about the discovery in the scholarly journal, "Archiv Musikwissenschaft." Handwriting comparisons and paper analysis had led Over to conclude that the sheet music was in fact the autograph of the first of the five "Kindertotenlieder" (Songs on the Death of Children), titled "Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n" (Now the Sun Will Rise As Brightly).
Gustav Mahler composed his "Kindertotenlieder" in the years 1901 and 1904. The scores of four of the five were preserved in the original, whereas the fifth song had been considered lost. Until now.
The discovery of that fifth song - No. 1 in the official sequence - means "that it's now possible to say which three were composed in 1901 and which two in 1904," Over explained to DW. "Establishing the chronological order of Mahler's works is sometimes difficult because he didn't date his manuscripts."
In November 2016, the original score of Mahler's "Resurrection Symphony" was sold at Lotheby's in London for 4,5 million pounds ($5.6 million)
From Vienna to Munich - and maybe Sotheby's?
Over traced the sheet of paper back to the Conrat Family in Vienna, whose music salon was frequented by Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma. A daughter in the family had taken the manuscript to Munich where it landed in the private collection and long lay undiscovered.
The collection's owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, now has something that is not only of value to musicology. "If you compare this to other manuscripts that are auctioned off or trade hands some other way," Over said, "you're looking at a six-figure sum for Mahler manuscripts."
The German Romantic poet Friedrich Rückert penned the "Kindertotenlieder" in response to the death of his children. Gustav Mahler's wife Alma was perplexed at how her husband could set those deeply sad texts to music while watching his own healthy children playing happily in the yard. In 1907, Mahler's own daughter Maria-Anna died of scarlet fever and diphtheria. Alma later saw the earlier composition as a strange premonition of the coming tragedy.