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Mahler’s Resurrection

The composer’s seminal work is now on display at the CMA
November 27, 2023

Andria Hoy, archivist for the Cleveland Orchestra, and Moyna Stanton, CMA paper conservator, discuss Mahler’s elegant handwriting in pen and ink on the manuscript’s professional staff paper.

Now on view in the Monte and Usha Ahuja Founders Rotunda (200) at the Cleveland Museum of Art in collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 in C Minor (the Resurrection) represents one of the greatest Western compositions of the 19th century. While musically it portrays the composer’s vivid exploration of the struggle between death and life, the manuscript itself helps tell the story of the CMA’s long-standing partnership with the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the impact a generous donor can have on preserving history for future generations.

Mahler’s Symphony no. 2, better known as the Resurrection, consists of an unbound bifolio handwritten manuscript of 232 pages. One of the purest examples of Mahler’s written hand in existence, the manuscript includes his own alterations and notes from the time of his composition of the piece between 1888 and 1894. Running approximately one and a half hours, the Resurrection is an epic musical conception that surpasses works by Mahler’s contemporaries. 

In the ominous key of C minor, the piece captures the struggle of the human spirit in its attempts to overcome death, in all its terrifying incarnations. These ideas wind throughout the entirety of the composition, culminating in the final movement, in which Mahler explores sounds associated with Christian imagery of the last days: a voice crying in the wilderness, the last trumpet, and the final resurrection of mankind. By the time he composed his second symphony, Mahler had been conducting operas for 14 years. This certainly informed the work’s scale and grandiosity. 

Autograph manuscript of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 in C Minor, early in the third of five movements 1888–94. Overall: 35 x 27 cm. The Cleveland Orchestra. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art

After pausing efforts on the piece for almost a year, Mahler found himself at the funeral of a close friend. A choir performance during the service provided the inspiration Mahler needed to finish his piece. He described the pivotal moment as a conception from God and immediately set to work finishing his epic composition.

Purchased anonymously in 2016, the manuscript was later revealed to have been donated to the Cleveland Orchestra by Dr. Herbert G. Kloiber of Vienna, a noted media executive, philanthropist, and trustee of the Cleveland Orchestra. With a provenance that can be traced back to Mahler’s widow, Alma, the manuscript has at various times been on deposit with such great institutions as the Gemeentemuseum and the Morgan Library and Museum. Longtime collaboration between the Cleveland Orchestra and the CMA has led to this special opportunity for the manuscript to be on view for a second time in Cleveland, the first being in Severance Hall after Dr. Kloiber gave the manuscript to the Cleveland Orchestra in September 2022.

Selections from the Cleveland Orchestra’s autographed full score of Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 are on display in the museum’s rotunda through February 11, 2024. Accompanying this exhibition is the reinstallation of the museum’s marble Terpsichore Lyran (Muse of Lyric Poetry) by Antonio Canova, which has been off view since March 2023.