Zubin Mehta’s recollection of Bruno Walter’s recording sessions of Mahler’s 9th Symphony

Bruno Walter premiered the Symphony No. 9 here on 24 June 1912. I think he spoke to Mahler about this Symphony …
Mehta: Yes.
Did he tell you about this?
Mehta: No. I didn’t know Mahler’s No. 9 at all, so I wouldn’t have known what to discuss with him. But I was at all the recording sessions, and I had no score so I just listened. But the tragedy was that he wanted so much to record this Symphony that he accepted all of Columbia Records’ conditions – I don’t know what financial conditions, maybe he did it for nothing, I don’t know – and they had twelve first violins and four basses. In other words, Columbia Records said, “We will do it, but of course it will never sell. So if you want to do it we will do it for you but we cannot provide more musicians.” Not only that, but these musicians were all from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and they also didn’t know the Symphony No. 9! So they were sight-reading and recording at the same time. They were good musicians and he was very patient with them, but you know, when you read the reviews of this recording they say, this is the definitive recording and nobody can play it like that: they were sight-reading. They did the best they could because they loved him. Now the Bruckner 9th, which Walter also recorded with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he played in a concert first. So the recording of the Bruckner 9th is really a document that everybody should have.

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