The composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein may have been a genius, but he was, apparently, fickle with other people’s belongings.
As The New York Times’s Michael Cooper reported, Bernstein borrowed a copy of Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” — “The Song of the Earth,” a song cycle for tenor and alto or tenor and baritone — from the Vienna Philharmonic when he made his conducting debut there in 1966. And in his possession it remained.
Vienna clearly didn’t miss it very much; Bernstein’s illicit retention of it wasn’t much remarked upon until last month, when the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic opened a joint exhibition of selections from their archives, in honor of their mutual 175th anniversary. Among New York’s portion of the exhibit was the Mahler score, bequeathed to the New York Philharmonic along with a number of Bernstein’s annotated scores upon his death in 1990.
That exhibit was initially in New York, and has now travelled to Vienna. One document will be staying behind, when the New York Philharmonic collects its share of the show: “Das Lied von der Erde.”
On Tuesday, March 28, the 175th anniversary of the Vienna Philharmonic’s inaugural concert, members of Bernstein’s family and leaders of the New York Philharmonic officially returned the Mahler score to the Viennese orchestra.
“After over 50 years, our Mahler score has finally come home!” Andreas Grossbauer, chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, exalted in a statement quoted by The New York Times.
“There’s a place for us,” Stephen Sondheim wrote in “West Side Story,” his words accompanying a plaintive melody by Bernstein. If sheet music could sing, “Das Lied von der Erde,” home at last, might heartily join.