Symphony No. 7 (Mahler)
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Gustav Mahler's Seventh Symphony was written in 1904–05, with repeated revisions to the scoring. It is sometimes referred to by the title Song of the Night (German: Lied der Nacht), though this title was not Mahler's own and he disapproved of it. Although the symphony is often described as being in the key of E minor, its tonal scheme is more complicated. The symphony's first movement moves from B minor (introduction) to E minor, and the work ends with a Rondo-Finale in C major. Thus, as Dika Newlin has pointed out, "in this symphony Mahler returns to the ideal of 'progressive tonality' which he had abandoned in the Sixth". The complexity of the work's tonal scheme was analysed in terms of 'interlocking structures' by Graham George.
In 1904, Mahler was enjoying great international success as a conductor, but he was also, at last, beginning to enjoy international success as a composer. His second daughter was born that June, and during his customary summer break away from Vienna in his lakeside retreat at Maiernigg in the Carinthian Mountains, he finished the Sixth Symphony and sketched the second and fourth movements (the two Nachtmusik movements) for the Seventh Symphony while mapping out much of the rest of the work. He then worked on the Seventh intensively the following summer, claiming to take just four weeks to complete the first, third and fifth movements.
The completed score was dated 15 August 1905, and the orchestration was finished in 1906; he laid the Seventh aside to make small changes to the orchestration of the Sixth, while rehearsing for its premiere in May 1906. The Seventh had its premiere on 19 September 1908, in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic, at the festival marking the Diamond Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph.
The three years which elapsed between the completion of the score and the symphony's premiere witnessed dramatic changes in Mahler's life and career. In March 1907 he had resigned his conductorship of the Vienna State Opera, as the musical community in Vienna turned against him (which was why he chose Prague for the work's debut); on 12 July his first daughter died of scarlet fever; and, even as she lay on her deathbed, Mahler learned that he was suffering from an incurable heart condition. Musicologists surmise that this is why the optimism and cheerfulness of the symphony was subsequently tempered by the small but significant revisions Mahler made in the years leading up to its premiere.
The symphony is scored for the following orchestra. As in some of his other symphonies (particularly his 5th, 6th symphonies), Mahler's interest in unconventional instruments in the orchestra is clearly shown in the scoring in this work, with usage of a tenor horn, cowbells, mandolin, and guitar.
Mahler's specification of a 'Tenorhorn' in the scoring of this work has often caused confusion. In Britain, the name 'tenor horn' is often given to the instrument that in the US is called the alto horn (in E♭ or F); in Germany this (a contralto saxhorn) is known as the Althorn in E♭ or F, and is not the instrument requested by Mahler. Nor does Mahler intend a euphonium, which in German is called either 'Euphonium' or 'Baryton'. The German Tenorhorn is actually a B♭ instrument similar to the instrument known in Britain and the USA as the baritone horn.
The work is in five movements:
- Langsam – Allegro risoluto, ma non troppo (E minor, beginning B minor);
- Nachtmusik (I): Allegro moderato. Molto moderato (Andante) (C minor);
- Scherzo: Schattenhaft. Fließend aber nicht zu schnell (D minor) - The German marking means Shadowy. Flowing but not too fast;
- Nachtmusik (II): Andante amoroso (F major)
- Rondo-Finale (C major).
The duration of the symphony is around 80 minutes. There is, however, an exceptionally lengthy recording by Otto Klemperer, which is 100 minutes long, as well as a recording by Hermann Scherchen with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra that is 68 minutes long.
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The movement is in sonata form. It begins with a slow introduction, launched by a dark melody played by a baritone horn. The accompanimental rhythm was said to have come to Mahler whilst rowing on the lake at Maiernigg after a period of compositional drought. A climax emerges from various members of the woodwind and brass. The principal trumpet in the orchestra for the work's première even confronted Mahler, saying "I'd just like to know what's beautiful about blowing away at a trumpet stopped up to high C-sharp" Mahler had no answer, but later pointed out to Alma that the man did not understand the agony of his own existence.
The second movement opens with horns calling to each other. The first of the two "Nachtmusik" ("Night Music") movements is said to represent a "walk by night" Mahler, who described the movement in vague terms. Scampering woodwind pass off into the distance as the horns introduce a rich, somewhat bucolic theme, surrounded by dancing strings. The rural mood is heightened by a gentle, rustic dance - typical of Mahler at his most carefree and childlike - as well as by high fluttering woodwind bird-calls and the gentle clanking of distant cow-bells. At the end, the movement gradually descends into silence. Night has finally fallen.
There is an undercurrent of night about the spooky third movement; while Scherzo means 'joke', this movement is remarkably gloomy and even grim. Nonetheless, as the Spanish musicologist José L. Pérez de Arteaga points out (Pérez de Arteaga, José L.: Mahler, Barcelona, Salvat, 1987, p. 148), this movement is really "a most morbid and sarcastic mockery of the Viennese waltz". Eerie timpani and low wind instruments set off on a threatening waltz, complete with unearthly woodwind shrieks and ghostly shimmerings from the basses. At one point, the strings are instructed to play pizzicato with the volume fffff, with the footnote, pluck so hard that the strings hit the wood. Curious instrumental effects give this movement a strongly nightmarish quality.
The fourth movement (the second "Nachtmusik"), with its "amorous" marking and reduced instrumentation—trombones, tuba and trumpets are silent and woodwinds reduced by half—has been described as "a long stretch of chamber music set amidst this huge orchestral work". A solo violin introduces the movement, while a horn solo above the gentle tones of a guitar and mandolin create a magical serenade character.
Boisterous timpani, joined in the fray by blazing brass, set the scene for the riotous fifth movement. Here is quasi-film music, pomp and pageantry and great dramatic gestures all rolled into a piece that demands intense orchestral display. Formally, the movement is a rondo that acts as the theme for a set of eight variations, capped off by a dramatic coda. There are parodies of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow, as well as of Mahler's own Fifth Symphony and the famous Lutheran Hymn "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott", not to mention other ironic and sarcastic references. Little wonder that, of all the Symphony's movements, this has come in for the greatest amount of criticism and puzzlement (it has been seen by many as something of a let-down and somewhat superficial, dodging questions set by the previous movements): its virtually unrelenting mood of celebration seems quite at odds with the dark character of the earlier movements – "a vigorous life-asserting pageant of Mahlerian blatancy", is how Michael Kennedy describes it. For his part Mahler described it simply as a depiction of "broad daylight" and the outrageously exuberant ending, with passing references to the very opening theme, seems to encapsulate the blazing brilliance of the noonday sun.
The harmonic and stylistic structure of the piece may be viewed as a depiction of the journey from dusk till dawn. The piece evolves from uncertain and hesitant beginnings to an unequivocal C major finale, with its echoes of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: indeed, at the premiere the overture to this opera was performed after the symphony.
This journey from night to day proceeds via an extraordinary third movement scherzo, marked schattenhaft (shadowy), which may have been what prompted Arnold Schoenberg to become a particular champion of the work. The abundance of themes based upon the interval of a fourth has parallels with the First Chamber Symphony.
The piece has several motifs in common with the Sixth Symphony, notably the juxtaposition of major with minor chords, the march figure of the first movement, and the use of cowbells within certain "pastoral" episodes.
Mahler conducted the premiere of his Seventh Symphony in Prague in 1908. A few weeks later he conducted it in Munich and the Netherlands. Both the audience and the performers at the premiere were confused by the work, and it was not well received. It remained for a while as one of Mahler's least appreciated works, often accused of incoherence. More recently, scholars and conductors have experimented with a range of interpretations of the work, especially the tempo of the finale, and the work has thrilled more audiences worldwide and has since become more popular.
- World premiere: 19 September 1908, Prague, with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer.
- Dutch premiere: 2 October 1909, The Hague, with the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by the composer.
- British premiere: 18 January 1913, London, conducted by Henry Wood.
- American premiere: 15 April 1921, Chicago, conducted by Frederick Stock.
- Claudio Abbado has also recorded the symphony twice - first with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the studio in 1984, and then live with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2001. There is also a DVD recording with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
- Sergio Alapont with Castelló Symphony Youth Orchestra (Jove Orquestra Simfònica de Castelló)
- Daniel Barenboim with the Berlin Staatskapelle
- Leonard Bernstein conducted performances of the Mahler 7th in 1965 with the New York Philharmonic, which he recorded. He recorded it two other times - with the New York Philharmonic in 1986, and also on video in the 1970s with the Vienna Philharmonic.
- Pierre Boulez with the Cleveland Orchestra
- Riccardo Chailly with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
- Andreas Delfs and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
- Valery Gergiev with the London Symphony Orchestra
- Michael Gielen, an experienced Austrian conductor, also recorded a Mahler cycle during the 1990s
- Bernard Haitink made recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic and Concertgebouw Orchestras
- Michael Halász with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
- Jascha Horenstein with the New Philharmonia Orchestra
- Mariss Jansons with The Oslo Philharmonic
- Neeme Järvi with The Hague Philharmonic
- Otto Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra, recorded in 1968.
- Kirill Kondrashin with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (1973, there is also a live recording from 1979 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra).
- Rafael Kubelík recorded it in 1970 as part of his complete cycle with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (there is also a live recording from 1976).
- Yoel Levi with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
- James Levine with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
- Lorin Maazel with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and New York Philharmonic
- Kurt Masur with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
- Václav Neumann recorded it twice, first in 1968 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra then in 1977-78 as part of a complete symphony set with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Seiji Ozawa with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
- Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
- Hans Rosbaud with the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Berlin, 1952.
- Hermann Scherchen with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and another recording with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
- Giuseppe Sinopoli and the Philharmonia Orchestra, recorded in 1992.
- Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
- Klaus Tennstedt with the London Philharmonic Orchestra
- Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. Winner of two Grammy Awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Album.
- Hans Zender Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken
- David Zinman with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich
The opening horn theme of the second movement is well known in Britain since its use in an advert for Castrol GTX oil in the early eighties.
- 'Gustav Mahler' (Works), in New Grove, Macmillan, 1980
- Dika Newlin: Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg (New York, 1947), p.186
- Graham George, 'Tonality and Musical Structure', (London 1970)
- Alfred Blatter: 'Instrumentation/Orchestration', p.140
- Alfred Blatter: 'Instrumentation/Orchestration', p.169
- See 'Tenor horn', Grove Music Online
- Program notes to a performance of the symphony by the Chicago Symphony, written by Phillip Huscher
- Mahler Symphony No. 7 at andante.com
- James, Burnett (1985). The Music of Gustav Mahler. London: Associated University Press. ISBN 0-8386-3167-3
- David Hurwitz, The Mahler Symphonies: An Owner's Manual (includes 1 CD), Amadeus Press (2004), ISBN 1-57467-099-9