MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 (Gunter Appenheimer/ Michael Halasz/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550531)
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Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)
Symphony No.7 in E Minor
The great Viennese symphonic tradition found worthy successorsin two composers of very different temperament and background, AntonBruckner and Gustav Mahler. The latter, indeed, extended the form in an extraordinary waythat has had a far-reaching effect on the course of Western music, among other thingscreating a symphonic form that included in it the tradition of German song in a variedtapestry of sound particularly apt for a twentieth century that has found in Mahler's worka reflection of its own joys and sorrows.
Mahler was to express succinctly enough his position in theworld. He saw himself as three times homeless, a native of Bohemia in Austria, an Austrianamong Germans and a Jew throughout the whole world. The second child, and the first offourteen to survive, he was born in Kaliste in Bohemia in 1860. Soon after his birth hisfamily moved to Jihlava, where his father, by his own very considerable efforts, hadraised himself from being little more than a pedlar, with a desire for intellectualself-improvement, to the running of a tavern and distillery. Mahler's musical abilitieswere developed first in Jihlava, before a brief period of schooling in Prague, which endedunhappily, and a later course of study at the Conservatory in Vienna, where he turned fromthe piano to composition and, as a necessary corollary, to conducting.
It was as a conductor that Mahler made his career, at first ata series of provincial opera-houses, then in Prague, Budapest and Hamburg, before movingto a position of the highest distinction of all, when, in 1897, he became Kapellmeister ofthe Vienna Court Opera, two months after his baptism as a Catholic, a necessarypreliminary. In Vienna he effected significant reforms in the Court Opera, but made enoughenemies, particularly represented in the anti-semitic press, to lead to his resignation in1907, followed by a final period conducting in America and elsewhere, in a vain attempt tosecure his family's future before his own imminent death, which took place a week afterhis return to Vienna, on 18th May, 1911.
Although his career as a conductor involved him most closelywith opera, Mahler attempted little composition in this field. His work as a composerconsists chiefly of his songs and of his ten symphonies, the last left unfinished at hisdeath, together with his monumental setting of poems from the Chinese in >Das Lied von der Erde. The greater part of his musicwas written during summer holidays away from the business of the opera-house, aRliraculous achievement in view of his other obligations.
The new century brought a marked change in Mahler's life. In1902, to the amazement of all Vienna, he married the twenty-year-old Alma Schindler,daughter of the painter Anton Schindler and a composition pupil of Zemlinsky, future wifeof the architect Walter Gropius and later of the writer Pranz Werfel. Summer holidays werespent at a villa Mahler had had built at Maiernigg on the Worthersee. Here he was able towork in a garden chalet with relative lack of disturbance. In the summer of 1903 he workedon his Sixth Symphony, writing three of thefour movements in that year and completing the whole work in the summer of 1904, ataperiod when the birth of the second ofhis two daughters brought some happiness amid theinevitable frustrations and difficulties of Vienna and the relatively minor but irritatingdisturbances of his peace at Maiernigg from holiday-makers. The Seventh Symphony was composed in the summer months of1904 and 1905, with work on the two Nachtmusik movementsfollowing immediately on the completion - of the SixthSymphony. The composition of the first, third and fifth movements took onlyfour weeks in the summer of 1905, after which a much longer period was spent on carefulorchestration of the work. The symphony was first performed in Prague on 17th September1908, when it was coolly received by an audience that had now learned to accept the Fourth Symphony, leading Mahler to undertake variousrevisions. The work is scored for four flutes, with two piccolos, three oboes, coranglais, E flat clarinet, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, double bassoon,tenor horn, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba. The percussion sectioncalls for timpani, bass drum, cymba1s, tamtam, triangle, glockenspiel, tambourine,cow-bells and larger bells, while to the string section is added two harps, a mandolin anda guitar.
The first movement opens with a tenor horn-call, over theinsistent and hushed rhythms of strings and woodwind and the ominous sound of the bassdrum, with trombones and tuba. Material derived from the horn-call appears in the marchwhich leads to an Allegro con fuoco with amarked theme for the four horns. The music moves on to a mood of bitter sweetness, beforethe re- appearance of the rhythmic figure derived from the opening horn-call. Distanttrumpets lead to a passage for solo violin, at first with cor anglais, with the trumpetsagain ushering in a gentle mood of yearning, countered by the return of the solemn andominous music of the opening. The fierce Allegro isheard again in which the familiar rhythmic and melodic figure is eventually transformed,with a poignant relaxation of tension before a brisker march is heard in a movement ofinfinite variety.
Horns open the first Nachtmusikmovement, the first echoed by a second muted horn, followed by oboe, clarinetand cor anglais, in a texture that suggests the distances of the Austrian countryside.
This is a prelude to a gentle evening hymn, although march rhythms again soon appear. Asinging cello theme is heard, as the march makes its slow way forward. The answeringhorn-calls return, now with distant cow-bells and continuing suggestions of the rhythmicand melodic figure that had such a large part to play in the first movement. An expressivetheme is introduced by the oboes in thirds before the slow night-march resumes, a midnightscene from some haunted painting by Caspar Friedrich, with momentary reminiscences of whathas passed. There are answering bird-calls from the depths of the woods, before theprocession disappears into the distance.
The Scherzo, describedas shadowy (schattenhaft), is again hauntedby the ghosts of the night, moving into a grotesque dance, to relax in a Trio, with its tender oboe theme and cello melody,with memories of the first movement. The dance returns, before the texture again becomesfragmented and the movement comes to an end.
The second Nachtmusik, markedAndante amoroso, is a serenade, making useof guitar and mandolin in a delicate texture that with solo violins, violas and lowerstrings and later the characteristic sound of the mandolin. A solo violin establishes thelyrical mood, with a tender theme entrusted to the horn, to which the oboe adds a furtherelement. The violins offer a graceful theme and later have a more sombre melody to add, asthe mood changes. The music of the opening returns to lead to a final section.
Night disappears at a stroke as the timpani introduce the finalmovement, instructed to play >mit Bravour. Theprincipal theme follows from trumpets and horns. The traditional rondo form, muchexpanded, leads to the first of a series of episodes, introduced by oboes and a rapidstring theme which eventually assumes even greater importance. The form allows Mahler thatjuxtaposition of broken images, each repetition of the main theme varied by the additionof other material in a movement of firm optimism. This and the first movement provide a