|No. 291 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast291|
According to a great article in The Guardian, of all Mahler's symphonies, the Seventh is the most enigmatic, and in its musical language the most radical and forward-looking. Schoenberg regarded it as the work that signalled the end of romanticism, the historic moment at which all the tenets that had sustained music for the previous century began to crumble away.
During his customary summer break away from Vienna in his lakeside retreat at Maiernigg in 1904, Mahler finished his Symphony No. 6 and sketched the second and fourth movements for Symphony No. 7 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. 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 symphony's sense of inhabiting a twilight world in which all the old certainties were being questioned and found wanting - two of its most disconcerting movements are labelled "Nachtmusik" - perhaps led to its nickname, The Song of the Night. If it is a gigantic nocturne, though, it is one far removed from the gentle musings that the 19th century would have recognised in the form.
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. 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.
Though the current CD catalogue suggests that, apart from the unfinished Tenth, it is the least recorded of all the symphonies, the Seventh has never lacked champions - Otto Klemperer conducted the piece from the 1920s onwards, and in the 1950s Hans Rosbaud and Hermann Scherchen, then in the vanguard of the Mahler revival, both recorded the work. The afore-mentioned article recommends today’s selection, Riccardo Chailly’s reading because of the gorgeous playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, who played this music under the composer and his first great advocate Willem Mengelberg, and still have it in their bones.
I think you will love this music too.