9 Nov 2018

MAHLER: Symphony No 7 in E minor

From Music Alive, 8:00 pm on 9 November 2018

During his lifetime Gustav Mahler made his living primarily as a conductor, and composing had to take a back seat – relegated each year to the summer months between successive concert seasons.

Lake Wörthersee today

Lake Wörthersee today Photo: Johann Jaritz, CC by 3.0

Each summer he retreated to a studio on the banks of Lake Wörthersee in Southern Austria, where he followed a strict routine of rising early, taking a morning swim in the lake, and devoting the rest of his day to composition.

Mahler conducted the première of this symphony in Prague in 1908.

More than 100 years after it was composed, of all Mahler’s symphonies, No 7 continues to be the least known and among the least performed and constantly challenges conductors and orchestras alike to reveal how its five movements – so different in character and atmosphere – can form a progressive, integrated whole.

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart.

"For me, Symphony No 7 is one of his most eclectic works and for conductor and orchestra, one of his most challenging," says Edo de Waart.

"The creation and history of the Seventh is fascinating. It came soon after his very depressing Sixth Symphony, his darkest work. It took a while for Mahler to be inspired to complete the symphony and it came about when he took an early evening walk. The sun had set along Lake Wörthersee in Austria and he heard a boat. He couldn’t see the boat at first, but he could hear the sound of the oars hitting and moving through the water. That sound gave him the inspiration for the beginning of the first movement. Sometimes composers can be inspired by the strangest things.

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler Photo: Public Domain

The symphony’s five movements each have their own character. There are the two beautiful ‘Nachtmusik’ movements, which have smaller instrumentation and are wonderfully intimate. In comparison, the first movement, ‘Langsam’, is massive and requires more than 100 musicians to bring it to life. For ‘Scherzo’, the third and shortest movement, Mahler asks for the tempo Schattenhaft, which means “shadowy”. It’s a fascinating movement with many contrasts and sweeping parts, and indeed, with many shadows. The ‘Rondo-Finale’ is a rambunctious affair, where all kinds of influences can be heard, including sounds Mahler heard on the streets of Vienna. The result is truly fantastic." - Edo de Waart

Recorded 9 November 2018, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert.

Producer: David McCaw

Engineer: Graham Kennedy

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