LSO - Mahler – Symphony No 7

Mahler’s Seventh has long been regarded as his ‘problem symphony’. With a fair collection of both knockers and supporters since it was first performed in 1908. Even some of Mahler’s most passionate admirers have found the structure anything but harmonious.

The middle three movements in particular have caused consternation, and it's often said that they appear to exist in a world of their own; a nocturnal, almost sinister world, in which the outer movements do not belong.

According to some writers, the problem of the Seventh is at least partly explained by a letter Mahler wrote to his wife in which he tells her how it came into being:

“In the summer before (1905) I had planned to finish the Seventh, of which the two Andante [Nachtmusick] movements were already completed. Two weeks long I tortured myself to distraction, as you’ll well remember – until I ran away to the Dolomites. There the same struggle, until finally I gave up and went home convinced that the summer had been wasted. At Krumpedorf… I climbed into the boat to be rowed across the lake. At the first stroke of the oars I found the theme (or rather the rhythm and the character) of the introduction to the first movement… and in four weeks’ time the first, third and third movements were absolutely complete!”

But while Mahler’s Seventh can be enigmatic, and far from self explanatory, when performed with conviction it can also be uniquely fascinating and unsettling. And far more compelling than any ‘perfect’ symphony. Furthermore, in no other work of Mahler is the orchestral imagination so highly charged. It isn't simply that the scoring includes instruments rarely seen in the symphony orchestra – tenor horn, mandolin, guitar, cowbell – even the familiar instruments are made to produce surprising new colours such as the bass ‘snap’ pizzicatos where the strings are plucked so hard they spring back and hit the fingerboard.

But while the Seventh can be problematic and enigmatic, what is without doubt, is that the perfect combination of the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev have once again come together to produce a wonderful interpretation of Mahler.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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