Programme Guide

Despite the modern elements in his music, Gustav Mahler was strongly influenced by the legacy of Romanticism. One of his music’s favourite themes is the night, as the realm of dreams, fantasy and mystery. Referred to sometimes as the “Song of the Night”, a title not given to his Seventh Symphony by the composer himself, the sombre sound of the opening and the rhythm of a funeral march, against which a plaintive theme from the tenor horn rises, suggest this association. In addition, the second and fourth movements are designated as “Nachtmusik” – as music or serenades.

Mahler initially found working on the symphony to be unusually difficult. His creative crisis finally ended during a stay at the Wörthersee. As a result, the references to nature in this work – in imitations of bird calls, pastoral atmosphere and the sound of herd bells – is particularly striking. The structure of the work is unusual: like Beethoven’s Pastoral and Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony, it has five movements instead of the usual four. The outer movements and the two Nachtmusik sections symmetrically frame a short, ghostly scherzo in the middle. The sombre mood of the first movement is lifted in an abruptly inserted enraptured episode, which Mahler himself described as the prospect of a “better world”. In contrast, the Rondo finale, despite the surprising return of the opening motif, is characterised by an unusually optimistic tone for the composer. The symphony concludes the trilogy of symphonies Five to Seven, his middle contributions to the genre, in which Mahler refrained from using choirs and vocal soloists.

Bernard Haitink has earned a reputation as one of the foremost Mahler conductors of our time. He approached the composer’s music with his characteristic patience and tenacity. Apart from the chief conductors Claudio Abbado and Sir Simon Rattle, Bernard Haitink is the only conductor since the 1990s to perform all of Mahler’s nine completed symphonies with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Five symphonies – numbers 1 to 4 and 7 – have been documented in audiovisual recordings. With the release of the Seventh, the concert series is now available in full in the Digital Concert Hall.

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