10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 4


Symphony no 7, mvt. 1 by Gustav Mahler

How do you choose just one Mahler movement when literally 100% of them are the shit? I could have put the movements in a hat and just drawn one and went with it. And perhaps I’ll look back and regret not choosing the scherzo of the Fifth or the finale of the Ninth or Part 1 of the Eighth or the Adagio of the Fourth or…Jesus. So why the Seventh, arguably Mahler’s least understood and probably least popular completed symphony (see how those caveats allowed me to scrape by the Tenth and Das Lied? Smooth!)?

Call it bonus points for originality. The first movement of Mahler 7 is perhaps the most interesting and most important step in the death rattle for tonality, which was in the process of disintegrating to the point of unrecognizability. I hesitate greatly to try and get into a meaningful theoretical analysis of anything here because that’s not really the point here. Suffice it to say, if you’re able to read music, do yourself a favor and take a month to analyze this movement harmonically. It’s completely insane, which is all the more impressive when you listen to the thing.

Of course, that’s the beauty of the greatest composers who ever lived: you don’t have to analyze it to appreciate it. It can enhance the experience a bit, but at the end of the day you can drop the needle or push the button or load it from the server or whatever the hell you do and just enjoy it. Mahler is dense, yes, but he’s also a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, even in hyper-serious mode.

The Seventh is occasionally subtitled “Song of the Night,” a moniker which I have a hard time imagining Mahler liking. That said, it is a pretty perfect description of the music, which is something of a journey from dusk till dawn (unfortunately without Salma Hayek and the snake). The opening movement is wonderfully evocative of the oncoming night and everything that entails – some monsters under the bed, some intense dreams, some peaceful slumber, it’s all in there – and has some of Mahler’s finest orchestration in a career full of fine orchestration, including more cowbell.

I honestly want to write more about this movement, but there’s really nothing I can say that is better than just diving in and listening to it (“…and this is different than your mindless rambling on the other ones how?”). It’s unicorn fairy dust magical y’all. Take a spin through the entire thing courtesy of our greatest living Mahler conductor (that’s right, I said it) and his band:



3 thoughts on “10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 4

  1. Good call…tonight I am remembering watching a week of rehearsals on the 7th with Claudio Abbado conducting the Gustavo Mahler Youth Orchestra at Tanglewood. I’d give up a paycheck to watch those again…

  2. What was going on at the beginning of the video, where people broke into laughter twice? Any idea?

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