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Symphony No. 7 (Mahler)

The Symphony No. 7 in E minor by Gustav Mahler was written from 1904 to 1906.

The symphony is sometimes known as The Song of the Night, though this nickname is not as common as the other Mahler symphonies, Titan, Resurrection, Tragic and Symphony of a Thousand.

The piece is written for an orchestra consisting of four flutes, piccolo, four clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, double bassoon, tenor horn, four French horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, tambourine, tamtam, bells, cowbells, mandolin, guitar, two harps and strings (violins, violas, cellos and double basses).

Mahler began work on his seventh symphony in 1904, before he had completed his sixth. He wrote the two Nachtmusik movements first, and the other three movements in the following year. The orchestration was completed in 1906, though Mahler continued to make small changes between rehearsals before the premiere in 1908.

The work is in five movements:

  1. Langsam--Allegro - the first movement features the tenor horn playing the first melody. Because the tenor horn is not a standard orchestral instrument, a trombone is sometimes used instead. This movement is in sonata form.
  2. Nachtmusik I
  3. Scherzo - Mahler marked this movement Schattenhaft (shadowy), and it is sometimes said that considering scherzo means joke, this movement is remarkably lacking in humour.
  4. Nachtmusik II
  5. Rondo-Finale - the last movement has been seen by many as something of a let-down. It has been accused of superficiality, dodging questions set by the previous movements. Formally, it is a rondo.

The piece has several motifs in common with the sixth symphony, including the major chord turning into a minor chord which crops up throughout the sixth.

Mahler conducted the premiere of his seventh symphony in Prague in 1908. A few weeks later he conducted it in Munich and he also gave it in the Netherlands. Both the audience and the performers at the premiere were confused by the work, and it was not well received. It remains one of Mahler's least appreciated works, often accused of incoherence.

The opening horn motif of the second movement was was well known in Britain for much of the 1980s and 1990s thanks to it being used in television advertisements for Castrol, a brand of engine oil ( in ogg format, 15 seconds, 48 KB).