It is his unpretentious musicality, in particular, avoiding all exaggeration, that makes Bernard Haitink an ideal conductor of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, which are unsuited to interpretational excess and forced originality. Haitink looks back on many years of experience with Mahler and has recorded the First through the Seventh Symphonies and the Adagio of the Tenth with the Berliner Philharmoniker. For that reason, the performance of the Seventh in January 2009 was anticipated with great excitement.
The composer considered it his “best work” up to that point and in a letter to his publisher wrote that it had a “primarily cheerful” character. The rather gloomy introduction of the first movement, with a melody played by the tenor horn above a funeral-march rhythm, casts doubt on that assessment. Musicologists will probably never agree on the question of whether the C major exultation of the finale is intended seriously or put in quotation marks, so to speak, as exaggeration.
The middle movement is a ghostly Scherzo, marked “shadowy” and framed by two movements described as “night music”. The solemn slow movement usually obligatory in Mahler’s symphonic works is replaced in fourth position by a serenade-like Andante amoroso, which is accompanied by mandolin and guitar.
The Seventh Symphony was long overshadowed by Gustav Mahler’s other works in this genre, but it has become an indispensable part of the concert schedules of the great orchestras. Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker opened both the 2011/2012 and 2016/2017 seasons with this work.