In order to regain inspiration, he took long walks in the countryside and even scaled some mountains in the Dolomites. Resigned that his whole summer would be wasted, the frustrated composer returned home. The last leg of his trip was taken by rowboat, which ferried him across the lake. “At the first stroke of the oars,” he reported to Alma, “I hit upon the theme—or rather the rhythm and the style—of the introduction to the first movement.” Within a month, Mahler completed three movements, and he put the finishing touches on the symphony in August 1905, and worked out the orchestration in 1906.
Mahler’s Seventh premiered in Prague on 19 September 1908, and since the composer refused to provide programmatic explanations, it was unpopular from the get go.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was Arnold Schoenberg—by no means a great admirer of Mahler’s music—who leapt to the defense of the work. In a personal letter, dating from 1909, Schoenberg writes: “I had less than before the feeling of that sensational intensity which excites and lashes on one, which in a word moves the listener in such a way as to make him lose balance without giving him anything in its place. On the contrary, I had the impression of perfect repose based on perfect harmony… I have put you with the classical composers, but as one who to me is still a pioneer.” Purely instrumental, enigmatic and predominantly abstract, it clearly foreshadows the modern classical conception of “absolute music.” In a word, Mahler’s Seventh is “utterly pure music.”
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 7