The Seventh Symphony falls into Mahler’s second compositional phase and is the last of the three, purely instrumental, symphonies he wrote during those years (from which the Rückert-Lieder and Kindertotenlieder also date). Unlike his first four works in the genre (influenced by the Wunderhorn cycle), the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies are not programmatic, nor do they draw on folk music or fairy tales, recycle material from his earlier Lieder or involve solo or choral voices – they take us instead into the realm of “pure music”. The two symphonies that frame No. 7 represent two extremes in terms of content: the Sixth is the darkest and most pessimistic of all Mahler’s works, the Eighth a kind of 20th-century “Ode to Joy”. The Seventh, meanwhile, might be said to combine these two extremes within itself, travelling as it does from the darkness of night into the bright light of day (an effect underlined by his use of progressive tonality, from a sombre B minor to a radiant C major).
As with his previous symphonies, Mahler composed No. 7 over the course of two summers – the only time he had free to devote to composition – in this case those of 1904 and 1905. During the first, at his summer home near Maiernigg, on the Wörthersee, in a strikingly feverish burst of creativity, he not only completed the Kindertotenlieder and wrote the entire Finale of the Sixth Symphony (one of the longest, most complex and most intense movements he ever produced), but he also managed to go straight on (most unusually for him, given that he had never worked on two different symphonies so closely together) to compose two pieces entitled Nachtmusik (Night Music) which were to be used as movements (2 and 4) of a new symphony, the Seventh. The other movements were written one after another the following year, although only after Mahler had overcome one of the creative blocks he often suffered at the start of the summer. (Gastón Fournier-Facio)