The Hidden Programme of Mahler's Seventh Symphony


  • Niall O'Loughlin



The overall meaning of the Seventh Symphony of Gustav Mahler has consistently puzzled analysts and musicologists. While some parts have been understood and praised and others heavily criticised, much continues to hide its significance, a fact that hinders any real grasp of the whole work. The aim of the paper is to employ different critical and analytical methods and philosophies (structural analysis, investigation of imagery, narrative in music, hermeneutics, and documentary and literary evidence) to decode layers of meaning and to make a closely argued case for a convincing, integrated interpretation of the work as a whole. One can discern examples of modified classical formal models. Images of birds and military activity indicate extra-musical thinking in these modifications and the dramatic change in character from the first movement to the last suggests a narrative dimension. By examining the development of the implied narrative of the two previous symphonies, Mahler's thought is clarified. Taking into account a concert programme proposed by the composer, in which he included this symphony and three works by Wagner, one can map these latter works on to three movements of the symphony to reveal aspects of the composer's thinking. The literary connection here suggests a Faustian interpretation, which becomes more and more plausible as all the previously mentioned threads are drawn together.


Download data is not yet available.



1. 12. 2000




How to Cite

O'Loughlin, N. (2000). The Hidden Programme of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. Musicological Annual, 36(1), 73-82.