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Blumine

About the Work

Gustav Mahler
Quick Look Composer: Gustav Mahler
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor / Music of Mahler, Schubert & Mozart Mar. 7 - 9, 2013
© Peter Laki

Gustav Mahler was born in Kalischt, Bohemia (now Kalište, Czech Republic), on July 7, 1860.  He died in Vienna on May 18, 1911.  Blumine was originally the second movement in what ultimately became Mahler's First Symphony, at first titled ?Symphonic Poem in Two Parts," and then ?Titan, Tone-Poem in the Form of a Symphony."  The five-movement work was performed in Budapest on November 20, 1889 and again in Hamburg on October 27, 1893, with Mahler conducting both times.  In 1896, Mahler decided to delete the Blumine movement, which was subsequently forgotten, and not published until 1968.  It was first revived in concert at the Aldeburgh Festival in Britain, with Benjamin Britten conducting, on June 18, 1967.

Blumine runs about 8 minutes in performance.  Mahler's score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, trumpet, timpani, harp, and strings.

         

The title of the suppressed second movement of Mahler's First Symphony, Blumine, came from one of Mahler's favorite writers, Jean Paul (Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, 1763-1825), as did, in fact, the inspiration for the entire symphony.  Blumine (derived from Blume, "flower") was the name of a collection of magazine articles Jean Paul published in 1810; according to Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange, the composer "meant to emphasize with this title the light and decorative character of the piece."

In June 1884, Mahler composed incidental music for a set of seven tableaux vivants based on The Trumpeter of Säkkingen, a then-popular narrative poem by Joseph Viktor von Scheffel (1826-1886).  The music has not survived, except for one theme, which one of Mahler's friends, the music critic Max Steinitzer, wrote down from memory many years later.  When "Blumine" resurfaced in 1959, it was discovered that its main theme, played by the trumpet, was identical to the melody quoted by Steinitzer, who had described the tune as a serenade, played by Werner the trumpeter "across the moonlit Rhine toward the castle where Margarita lives."

"Blumine" is entirely dominated by this melody, which is later taken over by other instruments such as the horn, the oboe, and the clarinet.  The movement is scored for a much smaller ensemble than the rest of the First Symphony; there is an important and warmly lyrical part for the harp.  Some writers have argued that "Blumine" is not on a par with the rest of the symphony, and therefore, Mahler was right to cut it.  Nevertheless, the piece is not without interest.  If we want to know how Mahler's style evolved before it reached its mature stage, there are not many works to which we may turn for an answer, since so many of Mahler's early compositions are lost.  After the wonderful cantata Das klagende Lied ("The Song of Lament," 1880), "Blumine" is the next work in which Mahler honed his skills as an orchestral composer.  While it is not entirely characteristic of Mahler as we know him today, "Blumine" is in some  ways a forerunner of the famous "Adagietto" from the Fifth Symphony or the "nocturnal serenade" (Nachtmusik II) of the Seventh.