About this Piece
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, trumpet, timpani, harp, and strings. First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: December 15, 1983, Simon Rattle conducting.
Revision is an operative word for virtually every composer who produces a score of almost any length or importance. For example, the revisions of the symphonies of Bruckner (often by others and approved by the composer) are legend. That’s an extreme example. In the case of Mahler and his first symphony the revisions had to do mainly with orchestration and these were all done by Mahler himself. But the most serious of the Symphony’s changes had to do with the second movement that he titled Blumine, and here he performed major surgery, specifically amputation -- he didn’t just change some of its elements but rather he excised the movement entirely. It was still a part of the Symphony in the performances of 1889, 1893, and 1894, but after being cast out it simply disappeared, only to be discovered in 1959 when a Mrs. James M. Osborn purchased the original score at an auction in London. In spite of the explanation given by the previous owner of the manuscript, Blumine’s true history remains clouded.
In his massive first volume on the life and works of Mahler, Henry-Louis de la Grange quotes the composer as calling the movement his hero’s "blunder of youth," and at another time explaining that "it was mainly because of an excessive similarity in key [surprisingly, pure C major] that I eliminated the ‘Blumine’ Andante from my First Symphony." De la Grange casts doubt on the verity of the last statement, which leaves us with little more to do than shrug, listen to the music and accept it as an independent piece, an orphan, if you will, or decide that it should be reinstated into the Symphony. Most conductors, Esa-Pekka Salonen obviously included, honor Mahler’s final word on the subject and perform the First Symphony sans Blumine.
The music of Blumine came from a series of tableaux vivants that Mahler wrote as a youth to illustrate a popular German poem, Der Trompeter von Säckingen. The piece is all shimmery poetic restraint, its moonlit mood evoked by the simple, yearningly sentimental main theme, given, after four gentle orchestral measures, by a trumpet summoning its most lyrical voice. The transparent scoring of a small orchestral body, coupled with the charmingly naïve materials results in a Mahlerian moment singularly free of the composer’s characteristic tension and stress.
Orrin Howard, who annotated Philharmonic programs for more than 20 years, is currently the Philharmonic’s Archives Advisor. He continues to provide notes for the Orchestra and is annotator for the Phoenix Symphony.