Gustav Mahler: Blumine

Context

Composed in 1884 as the original second movement of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony, Blumine received its premiere on November 20th 1889 in Budapest. The soon-to-be-doomed second movement was taken out of the First Symphony after the third performance, which Mahler conducted in 1894 in Weimar. The symphony then went on to be published in 1889, now in what we know as the four movement work it is. 

The genesis of Blumine goes even further back than Mahler’s First Symphony. Blumine was composed, in fact, earlier as part of Mahler’s incidental music for a staging of Joseph Victor von Scheffel’s poem Der Trompeter von Säkkingen. The music accompanied the scene where the trumpeter serenades his beloved on the opposite side of the River Rhine. So in actual fact Blumine was never originally intended for use in the First Symphony, which is why Mahler soon took it out as it never quite fit into his vision and narrative for his first large-scale work.

With the large forces needed in the orchestra for the First Symphony, it perhaps did seem strange that the second movement was scored for a much smaller ensemble. Mahler described Blumine as “insufficiently symphonic”, and so the movement was taken out, not to be seen or heard again for quite some time. It was then in 1959 that the manuscript from the 1893 Hamburg premiere of the First Symphony surfaced in the USA. This lost piece of music had finally found the light again after Benjamin Britten conducted a rediscovered performance of it on June 18th, 1967.

Some conductors took the work on and reinserted it back into the First Symphony in an attempt to reconstruct Mahler’s original symphonic plans. This never quite caught on though, and Blumine has been left as a stand-alone work in its own right. 

 

The Music

Named as a tribute the German writer and poet Jean Paul, Blumine was a word made up by Mahler as some sort of variant of ‘Blume’ – or flower. Described as “innocent and uncomplicated” Blumine is built around a haunting trumpet solo that soars above the orchestra. The shimmering opening from the strings sets the scene for the trumpet solo. The small ensemble that Mahler used for this works adds to the delicate nature of the music. 

The main melody celebrates the middle-high register of the trumpet, which is then adopted by the winds and strings. The rumbling from the timpani keeps the tension high, before a flourish from the harp brings the trumpet back in for a reprise of the melody. This time the trumpet is in conversation with the strings. 

The atmosphere shifts once more as the winds take over the trumpet’s melody. Mahler’s intricate wind writing sparkles as the instruments intertwine and lock together. The tension is kept at bay, but is always present throughout from either pizzicato lower strings, the horns or the timpani. The undercurrent of intensity keeps the integrity of Blumine throughout. 

As the music begins to build, the strings reach a small climax as the winds begin to reflect back on the original trumpet melody. The ensemble hit the next climax before quickly dying away to make room the returning trumpet solo. As the trumpet begins to fade away, variations of the melody can be heard around the orchestra, from the solo violin, to the clarinet and beyond. Blumine ends with the strings playing the final statement in their highest register, still keeping the tension until the very last chord. 

 

Final Thoughts

Although Blumine was cut from Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony, it has in fact played a large role in the revival of Mahler’s music. Known and praised for his nine (and a bit!) symphonies, Blumine shows another side to the great symphonists talents. This small-scale orchestral work is delicate, poignant and full of Maherlian traits that can be seen and heard in some of his later works. 

 

Happy Reading!

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