Mahler Symphony 1

Blumine Movement

The first three performances of Mahler’s first symphony contained a serenade-like second movement titled Andante or ‘Blumine’. This movement received harsh criticism and was later removed from the work by Mahler after its third performance in Weimar, also being omitted from the first publication in 1899. Mahler’s first symphony has been played as a work of four movements since the symphony’s fourth performance at the Berlin premiere which took place on 16th March 1896.

Origin and description

The Blumine movement was originally one of seven pieces of incidental music composed by Mahler in "two days" during June 1884, for a performance of Joseph Victor von Scheffel’s play Der Trompeter von Säkkingen ("The Trumpeter of Säkkingen"). The Blumine movement in the symphony contains little or no revisions from the original version, including its orchestration which utilises only a small section of the full symphonic orchestra which is used more fully in the other movements. The Andante movement begins and ends with a lyrical cantilena for the trumpet. August Beer described it as "a heartfelt, rapturous trumpet melody that alternates with melancholy song on the oboe; it is not hard to recognize the lovers exchanging their tender feelings in the stillness of night." in a review published in Pester Lloyd the day after the Budapest premiere.
Whilst Mahler was working at the Royal and Imperial Theater of Cassel in 1883, he became infatuated with the attractive blonde soprano Johanna Richter. It is likely that Richter was Mahler’s inspiration for writing the serenade Blumine movement. In a conversation with Bauer-Lechner, Mahler described the movement as a "sentimentally impassioned... love-episode."

Reasons for removal

Mahler expressed contradictory and conflicting opinions about his Blumine movement. In a letter Mahler wrote to friend Fritz Löhr in 1984 regarding the completion of the incidental music, he states: "I completed this opus in two days, and I must tell you that I am very pleased with it." It seems that by 1886 Mahler’s view of the work had changed. In a conversation between Mahler and Max Steinitzer, Steinitzer recalls that "Mahler found it too sentimental, became annoyed with it, and made me promise that I would destroy the piano score I had made from it." Yet by 1888 Mahler obviously liked it enough to include it as a movement in his first symphony, but went on to remove it completely from the work after the symphonies third performance. Mahler stated to Bauer-Lechner that the main reason he removed it was "because of too strong a similarity of the keys in neighboring movements". This statement is confusing, bearing in mind that the Hamburg autograph of the Blumine movement is in C major, a key that none of the other movements remain in significantly.

There are a number of other possible reasons that may have led Mahler to discard the Blumine movement from his symphony, one of the most obvious being the negative attention directed towards it in the press. The critic Ernst Otto Nodnagel dismissed the Blumine movement as "trivial" in a review of the first symphonies third performance in Weimar.
Perhaps Mahler realised that the first six notes played by the trumpets opening phrase are identical to the first six notes from the melody beginning at bar 61 in the finale movement of Brahms’s First Symphony, both of which were written in C major. Brahms’s First Symphony had been premiered over a decade earlier in 1876, giving the critics an easy opportunity to slander the work. Mahler may have simply decided to make his work conform to the classical symphonic structure of four movements.

Whatever Mahler’s reasoning behind the removal of Blumine, his decision has been approved by most conductors since, as seen by the lack of its inclusion in current concerts of the symphony since the movements first publication in 1968. Mahler’s most distinguished biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange described the Blumine movement: "There can be no doubt as to the authorship of ‘Blumine,’ and yet few other arguments can be stated in its favor. It is the music of a late-nineteenth-century Mendelssohn, pretty, charming, lightweight, urbane, and repetitious, just what Mahler’s music never is."

Blumine's Discovery in 1966 & Publication

The Blumine movement was rediscovered by the biographer Donald Mitchell in 1966 whilst he was carrying out research for his Mahler biography in the Osborn Collection at Yale University. Mitchell found a manuscript and recognised that it was a copy of the Hamburg version of the symphony which included the Blumine movement. The manuscript had previously been auctioned off at Sotherby’s by John C. Perrin in 1959. Perrin had inherited it from his mother, Jenny Feld, who had been a student of Mahler’s at the Vienna Conservatory in 1878. It was purchased at Sotherby’s by Mrs. James M. Osborn who later donated the manuscript to the Osborn Collection of Yale University.

Blumine's 20th Century Premiere

A year after Mitchell’s discovery, Benjamin Britten gave the movements 20th-century premiere on 18th June 1967 at the Aldeburgh Festival, the first time the music had been heard since 1894. Blumine was first published in 1968 by the Theodore Presser Company (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania). Since its discovery and publication, Blumine has been performed in many different concert formats by conductors. For example: as a stand alone work isolated from the symphony; before or after a performance of the four movement symphony; or played as the second movement in the Hamburg style five movement symphony.

However, many notable conductors never performed the Blumine movement as part of the symphony. These conductors include: Leonard Bernstein, John Barbirolli, Jascha Horenstein, Otto Klemperer, Georg Solti, Rafael Kubelik, and Bernard Haitink. Perhaps these conductors shared the view put forth by Henry Grange:
"With such an amazingly lucid and intelligent composer, it is, to my mind, a sacrilege to play anything but the final version of the works: Mahler knew better than anyone what his music should sound like, and he never ceased to perfect his scores." - Grange, Henry-Louis de La. 1973. Mahler Volume 1. Doubleday & Company, Inc. ISBN: 0-385-00524-5, page xvii