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Thomas Adès has mused on symphonic form in terms of logic and resolution – as ‘something which closes a circle’. Nevertheless, his interest in the symphonies of Jean Sibelius is sparked by their resistance to this trend; the one-movement Seventh Symphony, in particular, is a work he hears as ‘painfully inconclusive’. This contradiction plays out in Adès’s own one-movement symphony, Tevot (2007). In both works, audible developments are underpinned by a carefully managed network of tempos. Recurring sonorities not only delineate this structure but also prompt perceptual shifts, underlining forms that are at once stable and volatile, recurrent and changing, static and dynamic, closed and open. In this chapter, the Seventh Symphony offers a potent lens through which Tevot can be viewed, shedding light not only upon Adès’s navigation of symphonic resolution, but also upon the way in which he – like Sibelius – engages with symphonic traditions at large.
Notwithstanding their remarkable peculiarities and profoundly individual nature, Mahler’s symphonies were part of a tradition begun by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; extended by Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Berlioz; and renewed during his lifetime by composers including Bruckner, Brahms, Bruch, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Franck, Saint-Saëns, Elgar, Strauss, Sibelius, Nielsen, and Glazunov. This context is surveyed here in two periods: composers who flourished during Mahler’s youth roughly (1870–89) and those active from 1889 until the outbreak of World War I. The former period reveals that even within this relatively conservative choice of genre (vis-à-vis the symphonic poem) a remarkable of approach obtained, from the motivic integration of Brahms and the fragmented grandeur of Bruckner to the lyricism and user-friendly national influences of Dvořák and Tchaikovsky. In the later group, a trend toward amalgamation of programmatic and traditionally symphonic impulses becomes more pronounced, such as one finds in Mahler’s own works.
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