Although the symphony is often described as being in the key of E minor, its tonal scheme is more complicated. The symphony's first movement moves from B minor (introduction) to E minor, and the work ends with a Rondo-Finale in C major. Thus, as Dika Newlin has pointed out, "in this symphony Mahler returns to the ideal of 'progressive tonality' which he had abandoned in the Sixth". The complexity of the work's tonal scheme was analysed in terms of 'interlocking structures' by Graham George.
In 1904, Mahler was enjoying great international success as a conductor, but he was also, at last, beginning to enjoy international success as a composer. His second daughter was born that June, and during his customary summer break away from Vienna in his lakeside retreat at Maiernigg in the Carinthian Mountains, he finished the Sixth Symphony and sketched the second and fourth movements (the two Nachtmusik movements) for the Seventh Symphony while mapping out much of the rest of the work. He then worked on the Seventh intensively the following summer, claiming to take just four weeks to complete the first, third and fifth movements.
The completed score was dated 15 August 1905, and the orchestration was finished in 1906; he laid the Seventh aside to make small changes to the orchestration of the Sixth, while rehearsing for its premiere in May 1906. The Seventh had its premiere on 19 September 1908, in Prague, at the festival marking the Diamond Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph.
The three years which elapsed between the completion of the score and the symphony's premiere witnessed dramatic changes in Mahler's life and career. In March 1907 he had resigned his conductorship of the Vienna State Opera, as the musical community in Vienna turned against him (which was why he chose Prague for the work's debut); on 12 July his first daughter died of scarlet fever; and, even as she lay on her deathbed, Mahler learnt that he was suffering from an incurable heart condition. Musicologists surmise that this is why the optimism and cheerfulness of the symphony was subsequently tempered by the small but significant revisions Mahler made in the years leading up to its premiere.
- Symphony No. 7 (sample)