Friday, July 17, 1970. I was 16 years old and was nearing the end of my first week of my first summer job at the Franklin Institute. That morning at work I asked my supervisor, Dawn Jones, “If I don’t take a lunch break, can I leave work early?” She said that was fine. At about noon I purchased some snacks at a vending machine down the hall, and filled up on junk food, then immediately got back to work, intending to leave work at 4:30 PM, instead of the usual quitting time of 5:15 PM. At 4:30 I left the office and headed to Sam Goody’s record store on Chestnut Street. I purchased Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 7, in a recording by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. I had never heard that symphony before and I knew nothing about it.
When I got home in the evening, I learned that my mother had made steak for dinner. But I was so full of junk food from my brief lunch time break that I was not hungry. I did not eat dinner that night. My mother was not pleased.
Later, I listened to the Mahler symphony and it made an immediate enjoyable impression. The eighty-minute work seemed immense, a conglomeration of moods — both grotesque and genial — featuring a wealth of musical textures. Some critics see the symphony’s five movements as a journey from dusk until dawn or a nightly walk into morning, a kind of eccentric, extended nocturne. The piece unfolds from ambiguous and hesitant beginnings to a clear C major finale, with unmistakable echoes of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. One musicologist has analyzed the Mahler seventh in terms of “interlocking structures,” in which lengthy tonal units are constructed much like mortar-free building blocks — or, more fictively, like a web of interlocking memories, chronicling an author’s inner life.