BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 00, 'Study Symphony', WAB 99 / Finale to Symphony No. 4, 'Volkfest', WAB 104 (Georg Tintner/ Royal Scottish National Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554432)
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Symphony No. 00,\Study Symphony"
"Volksfest" (1878)Finale to Symphony No. 4
A mediaeval artisan might easily have kept a daily record of how manydifferent prayers he prayed and how often he repeated them. For a composer ofthe nineteenth century, with its belief in unstoppable progress and humansupremacy, to behave in this fashion is certainly unique. But Anton Bruckner,though accepting the harmonic and orchestral achievements of the Romanticperiod, did just that; he did not really belong to his time. Even less did hefit in with the Viennese environment into which he was transplanted for thelast 27 years of his life. The elegant and rather superficial society heencountered there must have thought the naive, badly dressed fellow with the'wrong' accent a rather pathetic oddity.
Bruckner had indeed come from a very different background. The littlevillage in Upper Austria, Ansfelden, where his father was a schoolmaster, wasnot far away from the great and beautiful monastery of St Florian. The youngBruckner followed in the footsteps of his father for a short time; but StFlorian possessed one of Europe's finest organs, and young Anton, whose talentfor music was discovered early, became an organist. The experience of hearingand playing this magnificent instrument became central to his whole life. Hespent many hours there, practising and improvising, and eventually his playingwas so exceptional that he made successful tours of France and England as anorgan virtuoso. He had lessons in theory and composition, and started composingfairly early in life, but he felt the need for more instruction in counterpointand became for several years a most diligent pupil of the famous Simon Sechter,visiting him every fortnight in Vienna. Many years earlier and shortly beforehis death, Schubert had also wanted to study counterpoint with Sechter, but ofcourse he was wrong; most of his life work was already done, and works such ashis early Mass in A flat showed him in no need of such lessons.
Sechter forbade Bruckner to compose a single note in order toconcentrate entirely on his innumerable exercises, and here Bruckner, who hadin the meantime advanced to the post of organist at Linz Cathedral, showed oneunfortunate trait of his character, perhaps acquired as an altar-boy: uttersubmission to those he considered his superiors. He obeyed. But when he hadfinished his instruction with Sechter and took lessons with the conductor ofthe local opera, Otto Kitzler, who introduced him to the magic world of Wagner,music poured out of him. Now forty, Bruckner composed his first masterpiece,the wonderful Mass in D minor, followed by two other great Masses, and SymphonyNo. 1. His reputation reached Vienna and he was appointed to succeed Sechteras Professor of Music Theory.
Bruckner had ample reason to regret his move from Linz to Vienna. He,the fanatical admirer of Wagner, was innocently dragged into the rather sillyconflict between the followers of Brahms and those of his beloved Wagner. So hemade many enemies, most cruel of whom was the critic Eduard Hanslick, whomWagner caricatured as Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger. But thoughadversaries did him harm, his friends and admirers hurt his works much more.
All his young students were gifted Wagnerians and they thought Bruckner's musicneeded to sound more like Wagner, and that it needed other 'ministrations' suchas large cuts as well. They considered their beloved Master to be a 'geniuswithout talent'.
Many of those misguided admirers, such as Artur Nikisch and FranzSchalk, became famous conductors and they set about making these enormousscores acceptable to the public - and it must be said that the master, who wasdesperately anxious to be performed, often agreed and sometimes even became anaccomplice to their mutilations. But he also left his original scores to theNational Library with the comment 'for later times'. His own insecurity madehim constantly revise his works, especially Symphonies No. 1-4. As aresult, we are confronted in many cases by several versions of the same work.
Sometimes the later versions are a definite improvement, as with the FourthSymphony; and sometimes, in my opinion, the first version is superior, aswith the Second and Third Symphonies.
One who deals with eternal things is in no hurry, and thereforeperformers and listeners must also allow plenty of time. Whereas Mahler, whodied three years before World War I began, was the prophet of insecurity,'Angst' and the horrors we live in, the deeply religious Bruckner sings ofconsolation and spiritual ecstasy (Verz??ckuug) - but notexclusively. In some of the Eighth and most of the Ninth Symphonies, heexpresses agony, perhaps doubt.
Bruckner's music touches the innermost recesses of the human soul. Inthis way he reminds me of Dostoyevsky. This quality is probably the only thingthe compulsive gambler and epileptic sinner has in common with the celibate'country bumpkin'.
Study Symphony in F minor (Symphony No. 00)
Bruckner's last composition teacher, the young opera conductor OttoKitzler, set him three final tasks with which to finish his studies: oneoverture, one choral work and a symphony. Our composer completed his 'StudySymphony', also known as No. 00, in three months. The reaction of Kitzler to thischarming work was not very flattering: 'Not particularly inspired'. I can onlywonder whether he had a good look at the Scherzo. To me this Scherzo (thoughperhaps not so much its Trio) is a piece of great originality, probablyeven better than some other early Scherzos of Bruckner. It is true thatBruckner learned a lot about Wagner's harmonic and orchestral achievements, butI am not so sure that he profited a great deal from Kitzler's instruction. The StudySymphony, however, does not show much influence of Wagner, but the score isfull of Schumann and Mendelssohn - notably the beginning of the Finale, whichreally sounds as if it had been composed by Schumann.
Bruckner disowned the Study Symphony, but he did not destroy thescore, as was his habit with works he totally rejected. This fact permits us, Ithink, to perform it. Apart from its charm it makes us marvel that only oneyear later he created his first masterpiece, the wonderful Mass in D minor.
The symphony starts with a gentle dance-like tune in the first violins.
This is answered by a loud tutti (though I took the liberty of modifyingthe dynamics in the brass to avoid its coarse effect). Those two motifs aresplendidly developed. The second main melody, in the major, is lyrical. Arather heroic statement follows, and a gentle flute melody ends the exposition.
An expert development leads to the slightly shortened recapitulation (I mustconfess that I miss the lovely flute tune, excised here).
The Andante molto begins with a pleading tune in the strings. Adotted rhythm leads to a gentle melody in the oboe. The first violins andviolas alternate with demisemiquaver (32nd-note) runs, obviously influenced bya similar place in the second movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 41, the'Jupiter'. A rather conventional episode in G minor leads to the recapitulation.
Here the 'Jupiter' 32nd-notes are distributed between flute, clarinet andbassoon. The movement ends with a gentle duet between horn and timpani.
The splendid Scherzo starts with a rhythmical theme in cl