BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 1, WAB 101 / Adagio to Symphony No. 3, WAB 103 (Georg Tintner/ Royal Scottish National Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554430)
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Symphony No. 1 (1866)
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, andSymphony No. 1. His reputation reached Vienna and he was appointed tosucceed Sechter as 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 a result, weare confronted in many cases by several versions of the same work. Sometimesthe later versions are a definite improvement, as with the Fourth Symphony; andsometimes, in my opinion, the first version is superior, as with the Second andThird Symphonies.
One who deals with eternal things is in no hurry, and therefore performersand listeners must also allow plenty of time. Whereas Mahler, who died threeyears before World War I began, was the prophet of insecurity, 'Angst' and thehorrors we live in, the deeply religious Bruckner sings of consolation andspiritual ecstasy (Verz??ckuug) - but not exclusively. In some ofthe Eighth and most of the Ninth Symphonies, he expresses 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'.
Symphony No. 1 in Cminor
On 9th May, 1868, Bruckner conducted the premiere of his FirstSymphony (actually his second, not his third as is often claimed) in Linz.
He soon afterwards left Linz for Vienna where he stayed to the end of his life(1896). In Vienna he 'improved' on the work during the 1870s and in this'improved' version the work is (wrongly) known as the Linz edition. In this recordingwe present for the first time this remarkable work exactly as it was heard bythe rather bewildered audience in Linz; and their bewilderment is no wonder, asit is still remarkable for its boldness and originality. The differences asestablished by Professor Carragan in 1998 are not very profound in the firstthree movements, where there are sometimes (for instance) single bars eitheradded or taken out, but more far?¡-reaching in the Finale with greatlydifferent orchestration and changed musical passages.
The work starts with a unique soft, rather cheeky, dotted march tune inthe first violins, which is replied to by the horn. The gentle lyrical secondmelody in two parts is first played by the first and second violins then byhorn and bassoon. A more heroic passage leads to a quotation of a famous stringpassage of the Tannhauser Overture. Bruckner had heard the opera in 1863conducted by his young teacher Kitzler, and in 1865 he travelled to Munich tohear Tristan. His veneration for Wagner lasted his whole life, thoughWagner's influence on Bruckner's works is often overrated. One can never knowif the tremendous impact of Tristan or overwork (or both) was the causeof Bruckner's subsequent nervous breakdown. He was treated in a sanatorium andcould resume his work after a few months.
This persistent Tannhauser borrowing seems the only Wagnerianinfluence in the whole movement. The development section ignores the main marchtune altogether until the gradual transition to the recapitulation, where we arespared the Tannhauser quotation. The movement ends wildly with the firsttune.
The second movement starts with a groping improvisatory passage, wherewe can neither be sure of its tune nor its key until a Schubert-like cadenzaestablishes the key as A flat major (the influence of Schubert inBruckner's work is often underrated, and is perhaps more profound that that ofWagner). A singing often modulating melody in the first violins is constantlyaccompanied by quintuplets in the violas and leads to an extended section in3/4 in the dominant key. The recapitulation (again in 4/4) is richlyembroidered. This time the Schubertian cadenza