BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 2, WAB 102 (Georg Tintner/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554006)
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Symphony No. 2 in Cminor (original 1872 version)
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 na?»ve, 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 St.
Florian 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 succeedSechter 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" such as large cuts as well. They considered theirbeloved Master to be a "genius without 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 Nos. 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 singsof consolation and spiritual ecstasy (Verz??ckung) - but not exclusively.
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 (according to his own testimony heraped a thirteen?¡-year-old girl) has in common with the celibate "countrybumpkin."
When Bruckner submitted his Second and Third Symphonies tohis adored Master of all Masters, Wagner was immediately impressed by theheroic trumpet tune of the Third and he graciously allowed Bruckner todedicate this work to him. It seems even possible that Wagner's perfectlyreasonable preference for the Third Symphony is responsible for thecomparative neglect of the Second. Yet this so-called Pausensinfonie (symphonyof rests) is a very beautiful work.
Bruckner's mania for revision sometimes bore positive fruits, as, forinstance, in the Fourth Symphony, but with other works such as the Secondand the Third his first versions seem to me the best. We must begrateful to Dr William Carragan for publishing for the first time in 1991 theoriginal (1872) version of the Second Symphony.
The symphony opens with a soft cello melody. The even notes becomedotted in a crescendo, then celli and double basses repeat the first idea. Nowunexpectedly the first trumpet plays the same note, C, five times in thefollowing rhythm:
The juxtaposition of two and three notes is a favourite device ofBruckner's. This enigmatic trumpet-call assumes great importance in the firstand last movements. The second main tune is also lyrical and is again entrustedto the celli. A soft march-like melody follows. The trumpet tune re?¡appears,this time played in octaves by both trumpets. A third lyrical melody with aWagnerian mordent, played by the oboe and then by the bassoon and flute,provides a moment of repose. The development deals largely with the main tuneuntil the march-like motif and the second melody, this time in the French hornand oboe, is heard. We are gradually led to the recapitulation. The coda bringsthe third and fourth bars of the main theme as an ostinato in the celli anddouble basses, while woodwind and French horns play the first and second bar ofthe same theme against it. The trumpet signal gains ever greater importance,interrupted by a slower reminiscence of the first melody.
It was only in this 1872 edition of his Second Symphony thatBruckner wisely placed the Scherzo second, because this robust musicmakes a perfect contrast to the largely lyrical first movement. It is not clearwhat made him change his mind, but perhaps he was frightened (and he was easilyfrightened) that critics would accuse him of co