BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9, WAB 109
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Symphony No. 9
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 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' 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 not exclusively. Insome of the Eighth and most of the Ninth Symphonies, he expressesagony, 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. 9
Unfinished masterpieces sometimes assume a new life of their own. Forinstance Schubert, who left more unfinished works than anyone else, may havehad his reasons for not completing his marvellous Quartettsatz, but nowit stands by itself as a complete work. Nobody knows for sure why he did notcomplete his Symphony No. 8, but the score of part of the third movementand the sketches for the fourth were certainly not worthy of the superlativefirst and second movements. When he sent the two finished movements to hisfriend H??ttenbrenner for performance in Graz, in gratitude for having beenelected an honorary member of the local Music Society, he must have decidedthey could be performed by themselves.
The already ailing Bruckner spent the last two years of his life tryingfrantically to complete the Finale of his Ninth. It is not meantcruelly when I say that I for one am glad that Fate did not grant him his wish,because the material intended for the Finale is just as unworthy of whatis perhaps Bruckner's greatest music as is the unfinished material ofSchubert's Eighth. The various efforts of the brilliant scholars whohave recently made performing versions of Bruckner's Finale will be ofentirely historical interest.
The mystery and horror of death permeates these three movements of the NinthSymphony. As in the Requiem aeternam of Mozart's unfinished Requiem,the key of D minor dominates this first movement. After a soft Din thestrings and woodwind the eight horns softly proclaim their merciless sentence.
A desperate outcry in remote keys is followed by restless soft modulations atfirst in the strings, with echoes in the oboe. Then the intensity increases andwith very bold harmonies the whole orchestra reaches the main theme in a loudunison (a relative of the one in the fourth movement of Symphony No. 4).
The tempo broadens with a gentle tune in A major with gloriousharmonizations. The third theme-complex starts again in D minor. Eight barsbefore Letter H in the orchestral score the three two-bar phrases in B minor, Gminor and E minor seem to me the only rather weak bars in this tremendousmovement. The exposition ends in F major with a mysterious B natural in thesecond violins pizzicato, and the flute. This unusual combination mayhave influenced Schoenberg in his Chamber Symphony No. 1.
The desperate outcry reappears more than once, but as a whole thedevelopment section is rather calm. After an increase in tempo and strength