BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4, 'Romantic', WAB 104

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Anton Bruckner(1824-1896)

A mediaeval artisanmight easily have kept a daily record of how many different prayers he prayedand how often he repeated them. For a composer of the nineteenth century, withits belief in unstoppable progress and human supremacy, to behave in thisfashion is certainly unique. But Anton Bruckner, though accepting the harmonicand orchestral achievements of the Romantic period, did just that; he did notreally belong to his time. Even less did he fit in with the Viennese environmentinto which he was transplanted for the last 27 years of his life. The elegantand rather superficial society he encountered there must have thought thenaive, badly dressed fellow with the 'wrong' accent a rather pathetic oddity.

Bruckner had indeed comefrom a very different background. The little village in Upper Austria,Ansfelden, where his father was a schoolmaster, was not far away from the greatand beautiful monastery of St Florian. The young Bruckner followed in thefootsteps of his father for a short time; but St Florian possessed one ofEurope's finest organs, and young Anton, whose talent for music was discoveredearly, became an organist. The experience of hearing and playing thismagnificent instrument became central to his whole life. He spent many hoursthere, practising and improvising, and eventually his playing was soexceptional that he made successful tours of France and England as an organvirtuoso. 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 forbadeBruckner to compose a single note in order to concentrate entirely on hisinnumerable exercises, and here Bruckner, who had in the meantime advanced tothe post of organist at Linz Cathedral, showed one unfortunate trait of hischaracter, perhaps acquired as an altar-boy: utter submission to those heconsidered his superiors. He obeyed. But when he had finished his instructionwith Sechter and took lessons with the conductor of the local opera, OttoKitzler, who introduced him to the magic world of Wagner, music poured out ofhim. Now lofty, Bruckner composed his first masterpiece, the wonderful Mass inD minor, followed by two other great Masses, and Symphony No. 1.

His reputation reached Vienna and he was appointed to succeed Sechter asProfessor of Music Theory.

Bruckner had amplereason to regret his move from Linz to Vienna. He, the fanatical admirer ofWagner, was innocently dragged into the rather silly conflict between thefollowers of Brahms and those of his beloved Wagner. So he made many enemies,most cruel of whom was the critic Eduard Hanslick, whom Wagner caricatured asBeckmesser in Die Meistersinger. But though adversaries did him harm,his friends and admirers hurt his works much more. All his young students weregifted Wagnerians and they thought Bruckner's music needed to sound more likeWagner, and that it needed other 'ministrations' such as large cuts as well.

They considered their beloved Master to be a "genius without talent".

Many of thosemisguided admirers, such as Artur Nikisch and Franz Schalk, became famousconductors and they set about making these enormous scores acceptable to thepublic - and it must be said that the master, who was desperately anxious to beperformed, often agreed and sometimes even became an accomplice to theirmutilations, but he also left his original scores to the National Library withthe comment "for later times." His own insecurity made him constantlyrevise his works, especially Symphonies Nos. 1-4. As a result, we areconfronted in many cases by several versions of the same work. Sometimes thelater 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 witheternal things is in no hurry, and therefore performers and listeners must alsoallow plenty of time. Whereas Mahler, who died three years before World War Ibegan, was the prophet of insecurity, 'Angst' and the horrors we live in, thedeeply religious Bruckner sings of consolation and spiritual ecstasy (Verz??ckung)- but not exclusively. In some of the Eighth and most of the NinthSymphonies, he expresses agony, perhaps doubt.

Bruckner's musictouches the innermost recesses of the human soul. In this way he reminds me ofDostoyevsky. This quality is probably the only thing the compulsive gambler andepileptic sinner (according to his own testimony he raped a thirteen-year-oldgirl) has in common with the celibate "country bumpkin".

Symphony No. 4: \The Romantic"

Not even Bruckner's EighthSymphony underwent such radical changes as No. 4. Written in 1874, thecomposer revised it substantially in 1877-78. While the thematic substance ofthe first two movements remained identical there are great differences in theirdetails. Bruckner totally discarded the Scherzo and Trio and replacedthe third movement with the celebrated "Hunting" Scherzo andits adorable Trio; the Finale, now called the Volksfest, wassubstantially rewritten. In 1880 he composed yet another Finale, andthis is the version that is usually played (as in this performance). It isconsidered by some to be too sombre for the rest of the work, but I do notshare this view and think it is the crowning glory of this wonderful symphony.

There is definitely a place, however, for the much lighter Volksfest. Atthe same time there is also the first printed score (the Loewe edition)of 1889. This contains savage cuts, destroying the formal balance, and acomplete reorchestration of nearly every bar.

These distortions wereperpetrated by some of Bruckner's well-meaning but misguided pupils in order tomake this enormous work more acceptable to contemporary audiences. It must berecorded that the insecure composer, in his desire to be performed, not onlysanctioned these 'improvements' but, alas, became an accomplice, taking part inthese cruel distortions. A gentle string tremolo at the beginning of thework awakens in the sympathetic listener a 'cosmic feeling' even before themagical horn calls.

These are taken up bythe woodwind and soon the orchestra intones Bruckner's favourite rhythmicalpattern: two duplets followed by three triplets. The full orchestra resumesthis rhythm in great strength, then stops after repeating one remote majorchord several times. Another remote key introduces the charming dance-likesecond theme. The first two quavers (eighth-notes) have staccato dotsover them, while the second pair has not, although most conductors play thesecond pair also staccato. Therefore we use the following unusualbowing:

The exposition endsmysteriously, very softly; we play this passage, and also the beginning of thedevelopment section without vibrato. Now the horn tune is magnificentlyembroidered by the wind instruments. A proud chorale in the brass is followedby a soft section which leads to the recapitulation, decorated by the flute andcellos. The ensuing
Item number 8554128
Barcode 636943412824
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Symphony
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Bruckner, Anton
Bruckner, Anton
Conductors Tintner, Georg
Tintner, Georg
Orchestras Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Disc: 1
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic", WAB 10
1 I. Bewegt, nicht zu schnell
2 II. Andante, quasi Allegretto
3 III. Scherzo: Bewegt
4 IV. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
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