About this Recording
8.553454 - BRUCKNER, A.: Symphony No. 3, WAB 103 (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Tintner)
English 

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

 

A mediaeval artisan might easily have kept a daily record of how many different prayers he prayed and how often he repeated them. For a composer of the nineteenth century, with its belief in unstoppable progress and human supremacy, to behave in this fashion is certainly unique. But Anton Bruckner, though accepting the ham1onic and orchestral achievements of the Romantic period, did just that; he did not really belong to his time. Even less did he fit in with the Viennese environment into which he was transplanted for the last 27 years of his life. The elegant and rather superficial society he encountered 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 little village in Upper Austria, Ansfelden, where his father was a schoolmaster, was not far away from the great and beautiful monastery of St Florian. The young Bruckner 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 talent for music was discovered early, became an organist. The experience of hearing and playing this magnificent instrument became central to his whole life. He spent many hours there, practicing and improvising, and eventually his playing was so exceptional that he made successful tours of France and England as an organ virtuoso. He had lessons in theory and composition, and started composing fairly early in life, but he felt the need for more instruction in counterpoint and became for several years a most diligent pupil of the famous Simon Sechter, visiting him every fortnight in Vienna, Many years earlier and shortly before his death, Schubert had also wanted to study counterpoint with Sechter, but of course he was wrong; most of his life work was already done, and works such as his early Mass in A flat showed him in no need of such lessons.

 

Sechter forbade Bruckner to compose a single note in order to concentrate entirely on his innumerable exercises, and here Bruckner, who had in the meantime advanced to the post of organist at Linz Cathedral, showed one unfortunate trait of his character, perhaps acquired as an altar-boy: utter submission to those he considered his superiors. He obeyed. But when he had finished his instruction with Sechter and took lessons with the conductor of

the 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 Symphony No.1. His reputation reached Vienna and he was appointed to succeed 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 silly conflict between the followers 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 as Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger. But though adversaries did him harm, his friends and admirers hurt his works much more. All his young students were gifted Wagnerians and they thought Bruckner’s music needed to sound more like Wagner, 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 those misguided admirers, such as Artur Nikisch and Franz Schalk, became famous conductors and they set about making these enormous scores acceptable to the public – and it must be said that the master, who was desperately anxious to be performed, often agreed and sometimes even became an accomplice to their mutilations. But he also left his original scores to the national Library with the comment ‘for later times.’ His own insecurity made him constantly revise his works, especially Symphonies Nos. 1-4. As a result, we are confronted in many cases by several versions of the same work. Sometimes the later versions are a definite improvement, as with the Fourth Symphony; and sometimes, in my opinion, the first version is superior, as with the Second and Third Symphonies.

 

One who deals with eternal things is in no hurry, and therefore performers and listeners must also allow plenty of time. Whereas Mahler, who died three years before World War I began, was the prophet of insecurity, 'Angst' and the horrors we live in, the deeply religious Bruckner sings of consolation and spiritual ecstasy (Verzuckung) - but not exclusively. In some of the Eighth and most of the Ninth Symphonies, he expresses agony, perhaps doubt.

 

Bruckner's music touches the innermost recesses of the human soul. In this way he reminds me of Dostoyevsky. This quality is probably the only thing the compulsive gambler and epileptic sinner has in common with the celibate 'country bumpkin.'

 

Symphony No.3 (Original version, 1873)

 

The rather superficial question conductor Otto Dessoff directed at Bruckner, who had submitted the first movement of his Symphony No. 0 to him: 'But where is the main tune?', had wonderful consequences: our composer used the same beginning in the strings as background for one of his greatest main tunes, the famous start of the Third Symphony (the trumpet call which Wagner admired so much). This enormous work (Bruckner's largest) underwent several 'improvements' by well-meaning students and also by the insecure master himself (the 1877 and 1888/89 versions are commonly played today, especially the latter). Only in 1977, 103 years after its creation, was the original published by Leopold Nowak It was fortunate that this original was preserved in the dedication copy to Wagner 'To the unreachable world-famous noble Master of Poetry and Music'.

 

To my mind this work as originally conceived suffered by its progressive mutilations more and more, and we should take the time to play and to listen to this amazing original. It is not only very long but it practically overflows with brilliant ideas. But not exclusively his own. His naive quotation from the works of his beloved master does not disturb me; except perhaps the quotation from the second act of Lohengrin where neither the words 'Gesegnet sollst Du schreiten' (Blessed shall you stride) nor its rather trivial music are worthy of Bruckner.

 

A noble horn melody follows the trumpet call of the beginning. Two rhythmic outcries downward in the whole orchestra are answered softly by the strings; then the beginning returns. Afterwards the second violins playa gentle second melody. The whole orchestra intones now a loud four-note phrase, replied to gently by strings and woodwind. A quotation from the Miserere of his D minor Mass concludes the exposition. The music in the development gradually increases in intensity and leads to a triple-forte tutti statement of the trumpet beginning The listener is led to believe it is the beginning of the recapitulation but this is not the case and the development continues: the tempo eases and Bruckner introduces his beloved contrary motion of the second theme and gradually leads to the true recapitulation. Here the slower lyrical theme sounds in D major. The coda once again in D minor begins softly with a canon of the main tune played by trumpets and trombones. After a big increase the music suddenly stops. Then the soft and slower answer to the outcries of the beginning leads to a mighty conclusion.

 

A gentle solemn melody in the strings starts the second movement, rather unusually a semitone above the main key. The violins increase in intensity and lead to one of Bruckner's favourite cadences. The four horns gently introduce a new melody in the violas, a little faster and in triple time. Bruckner told us that he thought of his late mother when composing this Andante. The music slows down (misterioso) in the strings. Now the first violins embroider the viola (mother) motif leading to the initial Adagio in four with sixteenths (semiquavers) in the violas. Yet once more the Andante appears in the cellos in triple time. The horns play the slower second tune. Then the beginning is repeated with extremely difficult syncopations in the first violins. Unexpectedly the full orchestra plays (fortissimo) the already mentioned Lohengrin motive still against the syncopation. The movement ends gently with the first melody.

 

The Scherzo contrasts six legato eighth-notes (quavers) in the second violins with three short eighth-notes in the basses, and increases to the loud rhythmical main tune. The first violins follow with a lovely gentle melody, and the Scherzo ends in the major. The beautiful Trio in the same tempo starts with a beguiling viola tune. There are, as so often in his early Trios, some delightful modulations.

 

Several years after the symphony's original composition Bruckner actually appointed his beloved pupil Franz Schalk to almost recompose the last movement. But in spite of its extraordinary length the original is excellent. Not only did Schalk shorten the piece considerably but he and perhaps also his master changed the irregular patterns into regular four-bar groups (to its disadvantage) In the second section the composer contrasted the dance rhythm in the strings with the more serious half-note (minim) melody in horn and woodwind - a magnificent inspiration Years later when on a walk with one of his students, they passed preparations for the funeral of a famous architect with a dance entertainment nearby, and Bruckner said 'that is how I composed this second section of the Finale'.

 

After this the second tune of the first movement, the Adagio of the second movement and the Scherzo receive short mentions. Also a syncopation in the strings contrasts with woodwind and brass. This D minor symphony ends in a very fast tempo with the initial trumpet tune in the major.

 

@ 1999 Georg Tintner

 

 

 

 

 


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