About this Recording
8.554430 - BRUCKNER, A.: Symphony No. 1, WAB 101 / Adagio to Symphony No. 3, WAB 103 (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Tintner)
English 

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 (1866)

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 harmonic 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, practising 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 No. 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 (Verzückuug) – 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. 1 in C minor

On 9th May, 1868, Bruckner conducted the premiere of his First Symphony (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 recording we present for the first time this remarkable work exactly as it was heard by the rather bewildered audience in Linz; and their bewilderment is no wonder, as it is still remarkable for its boldness and originality. The differences as established by Professor Carragan in 1998 are not very profound in the first three movements, where there are sometimes (for instance) single bars either added or taken out, but more far­-reaching in the Finale with greatly different orchestration and changed musical passages.

The work starts with a unique soft, rather cheeky, dotted march tune in the first violins, which is replied to by the horn. The gentle lyrical second melody in two parts is first played by the first and second violins then by horn and bassoon. A more heroic passage leads to a quotation of a famous string passage of the Tannhäuser Overture. Bruckner had heard the opera in 1863 conducted by his young teacher Kitzler, and in 1865 he travelled to Munich to hear Tristan. His veneration for Wagner lasted his whole life, though Wagner's influence on Bruckner's works is often overrated. One can never know if the tremendous impact of Tristan or overwork (or both) was the cause of Bruckner's subsequent nervous breakdown. He was treated in a sanatorium and could resume his work after a few months.

This persistent Tannhäuser borrowing seems the only Wagnerian influence in the whole movement. The development section ignores the main march tune altogether until the gradual transition to the recapitulation, where we are spared the Tannhäuser quotation. The movement ends wildly with the first tune.

The second movement starts with a groping improvisatory passage, where we can neither be sure of its tune nor its key until a Schubert-like cadenza establishes the key as A flat major (the influence of Schubert in Bruckner's work is often underrated, and is perhaps more profound that that of Wagner). A singing often modulating melody in the first violins is constantly accompanied by quintuplets in the violas and leads to an extended section in 3/4 in the dominant key. The recapitulation (again in 4/4) is richly embroidered. This time the Schubertian cadenza is played by the horns and the following quintuplets by the second violins. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that an earlier unfinished version of this most original movement exists with largely the same material, except for the quite different middle section.

The powerful Scherzo is perhaps not quite as original but typical Bruckner all the same. May I mention in passing that the earlier very short Scherzo which Bruckner discarded before 1866 (because of its brevity?) with its chromatic syncopation is perhaps more interesting. The beautiful Trio with its haunting Horn call is the same in both Scherzi.

The imposing Finale makes particularly great demands on the string players (how did the Linz amateur orchestra cope with it?). It begins with a rather conventional outburst, followed by a highly original gently syncopated second tune. The development deals for a long time with the material of the main tune (just the opposite to the development in the first movement). As so much is loud in the Finale, perhaps its end does not sound quite as triumphant as Bruckner intended.

1998 Georg Tintner

Adagio (1876) to Symphony No. 3 in D minor

Not so long ago Professor Nowak discovered an unknown version of the slow movement of Bruckner's Third Symphony which he composed probably in 1876 between the 1873 original and the one of 1877. In this version the tempo indications are almost throughout more flowing: for instance instead of just Feierlich (solemn) in 1873 it becomes Bewegt, quasi andante, feierlich (with movement, quasi andante, solemn) and Andante (1873) becomes Andante quasi Allegretto. (In our recordings of this movement and of the 1873 symphony we have tried to observe these slight tempo differences).

Oddly enough this 'new' Adagio is eleven bars longer than 1873, while the one of 1877 is much shorter. There are also differences in orchestration and in some phrases. But the most noticeable difference is near the end in the accompaniment to the tune of the solemn March in Wagner's Lohengrin, Act Two, 'Gesegnet soll sie schreiten!' (Blessed shall you stride) (unfortunately neither these awkward words nor the music belong to Wagner's greatest inspirations). In 1873 Bruckner made the first violins play an extremely difficult endless chain of syncopated triplet semiquavers. Perhaps he wanted to avoid this great rhythmic complexity by replacing it in 1876 with a far easier near-quotation from Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture in both first and second violins (he had already used the same pattern in a different way in his First Symphony). This was no improvement; nevertheless this version of the second movement of Bruckner's Third has enough independence and beauty to be worth hearing, and seems to me superior to the truncated second movement of 1877.

1998 Georg Tintner


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