About this Recording
8.555933-34 - BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9, WAB 109
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Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 9

(With Finale reconstructed by Samale - Phillips - Cohrs - Mazzuca)

 

To this day, Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony languishes in a purgatory of misunderstanding, false interpretation, appropriation, even barbaric mishandling, having long fallen “prey to taste” (Adorno). Bruckner had scarcely taken his last breath when souvenir hunters swooped down on the manuscripts lying around the room where he died, which was only secured some time later. The executors of his estate entrusted Bruckner’s pupil Joseph Schalk to inquire into the correlation of the remaining 75 score bifolios for the Finale of the Ninth. Joseph died on

7th November 1900 without having undertaken the task. His brother Franz quietly took the manuscripts into his keeping, manuscripts which, according to Bruckner’s Testament, should have belonged to the Court Library (today the Austrian National Library).

 

During rehearsals for the first performance on 11 February 1903 in Vienna, the conductor Ferdinand Löwe baulked at the Ninth’s radical nature, completely re-orchestrating the first three movements; still unresearched, the material for the Finale was dismissed. Löwe, “out of piety for the Master’s wishes”, as he claimed, included in this performance the Te Deum, but he had not considered the stylistic discrepancy between his altered arrangement and the Te Deum, which was left in its original form. The Te Deum was excluded from his first edition, although Bruckner probably intended it to be published with the symphony. Löwe even published his own arrangement without comment as Bruckner’s authentic score. The editor’s conviction, cited in his Foreword, that the three completed movements constituted in themselves a performable, closed unit, ultimately became dogma, for the distorted first editions maintained their validity on the concert podium for decades; in the process such opinions hardened into concrete.

 

It slowly became common knowledge among Bruckner scholars that ‘something wasn’t right’ about the first editions. In 1929 the Bruckner Complete Edition was begun for just this reason, in 1934 publishing the original score of the Ninth, edited by Alfred Orel, together with a study volume which, for the first time, contained transcriptions of many of the Finale manuscripts. But Orel omitted several sources, scattered as they were to the four winds; his presentation was unclear and full of mistakes. Apart from that, his edition of the score, like Nowak’s 1951 reprint of it, comprised only the first three movements. The Te Deum was first published separately in the Complete Edition in 1961 without any reference as to its intended function with regard to the Ninth, although Universal Edition had published a study score of the Ninth together with the Te Deum sometime prior to 1920, and thus to some extent realised Bruckner’s intentions.

 

Proper critical discussion of Orel’s edition never came about. Nonetheless, attempts to complete the Finale were repeatedly based on this defective source. Some were never published or later withdrawn; other scores were occasionally performed or even published, but have not established themselves, and justifiably so: none of their authors ever published a detailed account of their activities, an absolute necessity in a critical case such as this. Apart from that, all these scores reveal egregious errors in their methodologies and astonishing carelessness in their handling of Bruckner’s manuscript texts. On the one hand the arrangers dispensed with significant original passages; on the other, a high proportion of ‘free Brucknerian’ writing can always be found. One arranger, for example, filled a demonstrably 16-measure-long gap in the score with no less than 100 measures of his own composition!

 

New steps in the resolution of this problem were first undertaken in 1985, as Nicola Samale and Giuseppe Mazzuca published their “Ricostruzione”, the first soundly based and properly documented performing version of the Finale. This pioneering achievement provided impetus for long overdue research on all the manuscript sources for the Ninth, which the director of the Bruckner Complete Edition, Leopold Nowak, was no longer able to undertake. Shortly before his death in 1991, he entrusted the task to the Australian musicologist and composer John A. Phillips. This extensive project on the Ninth comprises ten volumes. Phillips painstakingly ordered and systematised the scattered manuscripts. His detailed investigations of paper and handwriting resolved many details of the Finale’s genesis. Moreover Phillips was thoroughly acquainted with the theoretical systems on which Bruckner founded his compositional technique. The definitive performing version of the Finale, published in 1991 by Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca owes its validity primarily to his insights.

 

The composition of the Finale was not significantly different from that of Bruckner’s earlier works. Bruckner had his music paper prepared for him by his secretary Anton Meissner, who wrote the names of the instruments, the clefs and key signatures, and ruled the barlines. Most of the bifolios of the Finale score therefore have four measures per page, a fact which becomes significant for the reconstruction. Bruckner initially formulated his musical material in sketches and particello drafts, then notated the strings and main wind entries in score using the prepared bifolios which he numbered and laid one after another, rather than interleaving them. He carefully regulated the period structure of the music as he went along by placing his so-called metrical numbers beneath each measure. The woodwind and brass parts were then systematically scored out. Bruckner thus refined his conception of the music during its orchestration, at times discarding bifolios and replacing them with new ones. In a final work phase, he would have gone through the composition again and added all the necessary performance directives (phrasing, articulation, dynamics etc.).

 

The Finale is hence no collection of disjointed sketches, as uninformed authors continue to claim, but the remains of a score left in the second-to-last phase of its completion. The composition, in all considerably longer than six hundred measures, originally extended significantly further than what survives today, and was apparently largely complete by the summer of 1896. Although some of the later, definitive bifolios have been lost, the continuity of approximately 560 measures, up to the end of the recapitulation of the chorale, can readily be demonstrated. The instrumentation of the c. 220-measure exposition was probably complete; many bifolios carry Bruckner’s remark “finished”. In the second half, the lost bifolios 15, 20, 25, 28 and 31 constitute gaps in the score, the contents of which can largely be reconstructed from the foregoing sketches.

 

Furthermore, sketches have been found to the coda, long believed lost - a crescendo passage of c. 24 measures based on the opening motive and a brief ascending chorale phrase, as well as, most significantly, the movement’s concluding 24-measure cadence. Finally, we know from the memoirs of Bruckner’s last doctor, Richard Heller, that the symphony was intended to conclude with a ‘song of praise’ in D major, which Bruckner even played to him on the piano. In other words, although the final double barline cannot be found in the material which survives today, we still have a clear impression of the Finale as a whole. For only very few measures has no music whatsoever of Bruckner’s survived.

 

The complex methods used in the reconstruction can hardly be adequately outlined here, but have been publicised elsewhere in appropriate scholarly fashion. Clues to the contents of the gaps are supplied by an analysis of the surrounding measures as well as by a knowledge of Bruckner’s rigorous compositional methodology, full understanding of which has to this day been overlooked by most musicologists. Precisely this approach makes possible what would probably be a futile undertaking in the case of any other composer, namely, a comprehensive representation of the Finale as a completed whole, although necessarily speculative in regard to certain details. The minor gaps in this web could be filled from the surviving sketches and preliminary materials with astonishingly few question marks, the missing material ‘synthesized’ from known material through the use of Bruckner’s own compositional techniques. It is thus unjustified to speak of any kind of free, imitatory composition having been undertaken.

 

Bruckner achieved a form in the Finale which took sonata structure as a starting-point, but which, in its great daring and originality, brings the motivic developments of the first three movements to a conclusion; the movement is thus indispensable to an understanding of the whole symphony. The principal theme, with its powerful strides, defies all possibility of development by virtue of its repetitive structure. At the same time it encompasses the entire spectrum of the chromatic scale and so claims for itself an all-embracing status. The second theme, invariably called the “song period” by Bruckner, is derived directly from the principal theme, a feature unique to this movement. The usually lush cantabile quality of the second subject was here renounced by Bruckner in favour of an intentionally barren ‘negative image’ of the principal theme. All the more unforgettable is the impact of the third theme, a resplendent resurrection of the choral theme of the Adagio, referred to by Bruckner as his “farewell to life”, accompanied by the flames of its violin figuration. But for now this vision dies away; the movement is not yet over. The well-known opening figure from the Te Deum appears hesitantly in the flute. Considerable stretches of the development section use this motive - a formal indication that it was probably intended to play a central role in the coda as well. Then, in place of a true recapitulation, a daring fugue ensues based on elements of the principal theme. A further innovation is the emergence of an ‘epilogue theme’, which is derived from the triplets of the principal theme of the whole symphony. The second group is richer in the recapitulation, towards the end introducing an allusion to the Easter hymn Christ ist erstanden. Following the recapitulation of the chorale, now combined in powerful symbolism with the string figuration of the Te Deum, Bruckner returns to his epilogue theme. It would probably have led into a restatement of the principal theme of the first movement which, as in the Finale of the Eighth, would have completed the circle.

 

Following the crescendo passage sketched by Bruckner at the outset of the coda, the arrangers realised an overlay of the principal themes of each of the four movements as the first climax of the coda, which certain early Bruckner scholars claim to have seen in a sketch since lost; here it constitutes a logical point of arrival. This is succeeded by the chorale theme in eight measures - derived from Bruckner’s harmonisation of the chorale by the strings during the recapitulation of the second group - and an eight-measure realisation of Bruckner’s ascending chorale passage. The realisation of the sketch for the cadence corresponds with the climax of the Adagio and the coda of the first movement. This is followed immediately by Bruckner’s concluding pedal-point. Above this the arrangers realised a “song of praise”, a concluding crescendo passage of 37 measures, corresponding precisely to the length of the final structural units of each of the first three movements and drawing on various clues from the Te Deum as well as from the symphonic chorus Helgoland (1893).

 

That Bruckner’s own vision of this final glory died with him is undeniable. Every performing version by foreign hands is and remains provisional, a “work in progress”, and it is by no means impossible that previously lost material for the Finale may come to light. But such a contingency solution as this, carefully and lovingly crafted, can still be regarded as preferable to giving up this daring final movement as entirely lost. That so much of it has survived, given the transmission of the sources, is a minor miracle in itself.

 

The Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca score was first performed on 3rd December 1991 in Linz, Austria, and published in the same year. The sources for the entire Ninth have been appearing successively in new publications in the Bruckner Complete Edition since 1994. Since then, interest in this score has steadily increased. On the other hand, the music world, invoking a misunderstood notion of “Werktreue”, or fidelity to the printed page, often refuses to acknowledge the wishes of a composer, not to speak of the recent findings of serious source scholarship. This by no means applies only to Bruckner: in general, dogmatic and at the same time uninformed adherents of the dubious notion that only a composer’s final score has any validity enjoy rejecting completions of fragmentary works. Here, as the conductor and musicologist Peter Gülke once fittingly put it, “intellectual sloth compromises itself with the trappings of humility”.

 

Bruckner himself expressly wished the Ninth to conclude with the Te Deum as the “best substitute” should he not complete the instrumental final movement; a pronouncement for which we should actually be grateful, for what composer near death thinks to take such precautionary measures? For this reason alone there should be no question that a three-movement performance of the Ninth in no way corresponds to Bruckner’s conception. To act retrospectively as if Bruckner needed to be spoken for, or to overrule his wishes, is not only to adopt a superior attitude, but is moreover an act of profound disrespect toward the composer and his musical legacy. Even in its surviving fragmentary state the Finale is first and foremost Bruckner’s own music - whether one welcomes or regrets the radicalism of its form and content - and represented for him an indispensable component of his last, four-movement symphony.

 

Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs

Translation: John A. Phillips


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