About this Recording
8.550154 - BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4, 'Romantic', WAB 104

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (The Romantic) 1878-80 version

Bewegt, nicht zu schnell

Andante quasi allegretto

Scherzo: Bewegt

Finale: Bewegt doch nicht zu schnell

Anton Bruckner was born in Ansfelden, near Linz, in 1824, the son of a schoolmaster and organist and descendant of a longer line of Austrian schoolmasters. He was originally destined by his father for the same profession, of which music was a concomitant part, and on the death of his father he was admitted as a student to the Augustinian monastery of St. Florian as a chorister. Three years later, in 1840, he went to Linz to train as a teacher, and the following year became assistant schoolmaster in the remoter village of Windhaag, near Freistadt, and later in the Styrian village of Kronstorf , before a vacancy was found for him at St. Florian in 1845. Six years later he was appointed organist there.

During childhood and early manhood Bruckner's exposure to the wider world of music had been gradual. St. Florian certainly presented opportunities to hear the great liturgical works of earlier composers, while Linz had offered a still more extended secular and religious repertoire. His own early compositions were largely for the church and his obvious abilities and ambitions led him, on the suggestion of a friend, to seek lessons in Vienna from Sechter, on whose advice he left St. Florian, becoming in 1855 organist at the cathedral in Linz.

In 1861 Bruckner completed his studies in counterpoint with Sechter and turned to another teacher, the Linz cellist and conductor Otto Kitzler, for help in mastering orchestration and symphonic form. It was now, stimulated by a performance in Linz of Wagner's Tannhaeuser, that he turned his attention seriously to the composition of symphonies, although he was later to reject the D minor work of 1864 as a mere nothing, a judgement reflected in its present numbering as Symphony No.0. In the same years he began to make a wider impression with his settings of the Mass and in 1868 with some reluctance due to his natural diffidence and the relatively poor salary offered, he moved to Vienna to teach at the Conservatory.

Bruckner's remaining years were spent largely in Vienna and were not without troubles and disappointments. His admiration for Wagner aroused the antipathy of that composer's enemies, champions of Brahms, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra refused at first to play his symphonies, although the opposition of the musicians was eventually overcome. These setbacks led Bruckner, never too certain of himself, to undertake revisions of his work so that the symphonies now exist in several versions.

As a symphonist Bruckner certainly contributed to the enlargement of the form. He often uses a richer orchestration, as when he introduces what Hanslick refers to as Siegfried tubas, devised by Wagner for The Ring in 1876, into Symphony No.7, and employs original changes of harmony. In fact much of his compositional technique seems to stem from his profession as organist and his consequent ability to improvise. A structural innovation in the symphony is his introduction of a third subject into the opening movement and the habit of combining the traditional middle and final section. Added to this is the tendency to treat the last movement more seriously than earlier composers had done.

Bruckner's Symphony No.4 in E flat major, was written in its first version in 1873 and 1874, further revisions, as always, taking place in the following years. The opening theme is one that we should do well to remember in listening to the first movement, contrasted as it later is with a more gemuetlich Viennese style of melody. One may call to mind at times the cynical criticism of the supporter of Brahms, Eduard Hanslick, writing of Symphony No.8, who remarks on the repetition of short chromatic motives again and again, higher and higher in the scale and on into infinity. The organist's improvisatory device of sequence is, in fact, used by Bruckner to great cumulative effect.

The second, slow movement opens with a flowing melody in the lower strings, to which others soon have something to add, against a plucked bass accompaniment and this is followed by a Scherzo with a hunting song, in the 1880 version of the work here recorded, contrasted with the horn motive of the gentler pastoral Trio. The movement is, of course, prolonged to a length commensurate with the proportions of the whole symphony, conceived on a massive scale.

The Finale is the longest of the four movements and the weightiest. It has something of the steadiness of a march in its rhythms, soon to be interrupted by more lyrical ideas, those Viennese intrusions into what is, on the whole, a more serious world.

At a later stage Bruckner suggested programmatic titles for the movements of the symphony. These are of such banality that they are best ignored, as they do nothing so much as trivialise the music, whatever personal associations it may have held for this most unliterary of romantic composers.

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