Skip to comments.The Symphonies of Anton Bruckner
Posted on 10/24/2005 4:22:42 PM PDT by EveningStar
I've always had a soft spot for the symphonies of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). Although I am a huge classical music fan, I am not an expert. Therefore, I will fall back on those who are experts.
Jim Svejda is a well known musicologist and announcer for KUSC in Los Angeles. In his book The Insider's Guide to Classical Recordings*, Svejda begins his article on Bruckner by saying, "More than those of any other great composer--and be assured that this squat, homely, diffident man ranks with the greatest composers of the Romantic era--the symphonies of Anton Bruckner need all the help they can get. Unlike the virtually foolproof music of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or Brahms, which can resist all but the most rankly incompetent mauling, for the Bruckner symphonies to emerge as the great works they so obviously are, nothing less than great performances will do. While they contain much that is immediately appealing, including some of the most heroic brass writing in all of music, their greatest moments tend to be private and internal: the deeply spiritual utterances of an essentially medieval spirit who was completely out of step with his time."
Svejda continues, "For the interpreter, the single most pressing problem in performing Bruckner is trying to maintain the level of concentration that these often mammoth outbursts require. If the intensity relaxes for a moment, the vast but terribly fragile structures will almost inevitably fall apart. In short, it's altogether possible that many who are persuaded they dislike Bruckner are confusing the composer with the performances of his music that they have heard. Indifferent, good, or even very good interpretations, which in recent years is about the best the composer can expect, simply will not due."
Svejda goes on to dub Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) the greatest of all recorded Bruckner interpreters. He also has good things to say about the interpretations of Eliahu Inbal, Eugen Jocum, Günther Wand, and Bruno Walter. In my experience, I have found other conductors, such as Bernard Haitink, who do fine interpretations of the Bruckner symphonies.
My first exposure to Anton Bruckner (Full name: Josef Anton Bruckner) occurred about 40 years ago when I heard the scherzo to his underrated third symphony on my car radio as I was driving home. It was from a recording by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Sometime later, I heard the entire recording and then I heard a recording of his unfinished ninth symphony. I was now a total Bruckner fan.
Bruckner was influenced by Wagner, and also by Beethoven. He was also influenced by his religion. He was a deeply religious Roman Catholic and dedicated his ninth and final symphony to God. Bruckner, in turn, probably had some influence on Mahler.
Most of Bruckner's symphonies run an hour or longer. The interpretations vary of course. I own four different recordings of the Eighth. The shortest, by Bernard Haitink, runs 73 minutes. The longest, by Sergiu Celibidache, runs a Brobdingnagian 105 minutes --yes, one hour and forty-five minutes!
They all have 4 movements (he completed only the first three movements of his ninth symphony but did sketch most of its fourth movement). The scherzos are very rhythmic. The dramatic outer movements are capped by some of the most intense codas in classical music - those for the first movement of the ninth symphony and the final movement of the eighth symphony come to mind.
Bruckner composed eleven symphonies: nine numbered symphonies and two unnumbered symphonies, one of which is seldom performed. To make matters confusing, most of his symphonies come in several different versions.
I would like to hear the observations of those of you who are familiar with the Bruckner symphonies. Bruckner is not for everyone. Some are deeply drawn to him. Some are bored. And some are even reduced to hysterical laughter.
I Googled "Anton Bruckner" and came up with many links. Here are but a few of those:
Extract from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music
Bruckner for Brucknerites
An AOL member site
David Griegel's site which includes a breakdown of the various versions of each symphony.
*Sixth revised and expanded edition, Prima Publishing, 1999
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Off to find another performance of the Eigth.
An opera singer friend directed me to him, and I am grateful.
....so....Josef Anton Bruckner BUMP!
I'm a Russophile; Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Borodin etc. Would I like Bruckner?
I just recently picked the Szell recording at a garage sale. I'll be converting it to CD.
I like all of those composers you listed but Bruckner is different. You can hear the influence Wagner, and of Beethoven somewhat. However, he has his own style. Unless you can find a budget CD--and many excellent ones are available--you'd best not invest until you've heard him. Some of his music is available online.
I think I may try to find the version by Haitink mentioned in the article. I'm looking forward to it.
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Bruckner was also a master of the choral motet. He wrote some of the most lush, spine tingling choral music I have ever sung and heard. Look up some Bruckner choral motets and you will not be disappointed.
I've heard of his motets, but have never actually heard them. Thank you for the tip. :)
Bruckner = the Man. His life was tragic and is one of my favorite stories to bore my non-classicly inclined friends with. Hanslick!
I own his complete symphonies and was able to hear many of them performed at the Musikverein when I lived in Vienna. They worship him there, as he should be everywhere. I couldn't pick a favorite, but the parts of his works that affect me the most are the "Sweet Remembrance" them in the slow movement of the Seventh (my name for it) and the coda of the Finale of the Eighth.
Bruckner's life story is impossibly moving. A provincial organist who showed little compositional skill until his genius was unlocked by listening to Wagner. He then realized most of his dreams; meeting Wagner (and dedicating the Third to him), meeting the Emperor FJ (and dedicating the Eighth to him), becoming famous, and instructing the next generation of composers at the Conservatory. But his life was tormented by musical factions, well-intentioned friends who did not understand him, an unfulfilled desire for domestic bliss, and the inability to complete his most treasured work, the Ninth.
Here's to you, Anton.
I just listened to some clips of motets and other vocal works by Bruckner online. Quite wonderful. Thank you. Do you have any recording recomendations?
One of Bruckner's techniques was to end a movement without a long held note, for example, a fermata over a whole note. He would end a movement on a shorter note, and making the ending sound convincing has always been difficult for conductors. The ends of both the first and fourth movements of the Seventh Symphony are textbook examples. By pacing the ritardando just right, Jochum could make these endings work perfectly.
I've heard only two of Bruckner's symphonies live. I heard the 7th at the LA Music Center 30 odd years ago. Barenboim was the conductor. I also heard the 9th a few years ago at the Orange County (CA) Performing Arts Center. I cannot remember the conductor but it was wonderful. :)
He's the thinking man's Philip Glass.
Wow, he wrote music?
I thought he just played first base for the Red Sox.
I know what you're talking about when you talk about Bruckner ending the coda on a short note.
I recently picked up the Haitink set. It's the only Bruckner set I have. I'll keep your Jocum recomendation in mind. Svejda did recomend Jocum's as the best overall set.
I do have the Bruckner 9th by Furtwängler. I found the tempos a bit brisk.
I've never heard the first movement coda handled with such perfect pacing. The 31 bars of careening Wagnerian strings building to the brass crescendo were exquisite, and I found myself reaching for my handkerchief at the cadence.
My Jochum recording of the Eighth has moments that are striking beside the finale's coda. The opening of the slow movement has always been a perfect depiction of the night sky to me.
All of that is so true.
It is a short throw from the sublime to the maudlin to the ridiculous.
Bruckner covers it all. Not the easiest of 19th century composers, but really worth the effort.
The ninth, the eighth, the seventh and naught 00 symphonies are monumental and really grow on you.
Si vale la pena.
Brilliant! I was trying to think of a way to say what I think about Bruckner. This says it all.
The critic's point about a great performance being necessary to appreciate Bruckner is right on the mark. Bruckner ("trumpeter") is above all the greatest composer for brass, ever, building on and surpassing Richard Wagner. Bruckner symphonies regularly feature Wagner tubas, and Bruckner was about the only composer to use them besides Wagner himself. I can tell you that playing in a full brass section belting out Bruckner is an ecstatic, transcendent experience. Here in the United States our premier brass sections have always been in the Cleveland and Chicago symphonies. In Europe it's any of the great Vienna orchestras of course, the Berliner Philharmonik, and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. These orchestras, and particularly their angelic brass sections, can be counted on to elevate the playing for most any conductor, and particularly those Germanics with a mystical connection to Bruckner. Viva Bruckner!
When I worked in London, the building Bloomberg News was located in (City Gate House) had a plack saying that Anton Bruckner lived there. I don't know if many people noticed it, but I was happy to. So, I do have a connection to him.
No, I hadn't. Thanks.
Finally! Another fan of the great Russian composers! Sometimes I've thought I was their only fan on FR!
I'm not as familiar with Bruckner as others, but what I've heard I like - the symphony I heard was brisk and full of passion. However, it seemed to me that the tempo had to be just right to carry off the energy of the piece, otherwise it would have sounded pompous or dirge-like.
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A favorite a capella group of mine is the Voices of Ascension, but I checked and they do not offer a recording of Bruckner pieces, but if you like a capella choral music, especially Renaissance motets, check out Voices of Ascension.
And now a humourous story about ol' Anton:
The following incident is from Jan Swafford's 1997 biography of Brahms, page 500 of the original hardcover:
Outlandish stories about Bruckner went the rounds in Vienna, many of them true. Part of what Brahms and others could never quite get over was that Bruckner the composer of epic symphonies behaved, much of the time, like a nincompoop. There were, for instance, the incidents regarding the Beethoven and Schubert remains. Both composers were exhumed in 1888 for reburial in "Graves of Honor" in Vienna's Central Cemetery. Before reburial the coffins were opened for the inspection of doctors and scientists. Bruckner, then sixty-four, showed up uninvited on both occasions. When he saw Beethoven's open casket, he shoved past the horrified doctors and seized the skull in both his hands, staring into the empty sockets as if he were trying to divine the sublime riddle of genius, and declaimed in his Upper Austrian drawl,"Now ain't it true, dear Beethoven, that if you were alive today you'd allow me to touch you? And now them strange gentlemen here want to forbid me that!" He had to be forcibly removed. Beethoven's bones may be decorated to this day by a lens from Bruckner's spectacles, which fell out during the ruckus. He pulled the same stunt at Schubert's exhumation, refusing to release the skull until they allowed him to place it in the coffin himself.
Just don't ask me what "Upper Austrian drawl" for "ain't" was.
Bruckner being a very pious Catholic probably placed great store in the mystical power of relics. Who is to say that this eccentric genius was not physically inspired by this pilgrim act? It sounds like the epitome of Romanticism. Bruckner's best work is certainly in sympathy with the grandeur of Beethoven and the sublimity of Schubert.
Man, I like this guy. He really couldn't help it. He is driven by the muse.
A lot of people stand by the wayside, but some folks go right up and dig in. He certainly did, by the sound of it. I am interested in his compositions after he did these impassioned things.
....not that I'm recommending that others do it....
After 1888 he continued to revise a lot of his earlier works. Here's a list of what he completed (for the first time) during and after that year: Symphony # 9 as far as he got it (3 movements: he suggested near the end of his life his 1884 Te Deum could be used as a finale for his 9th: I may try that tonight), Tantum ergo (5 settings: he'd composed a number of settings of this earlier), Traumen und Wachen, Das deutsche Lied, Psalm 150, Vexilla regis, Helgoland, and Tafellied.
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