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ClassicsOnline Home » BRUCKNER, A.: Symphony No. 3, WAB 103 (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Tintner)
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
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
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,
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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