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ClassicsOnline Home » BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 00, 'Study Symphony', WAB 99 / Finale to Symphony No. 4, 'Volkfest', WAB 104
Penguin Guide Key Recording
By Robert McColley
Symphony No. 00,
Finale to Symphony No. 4
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
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
Study Symphony in F minor (Symphony No. 00)
Bruckner's last composition teacher, the young opera conductor Otto
Kitzler, set him three final tasks with which to finish his studies: one
overture, one choral work and a symphony. Our composer completed his 'Study
Symphony', also known as No. 00, in three months. The reaction of Kitzler to this
charming work was not very flattering: 'Not particularly inspired'. I can only
wonder whether he had a good look at the Scherzo. To me this Scherzo (though
perhaps not so much its Trio) is a piece of great originality, probably
even better than some other early Scherzos of Bruckner. It is true that
Bruckner learned a lot about Wagner's harmonic and orchestral achievements, but
I am not so sure that he profited a great deal from Kitzler's instruction. The Study
Symphony, however, does not show much influence of Wagner, but the score is
full of Schumann and Mendelssohn – notably the beginning of the Finale, which
really sounds as if it had been composed by Schumann.
Bruckner disowned the Study Symphony, but he did not destroy the
score, as was his habit with works he totally rejected. This fact permits us, I
think, to perform it. Apart from its charm it makes us marvel that only one
year later he created his first masterpiece, the wonderful Mass in D minor.
The symphony starts with a gentle dance-like tune in the first violins.
This is answered by a loud tutti (though I took the liberty of modifying
the dynamics in the brass to avoid its coarse effect). Those two motifs are
splendidly developed. The second main melody, in the major, is lyrical. A
rather heroic statement follows, and a gentle flute melody ends the exposition.
An expert development leads to the slightly shortened recapitulation (I must
confess that I miss the lovely flute tune, excised here).
The Andante molto begins with a pleading tune in the strings. A
dotted rhythm leads to a gentle melody in the oboe. The first violins and
violas alternate with demisemiquaver (32nd-note) runs, obviously influenced by
a similar place in the second movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 41, the'
Jupiter'. A rather conventional episode in G minor leads to the recapitulation.
Here the 'Jupiter' 32nd-notes are distributed between flute, clarinet and
bassoon. The movement ends with a gentle duet between horn and timpani.
The splendid Scherzo starts with a rhythmical theme in clarinets
and bassoons alternating with even staccato notes in the strings. Both
the music and the orchestration are particularly inspired! Woodwind and
strings with pleasant quaver (eighth-note) runs in violas and cellos start the
gentle Trio, followed by horns and first violins.
The Finale is probably the weakest movement of the four, but has
some beautiful episodes, especially the gently syncopated second melody.
Triplets dominate the end of the exposition. A gentle horn starts the
development with the Schumann motif. It travels through other keys and after the recapitulation
it gradually turns to F major; the tempo increases and this fine symphony ends
1999 Georg Tintner
Volksfest Finale (1878) to Symphony No. 4
Bruckner left us three versions of the Finale of No. 4. The
thematic material of the first (1874) and second (1878) versions are closely
related, but the second version, which he called Volksfest ('Festival of
the People') is shorter, and simpler – compare for instance the first phrase in
the second violins and the transformation of the difficult quintuplets into
Bruckner's favourite pattern: a duplet followed by a triplet.
Over a pulsating note in the cellos and basses the first violins descend
in thirds (in the first version the second violins move up in contrary motion).
The loud unisono scale downwards was wisely discarded in the third
version (1880), the Finale normally used nowadays. A wonderful ensuing
viola tune sounds here a semitone higher than in the third version. The
charming naïve melody that is in all three versions reappears here not as a
brass fanfare but in the string chorus. The heroic unisono theme appears
only now, which in the 1880 version stands near the beginning. Interestingly,
Bruckner lets all four horns play the main tune of the first movement at the
end, while in the original and third Finale he omitted this quotation,
perhaps thinking it was heard often enough before. However charming this Volksfest
is, the composer must have felt something missing; so in 1880 he added the
wonderful slower C minor section to the strings, later repeated in two
Last Albums Viewed
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 00, 'Study Symphony', WAB 9...