Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bruckner's Gods: The Ninth Symphony is made whole

Today, I picked up the Naxos 2-CD set of the “completed” Symphony #9 in D Minor by Anton Bruckner, which had been dedicated “To God”.  The performance is by the New Philharmonia Orchestra of Westphalia, conducted by Johannes Wildner.  The finale, all 23:28 of it, is on a second CD by itself, maybe the shortest CD I have. They could have added the “Te Deum”, originally proposed as a finale.
In fact, the awesome first movement, with its leaping octaves and crashing, evolving dissonances does invoke the idea of a God to be feared; the conclusion of the First Movement sounds like an Old Testament apocalypse.

The Scherzo has its own menace, and the E Major Adagio used to the main event for the work. It is constant chromatic, opening with the interval of a 9th.  

This work has significance to me. In December 1961, shortly after I returned home to Arlington from my “William and Mary Expulsion” (covered in my main blog), I did buy the Bruno Walter performance (3 movements) on Columbia. I got to know the music during a very trying time in my life (and for my parents).  The old RCA Victor record player had a lot of trouble with the inner groves of this long record, and that led to an advancement in my stereo technology those days, a VM stereo.  (Until  1961, we didn’t know better than to use sapphire needles.) .  Wildner’s tempos seem just a little brisk compared to what I had been used to with Bruno Walter.

The notes give a lot of details as to the nearly complete condition of the Finale (it was second-to-last), an claims that the “reconstruction” by Samale, Phillips, Cohrs, and Mazzuca from 1991 and 1996 is the best possible.  This was not available to me during my college recovery (and NIH) days.

The Finale has all the mannerisms that derive from the first three movements, and a noble descending tetrachordal  theme that resembles Han Zimmer’s music for “Inception”.  The fugal coda brings back the galloping octaves from the first movement, and build an “epilogue” in D major, with tetrachords flashing around, slowing down in a locomotive-like fashion, braking, and opening up to the Light as in Wagner’s Gotterdamerung, which is so obviously the inspiration.  I thought about that little top-thimble spinning as the last image in “Inception”, but I knew I was not dreaming, I was still alive. 

Update:  Nov. 12, 2014

You can listen to Nicolas Harnoncourt's lecture on the Bruckner manuscript here, where he plays only what Bruckner lived to compose (which is 90% of the movement, with only an indication of what he wanted for the Coda, and some woodwind instrumentation not completed)

Most versions (since around 1990) provide a complex coda.  The first part of the coda is a massive fugue on the "octave theme" of the first movement. (This sounds like true coda to me, not recapitulation, which has already happened with the majestic cathedral theme.)  The music comes to another cathartic on huge brass dissonances.  Then there is a "coda of the coda" where Bruckner, having concluded the Ninth formally speaking, wanted to summarize a lot of his earlier symphonies, tracing them back to Beethoven, in about 4 minutes of cathedral-like triumph.  The versions offered seem to take the descending fifth's theme from the Third ("Wagner Symphony", also in D Minor), superimose some of Wagner's Ring, which mixes with the rising theme that opens Bruckner's own Seventh (after all), and then blatantly superimpose the opening "fifths" theme of the Beethoven Ninth and the famous rhythm that opens the Beethoven Fifth.  It's as if all of western symphonic music could be summarized in three minutes, maybe at a celebration of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall now.  The music finally crashes "FFF" on one tremendous D Major Triad in the brass and full orchestra.

Above I've embedded the last ten minutes that I like the best, the 2008 Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca Reconstruction, which is what I would recommend be performed now. Maybe we will see it in NYC or Washington in the 2015-2016 season.  

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