Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bruckner - Symphony No. 6

Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896) was an Austrian composer that is most well known for his Symphonies and religious music.  He studied to be a school teacher like his father, but music was too great of an interest for him to stay as a general curriculum teacher for long.

He showed great aptitude for music as a child and learned to play the organ when quite young. He became a world-renowned virtuoso organist when an adult.  He gave recitals in London in 1871 at the Royal Albert Hall and at the Crystal Palace, as well as recitals in Paris, France on the new organ in Notre Dame Cathedral.  He was the greatest improvisor on the organ in his day.  Despite his prowess at the organ, he wrote no major works for the instrument. 

Bruckner wrote nine 'official' Symphonies with the 9th being incomplete at the time of his death. He also wrote two other Symphonies which he did not deem worthy of numbering and these are commonly known as Symphony 0,  and Symphony 00.

Bruckner was obsessive about his music theory studies and took lessons until in his 40's.  He didn't receive recognition as a master composer until he was well into his 60's.  He was a disciple of Wagner, but of Wagner's music only. He had no interest or understanding of Wagner's dramatic elements.

All of Bruckner's symphonies have four movements. The Sixth Symphony is not the most performed of all the symphonies,  and the reasons are many. While it follows Bruckner's symphonic pattern, it is different in some areas than the rest.

The Sixth Symphony begins with a large first movement marked Majestoso and is in sonata form. As usual with Bruckner's use of sonata form, instead of two main themes he has three. This leads to more development and possibilities within the structure and usually lengthens his sonata movements compared to his contemporaries. The Sixth Symphony's first movement begins with what is known as the Bruckner Rhythm, a rhythmic scheme that he was fond of and used many times in his work. The Bruckner Rhythm consists of two beats and a triplet, or visa versa. The Sixth Symphony has this rhythm appear through the entire work in many forms. 

The second movement of the symphony, labeled Adagio, is indeed one of Bruckner's famous slow movements. This is the only one of his slow movements in all his symphonies that is written in sonata form.  Bruckner's adagios are beautiful music, bitter-sweet in their melody and harmony. The adagio of this symphony is no exception.

The third movement is labeled Scherzo. Unlike other Bruckner scherzos, this one's tempo is slower and the themes are more like rhythmic fragments than tunes. This is another feature of this symphony that makes it unique from other Bruckner Symphonies.

The fourth and final movement is labeled Finale. Bruckner brings back snatches of themes from the first and second movements while stating the three main themes of the Finale. The development section sees modulations through different keys until the undeniable key of A Major is brought forth.  The last part of the symphony, the Coda, sees yet more modulations and yet another massive assertion of the key of A Major which rounds out the work.

Bruckner's methods of orchestra composition reflects his knowledge and skill of the organ. He treats the orchestra as a huge organ, layering his music and 'pulling out stops' for color. His symphonies are long, and the Bruckner beginner may have a difficult time following the structure, because the music itself runs the gamut from beautiful to sublime to exciting and can also be very complex. But the rewards of getting to know Bruckner are many. His is music is such that, once you learn something about it, is all the more rich and beautiful.

3 comments:

  1. Who is performing the 6th?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The San Francisco Symphony, Herbert Blomstedt conducting.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have been looking for this particular out-of-print recording for a while. Thanks for posting! Would you be able to post a downloadable version at some point?

    ReplyDelete

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