Sunday, January 17, 2021

Bruckner - Symphony No. 2 In C Minor

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)  wrote a total of eleven symphonies, although two go unnumbered. There is a certain amount of similarity within all of them, which some have said makes him repetitive, that he wrote the same symphony 11 times.  But these similarities are Bruckner's style. With careful listening and familiarity, the Bruckner Symphonies also show differences enough to make each a work of art in its own right.

Symphony No. 2 was finished in 1872, but as with many of Bruckner's symphonies it went through various revisions. The revisions for other symphonies of Bruckner can be quite substantial with marked differences, sometimes entire movements are rewritten. The revisions of the 2nd Symphony are many, most of them minor and are of a technical nature. The main difference between the original and the later version heard here are the changing of positions within the symphony of the 2nd and 3rd movements. That is, the Scherzo is now the 3rd movement and the Adagio the 2nd movement.  This symphony is sometimes called Symphony of Pauses due to the many  full orchestra rests within, which add to the overall form and expressive nature of the work.

I. Moderato (moderately, not too fast) - The music begins softly, with tremoloes in the violins and violas. Many of Bruckner's symphonies  begin with a string tremolo, but this one is different in that they are measured tremeloes; that is Bruckner designates a number of repetitions (the number 6 above the dotted half notes, which equals out to eighth note triplets, or twelve notes to the bar). Other times Bruckner designates an unmeasured tremolo which gives a different effect. The cellos play the first snatches of a theme high in their register: 
This becomes the main theme of the first theme group. An important rhythm first heard in the trumpet during the first theme group is:

This rhythm is as important as any theme in the first movement, as it is heard throughout the movement in many different tonal forms. The second theme group starts in the strings and the key shifts to E-flat major.  The third theme group is also in E-flat major, and begins with a persistent rhythm in the low strings of a quarter note - two eighth notes. 

The development sections begins with ominously quiet tremoloes in the low strings. Themes are elaborated upon with the trumpet tempo-theme cropping up many times. There is much thematic material to elaborate on, and Bruckner picks and chooses what to develop, and as well adds other material not heard before. The music dies away and pauses before the recapitulation begins.

The recapitulation repeats the opening material, and the music leads to a coda that begins in low strings, horns and winds. The dynamic gets louder and louder, and the music comes to a complete halt, with the first theme returning quietly. Suddenly the music gets louder, with the trumpets blaring out the tempo-theme and orchestra with timpani coming to a dramatic end.

II. Andante: Feierlich, etwas bewegt (solemnly, but a little fast) - Bruckner has been called a great 'adagio' composer, known for his slow movements. This movement is marked andante, but it unfolds slowly, so slowly that the sense of time can stand still, and a sense of form may not be discernible to the listener (which is not necessarily a bad thing)The key is A-flat major and begins in the strings:
This section slowly unwinds until the next section begins with pizzicato strings with a new theme in the horns:

These two sections are repeated, with the first section increasing in  harmonic diversity and passion. But Bruckner's increases of passion can sometimes lead to nowhere, as the music comes to a stop with no resolution. But there are other themes to explore, and the second section begins again. Towards the end of the second section, Bruckner quotes some of his music from a previous work, the Benedictus from his Mass In F Minor.  The first theme of the first section reappears in the coda gently played by the horn as the strings fade away.

III. Scherzo: Mäßig schnell - Trio: Gleiches Tempo  (somewhat fast - same tempo for trio) - After the other-worldly ending of the previous movement, the loud start of the scherzo is startling. It is in C minor, and once again a rhythm becomes just as important as the thematic material, as the scherzo is built upon the rhythm. The scherzo flat-foots it until a pause is reached. The trio begins in the key of C major, with tremoloes in the violins and the theme in the violas:
The scherzo returns after the trio and makes its way to a coda that brings a loud conclusion with the strings reaching the heights with runs of the C minor scale as the rest of the orchestra pounds out the opening rhythm.  

IV. Finale: Ziemlich schnell (quite fast) - The music begins quietly in the strings. The 1st violins play a sporadic motif, and after a lengthy buildup, a theme starts with a loud declaration by the orchestra:

This triplet rhythm Bruckner uses throughout the movement as well.  The next major theme is in A major and is of a more lyric character. These two themes, along with other material, return at different points in the movement, sometimes in radically different guises. The form of the movement is a cross between sonata form and rondo. And the movement is not without the pauses that today seem to be so much a part of the work, while in Bruckner's time the pauses caused critics and audiences bewilderment. 

The main theme of the first movement returns as the coda begins, and after the music goes through some stops and starts, the movement comes to a blazing close in C major in the triplet rhythm of the beginning of the movement.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fine performance by the Chicago Symphony and Solti. The symphony is beautiful. It is meant to be taken at a spacious breadth. The tempi are slightly rushed but executed with elan.