Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bruckner - Symphony No. 3

When Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896) paid a visit to Richard Wagner in 1873, he brought along his 2nd and 3rd Symphonies.  He wanted to dedicate one or the other to Wagner, his musical idol, and he wanted to give the master his choice.

Wagner welcomed Bruckner, whereon Bruckner began to shower him with praises and idol worship. Wagner's ego was at least as large as his genius for composition, so he took the praise as usual, like he deserved it. He poured a glass of beer for Bruckner and himself (an act that sent Bruckner into rhapsodies of "Imagine the master pouring a beer for me!" in a later letter) and began to read through the symphonies. They drank beer and talked, or at least Wagner talked. He usually did all the talking. Bruckner was most likely too awe-struck to say much.

Wagner made his choice, and Bruckner left.  But Bruckner being Bruckner, after he got back to his room he couldn't remember which symphony Wagner chose for the dedication, either because of the excitement of the occasion (or the beer).  So Bruckner had to write him and ask, "Symphony in D minor, where the trumpet begins the theme?"  Wagner wrote back and answered, "Yes! Best wishes! Richard Wagner." Wagner always referred to  "Bruckner the Trumpet" after the incident.  Wagner did seem to be impressed with symphony, especially the opening. He later said that Bruckner was the only symphonist that came close to Beethoven.  And the silhouette of Wagner offering a pinch of snuff to Bruckner is misleading. Bruckner was a tall, large-framed man who would have dwarfed Wagner's 5'5" frame. As for Bruckner's dedication, he called Wagner "the unreachable world-famous noble master of poetry and music."

The 3rd Symphony was premiered in 1877. The conductor who was to lead the orchestra died at the last minute so Bruckner lead the orchestra. Bruckner was not a very good orchestral conductor and by the time the symphony was over most of the audience and even some of the orchestra had left.  This depressed him so much he immediately began to revise the score. After many different editions, the original manuscript was found and it is the original version of the symphony edited in 1877 that is generally played.

Bruckner's  Symphony No. 3 in D minor is in 4 movements:

I. Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso - In typical Bruckner fashion, the first movement is in his own style of sonata form. Bruckner's use of groups of themes begins with the trumpet playing the opening over a constant string accompaniment. This opening is continued until it reaches a huge climax with the orchestra playing in unison. The next part of this theme group is calmer and leads to another loud outburst from the orchestra. This first theme group is repeated, with slight variations and leads into the second theme group. The second group of themes is more lyrical and begins in the strings. The so-called Bruckner rhythm (two beats followed by three beats is contained within this second group. The second group develops into a climax for full orchestra, after which a third theme group is ushered in by the brass. The brass play a variant of the very opening trumpet theme. The exposition ends with a climax dominated by the brass. The development begins mysteriously and soon concentrates on the opening trumpet theme. The theme is varied, and some of the other parts of the first theme group are commented on. Bruckner uses bits of themes, offers themes in counterpoint, and the development section slowly grows to a tremendous climax as the brass utilizes the trumpet theme. Parts of themes appear after the brass climax and lead directly to the recapitulation where all the theme groups are repeated, with some parts varied and modulated to keys different than the opening. The first movement ends in a coda that contains a repeat of the trumpet theme in a from the brass with thundering. This alternates with a gentle repeat of other material until the brass takes control and blares out the opening trumpet theme in a faster tempo with the strings churning out an accompaniment along with the roaring timpani.

II. Adagio, Bewegt, quasi Andante - This movement is built upon three themes. The serene opening theme is carried by the violins and slowly expands chromatically and in volume until it reaches yet more chromatic shifting. It suddenly grows soft, then returns to intensity in the violins with underpinnings by the horns. Again it grows softer, the music expands once again until the woodwinds make a comment followed by the strings and the brass. The second theme is first carried by the violas and expands to other instruments. The second theme ends with a pause, and the third theme begins softly in the violins. This theme is expanded and developed at length. The second theme returns and undulates in tension and volume until it reaches a huge climax. The first theme has to make several attempts to gain a foothold as the brass keep trying to shoo it away. But it finally prevails and reaches its own high point. The movement ends with gentle strings, woodwinds and horns.

III. Scherzo - Ziemlich schnell - The music begins softly with not so much as a theme as a rhythm, and rapidly builds in volume. It reaches the top of the crescendo falls back slightly, reaches the top of another crescendo and pauses. The soft beginning starts the second section of the scherzo and the music dies down for a repeat of the opening.  The trio is an Austrian ländler in a major key. The scherzo is repeated verbatim, and in the edition played in the accompanying video there is a short coda that sums up the scherzo.

IV. Finale, Allegro - This movement is also in Bruckner's version of sonata form. The first theme begins with strings playing a rapid figure while the brass put forth a fanfare similar to the trumpet theme in the first movement. There is an abrupt halt and the second more casual theme is played in the strings.  Another halt and a loud third theme is brought forth from the orchestra. The music works up to a huge climax with some mellow after thoughts by the horns and the exposition section is complete. The development concerns itself mostly with the opening brass fanfare but some snippets of other themes are sprinkled throughout it. There is a repeat of the second theme, then the third. The music flows to the end, repeating parts of themes along the way until the trumpets play the theme of the very opening of the symphony. The full orchestra plays  a tremendous accompaniment as the trumpet theme ends the symphony.

1 comment:

  1. There are so many versions of the Bruckner symphonies that one can be forgiven for listening to a different symphony each time. The third is a perfect example.
    Because his revisions stretch out for nearly twenty years of his career, the final 1889/90 version (which is the most popular in concert halls) is a very different beast to the original of 1873 and the version which had a disastrous premier.
    I think this is the 1877 version which is a compromise between the two extremes. It contains much of the originals orchestration but was drastically cut.