Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bruckner - Symphony No. 4 'Romantic'

Of all Bruckner's symphonies (9 official, 11 if you include numbers 0 and 00) the 4th is the only one that Bruckner himself gave a subtitle to, 'Romantic'.  Bruckner did have a 'program' for this symphony, dealing with medieval German life and hunters with their horns and such. Whether that is actually what he meant with the subtitle is anybody's guess, for it isn't known for sure if Bruckner had all of this in mind before he composed it, while he composed it or after he composed it.  Personally, I don't see Bruckner as a writer of program music like Liszt, where a subject outside of music is the inspiration for a composition. I think it is another of Bruckner's attempts to try and appeal to an audience and increase the chance to get his music heard.

The 4th is one of Bruckner's most popular works since its premiere in 1881 conducted by Hans Richter. This performance is of the 1880 version, the third of seven versions of this symphony. Bruckner rewrote movements, substituted new movements for old, made cuts and additions to this symphony from the original edition in 1874 to the final revision in 1888. If all that isn't confusing enough, Gustav Mahler made his own edition of the symphony in the late 19th century which was heavily cut and re-orchestrated.  The edition used in the following recording is the Nowak edition based on the 1886 edition.

The symphony begins with a single horn playing over tremolo strings. This is the main theme of the movement and is heard throughout. The brass section especially the horns are prominent in this movement. The second movement is song-like and different than a typical Brucknerian slow movement. The third movement is ushered in like the beginning of the first with tremolo strings but this time with horns and the other brass. In Bruckner's program, this movement represents hunters , the hunt and in the trio a peaceful song while the hunters eat after the hunt. The fourth movement begins yet again with string tremolos, but with a plodding accompaniment in the bass strings and a distant melody heard in the horns.

A few words about the conductor of the following recording of the 4th, George Solti.  Solti was born in Hungary and was a fine pianist in his youth. He heard a performance of Beethoven's 5th symphony and decided hne wanted to be a conductor when he was 14 years old. He studied at the Franz Liszt Academy under Bela Bartok and others.  He came up the ranks in the opera house until he conducted his first opera in 1938 at the Budapest Opera house. When Hitler annexed Austria that same year,  the Hungarian government became very pro-Hitler and anti-semitism ran rampant. Solti being Jewish fled the country and moved to Switzerland where he earned a living as a pianist.  He won the Geneva International Piano Competition but had to wait until the end of the war to get back to conducting.

He held numerous positions with many different orchestras through the years but is best known for his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1969 to 1991. He was the first conductor to record Wagner's The Ring Of The Niebelungen in its entirety in a studio. He was a much-recorded conductor and still holds the record for the number of Grammy Awards won by a conductor with 31. Solti died in 1997.

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