Monday, February 6, 2012

Bruckner - Symphony No. 8

As with most of his other symphonies, Bruckner rewrote the 8th on the advice of Hermann Levi, the conductor that was to premiere the work.   The first version of the symphony was completed in 1888 and sent to Levi and after reading through it and giving his opinion, the conductor told Bruckner that he could not "make the symphony his own".  After giving it some thought, Bruckner agreed and completed his revisions of the work in 1890.

The work was supposed to be premiered in Munich, but by the time the revisions were done Levi was unavailable and the conductor he recommended to take his place kept postponing the premiere, evidently due to lack of rehearsal time to adequately prepare the symphony. Bruckner then changed the premiere city to Vienna and Hans Richer finally conducted the premiere in 1892.

The symphony is in the usual 4 movements and begins with a reminiscence of Beethoven's 9th Symphony with tremolos in the high strings and the first theme stated in the low strings. There are three themes in the first movement, one of Bruckner's innovations to standard sonata form, and the second theme is stated by the full orchestra in the so-called Bruckner rhythm of two quarter notes followed by a quarter triplet. This movement is also notable because it ends quietly, and is the only example of this in any first movement of a Bruckner symphony. Bruckner himself alluded to the quietness of the ending as representing death.

The second movement is the Scherzo, which often times was the third movement in a Bruckner symphony. The opening kind of reminds me of Wagner's style in a way, but the further it goes the more Brucknerian it gets. It is also the longest scherzo of any Bruckner symphony.

The third movement is an expansive Adagio, is pure Bruckner, and has some exquisite writing for horns. the orchestration in general is lush. The orchestra builds to a shattering climax and then slowly winds down with the horns and strings singing together. This movement runs over twenty minutes usually but it is pure Bruckner as the music transcends time.

Bruckner uses recollections of the other themes in the symphony in the finale. I say recollections because he doesn't always give a direct quote of the theme but he uses the rhythm or a piece of the melody. This gives a kind of déjà vu effect to the movement, as the themes seem familiar but not quite recognizable.  Bruckner does give a quote of the scherzo theme near the end of the movement, and it ends in a blaze of Brucknerian glory.

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