Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bruckner - Symphony In F Minor

Symphony in F Minor was Bruckner's first attempt in the form. Bruckner wrote it as part of an assignment from his last composition teacher Otto Kitzler. It was written in 1863 and was never performed in Bruckner's lifetime. In fact, the symphony wasn't performed until 1924, and didn't have its first modern performance until 1974.  It was one of only two symphonies that Bruckner did not write after he moved to Vienna.  It was Otto Kitzler, cellist, conductor and teacher, that introduced Bruckner to Wagner as well as other composers by way of using examples of their music in his lessons.  Bruckner was ten years older than Kitzler, and they remained friends until Bruckner's death in 1896.

Although Bruckner dismissed the Symphony as Schularbeit (Schoolwork), he never destroyed it in later years as he did with other works that didn't please him.  As it is the first symphony known to have been written by Bruckner, whether the music was good or bad wouldn't detract from its curiosity value. But the symphony shows flashes of the Bruckner to come as well as the composers that had an early influence on him.

The symphony is scored for woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and the usual complement of strings. It is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro molto vivace - The symphony begins with a quiet, short motive in the strings that is answered by a louder motive in a fuller orchestration. These two motives comprise the first theme and are repeated along with other material until a second more flowing theme is given in the strings. The woodwinds then take up the second theme until it is brushed away with a loud motive in the brass. Yet another motive is played by the oboe and signals the end of the exposition, which is not repeated (at least in the recording linked at the end of this article, for the repeats are in the score). The development section perhaps shows more craft than inspiration. The opening motive pops up in the horns along with other material. Motives and fragments of themes come and go until a seamless segue to the recapitulation begins. Changes in key along with different lead-ins to themes give variety as the music moves to a coda that refers to parts of themes before the music increases in volume and ends.

II. Andante molto -  Bruckner was known for his adagio movements in his symphonies and glimpses of the great slow movements that were to come can be heard in this second movement.  The opening leads to a theme played by a pleading oboe. Bruckner alternates violins with woodwinds with a gentle lower string accompaniment. The music has a continual melodic feels until a minor key episode interrupts. The woodwinds and horns try to change the mood, but the minor key interruption returns but only briefly.  The music from the beginning of the movement is heard again and it is then that the listener realizes that this movement is also in sonata form, for this is a recapitulation. A coda further develops fragments of themes until the opening motive leads to a quiet ending with horn and timpani.

III. Scherzo, Schnell -  This is the movement that foreshadows the kind of music Bruckner was going to compose.  This scherzo already has the rhythmic drive and qualities of dynamics of the later Brucknerian scherzos, although not quite the intensity.  The trio section is in a slower tempo and in contrast to the scherzo, and shows the influence that Schumann had on Bruckner at this time.

IV. Allegro -  This may have been the movement that Kitzler meant specifically when he said the symphony was uninspired, for as a whole the movement isn't one of Bruckner's better works. But he was still a student (a 39-year old student at that) and as his following symphonies show, he was a fast learner.  It is in sonata form, and like the first movement the recording linked to does not repeat the exposition. The coda shifts the key to F major from F minor and the work ends with full orchestra.


  1. The Study Symphony may have been somewhat uninspired, but the Overture in G-minor that he wrote shortly before certainly wasn't. In fact I'm rather surprised that Bruckner didn't turn it into a complete symphony by adding three movements.

  2. The work is both delightful *and* inspired...mainly by Mendelssohn and Schumann...but inspired nevertheless. Not "mature" Bruckner, but so what?

    The designation "00" has no validity in Bruckner scholarship, but was rather the invention of the marketing gurus of the French record label Le Chant du Monde for their release of it and the "0" Nullte Symphony in performances by Gennadi Rozhdestvenski in a single set.

  3. It was first performed in 1964 at St James church in Piccadilly, London. I was there!