Simone Young, conductor
Simone Young’s work as music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic and general
manager of the Hamburg State Opera has created a furor – both at the opera house as well as in the Laeiszhalle, where symphony concerts are held. One of her major focuses will be the performance of Bruckner symphonies in their original versions – a series to be documented by OehmsClassics. The live recording of her March 2006 concert of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 in the original version from 1872 is now available.
Listening to this performance, it is amazing how much impetuousness and originality, in the formal sense, Bruckner’s music lost in later “toned down” revisions. The original version of the “Second”, published by William Carragan in 2005, shows the entire creative energy of a symphonic composer who has set out to conquer the musical world.
Emergence in “Later Times”
On Anton Bruckner’s ‘First Versions’ in general and his 1872 version of the Second Symphony in particular
Urfassung, Erstfassung, Originalfassung, Fassung letzter Hand… the number and variety of terms found in connection with Bruckner’s symphonic works have created hopeless confusion for over a century, and are nowhere near exhausted by this short list.
One could almost get the impression that a discussion of version problems has replaced any real confrontation with the Upper Austrian
composer’s symphonic works, although precisely this study of original scores can help us more plausibly answer the question “which version?” – even if some controversies will never conclusively be answered.
In the last several years, however, thanks to publication of the complete edition of Anton Bruckner’s works founded by Leopold Nowak, we can now study all essential versions of the composer’s symphonic works in their entirety.
The most important missing element of this collection, however, the first version of the Second Symphony from 1872, was finally
published in 2005, i.e. in the first version that Bruckner released it.
Simone Young’s advocacy for this version of the Second Symphony accelerated its long overdue publication after she made it known that she would be conducting it in 2004 in Berlin, 2005 in Vienna and finally, in 2006 in Hamburg. This recording is based on the latter performances.
The conductor’s support for the early versions
is not that unusual, considering developments
in past years. Over 100 years after Bruckner’s death, the age the composer had secretly hoped for has finally come, when he inasmuch said that the earlier versions of his works were meant “for later times and a circle of friends and music-lovers”.
Numerous conductors of the middle and younger generation have recently begun to favor performance of the original scores, thus enabling us to experience a completely new and sometimes surprising side of the composer. This will also affect perception of those works which have only come down to us in one form.
We should now take a moment to review Bruckner’s situation when he created his early
version of the Second Symphony:
He wrote the First Symphony between early 1865 until spring 1866 in Linz. Only afterwards
(which is often forgotten), in 1869, did he write the later annulled D Minor Symphony,
which was given the misleading title Symphony No. 0. The Second Symphony, written between October 1871 and September 1872, came next, followed by the Third, from between 1872 and 1873, the Fourth in 1874 and the Fifth, written in 1875/76.
This chronology is eminently significant. It shows that half of Bruckner’s symphonic works was written in succession and within only ten years. Disregarding the First Symphony,
Bruckner took only five years from the time he began the Second Symphony until completing the Fifth.
If one takes the trouble (or more accurately: if one has the pleasure) to chronologically and rapidly read the scores of the first versions of these symphonies, from the first version of the First to the last movement of the Fifth, it is difficult
to hold back one’s astonishment. Finally, the big picture is revealed – similar to that in Mahler’s first four symphonies – as well as an inner connection among all. Even more, however,
one sees a logical development from the First to the Fifth that is not nearly as evident in the later versions and which has unjustly led the Second Symphony, as one of Bruckner’s early works, to lead a life in the shadows.
In these first sketches, not yet having to consider various interests nor being irritated by setbacks, Anton Bruckner speaks to us with an exuberant romanticism which he would never again be able to do in this carefree
Of course, his later masterpieces achieve a formal and instrumental solidity that Bruckner
was simply unable to accomplish in earlier works, but these first versions show us a composer
who had boisterously set out to conquer Vienna, that is, what was for him the musical world. The later versions of the first four symphonies,
no matter how popular they have become,
reveal much less of this Bruckner.
When Bruckner wrote these works, much had built up in him. After all, he hadn’t dared to write symphonic works until the age of 40. He had an immense amount to say, and he did so in a manner that he never again dared to after the first reactions and obstacles.
Of course, as no one disputes, the first versions reveal the congenial organ virtuoso much more than later “improvements” or his other works. But it is the élan, the disarming
honesty with which he expressed his soul, which we see clearly and undisguised in these first blueprints. Those who make an effort to follow Bruckner’s path from the first version of the First Symphony through the first versions of his following works, up to the end of the Fifth Symphony, will never again be able to accept Bruckner’s later revisions without a qualm. No matter which version an interpreter chooses to perform or which one a music-lover
prefers – knowledge of these early versions changes one’s image of Bruckner forever.
Now, a broad audience will finally have acoustic access to these early versions. As the beginning of a large-scale Bruckner cycle to be released by Simone Young and “her” Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the first versions of the first four symphonies as well as the Eighth are in planning.
This cycle commences with the Second Symphony. As mentioned above, and as gratefully
acknowledged by publisher William Carragan
in the score’s preface, Simone Young was instrumental in promoting dissemination of this version of the work.
In the case of the Second Symphony, it cannot be said that the original version is partly a completely different work, as is the case with the Third, Fourth or Eighth. Although Bruckner’s revisions here are not as radical as in later symphonies, when he sometimes re-composed entire movements, the difference in the versions is still sensational as well as dramatic in its effects on the overall work.
If we want to be precise, we must speak of four versions of the Second Symphony:
The original version from 1872 (used here),
The original performance version from 1873
The performance version from 1876 and
The revised version from 1877.
In addition, the version by Robert Haas (1938), which is based on the 1877 version but also includes parts of the 1872 version, has been used by significant Bruckner interpreters in the past and is still even in use.
This makes it evident that as easy as the situation
may seem at first glance, it isn’t, even with the Second Symphony. But the state of affairs is even more complex with following symphonies.
In the end, no one can really say why Bruckner made the changes he did: acquiescence
to imagined objections, consideration of others, external pressure, or due to his own conviction.
It is legitimate in any case, however, to view the 1873 and 1876 versions as transitional
stages and not independent versions. With this in mind, we will now briefly compare the original concept and the last version.
At a very early stage, the composer changed the order of the movements – which many had felt to be reminiscent of the dramaturgy
of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – by switching the second movement, a Scherzo, with the following movement, an Adagio. Furthermore, in the later version, he almost entirely eliminated – almost certainly at the urging of his friends and supporters, above all Johann Herbeck – the most conspicuous feature of the first movement: eight of the nine famous long grand pauses in this creation are completely gone.
Eliminating these caesuras, which must at first have been extremely important to Bruckner
and which have decisive dramaturgical and musical significance, caused him to make additional changes to the first movement’s architecture.
In addition, Bruckner also distinctly reduced the tempo relationships. If the first movement of the 1872 version is given as Allegro. Ziemlich
schnell, he has simply written Moderato in 1877. Transitions and rubatos, precisely notated in the original version whenever they occur, are, for the most part, left out in the 1877 version,
particularly in the first movement.
The second movement Scherzo is originally given as Schnell. Moved into third place five years later, the composer now calls it Mäßig schnell; further tempo modifications have been eliminated as well. The slow movement in both versions is listed as Feierlich, etwas bewegt, but in the first version (i.e. when still the third movement), it is designated Adagio, in 1877, as the second movement, it is strangely enough called Andante. (For the first time in a symphony, Bruckner used the expression “Feierlich”,
which would later become virtually a trademark for him.) The Finale is titled in both versions as Mehr schnell and is in Alla breve – but this movement shows the most changes.
In instrumentation and dynamics, the later version has been considerably smoothed out, tempered and also simplified for the orchestral
musicians (interestingly, the first versions of the first four symphonies often place much higher technical demands on the performers).
Finally, it is structural changes to the movements,
mostly cuts, that make up the most essential
But only counting measures says little about actual textual revisions, for even in the
* If one looks at average performance times of the later version and compares these with Simone Young’s certainly not slow tempos, one sees that the first version of the Second Symphony lasts a good ten minutes longer than the version from 1877.
In measures one sees the following:
1. The first movement has 583 measures instead of 570 in the later version (here, elimination of the grand pauses plays the major role)
2. The second movement (i.e. the Scherzo, played here in second place, but compared with the third-movement Scherzo in the later version) from 1872: 154 measures; 1877 not much more: 157; but the Trio of this movement has 125 measures instead of later 121 measures.
3. The third movement (1872 the Adagio, later the second movement): 211 measures as opposed to 209 measures in 1877.
This means that the first three movements are approximately
the same in both versions.
4. In the fourth movement, however, the 1872 version has 806 measures as opposed to the 1877 version with 702 measures, the later version is substantially shorter.
first movements of the two versions, Bruck-ner’s formal and periodical fanaticism hides to some extent various major changes he made to their structures. This now brings us to the basic idea of the Second Symphony.
The composer considered his First Symphony
to be an “impudent young lass”. This work, together with his Third Symphony, whose dedication was accepted by Richard Wagner, laid the foundation for the misunderstanding that the former was a bold act, the latter the first “real” Bruckner symphony – an opinion still held by many today. But it is precisely the original version of the Second Symphony that shows that it should be labeled the first “real” Bruckner symphony, seeing as how it is the first to open with the famous piano tremolo in the strings. The first movement contains an overwhelming
number of ideas and themes, which are not only cleverly interwoven, but which expound
on the relationship of the movements to each other in the manner Bruckner would later become famous for. This layering of extremely varied levels and musical ideas is first used by Bruckner here – but already with great artistry.
Trumpet signals which appear as early as measure 20 suddenly reappear in the Scherzo and are eventually resolved in the Finale; although
we must note here that beginning with the Second Symphony, Bruckner conceived of all of his works more or less from the Finale. The first movement of the work can be called lyrical – it opens with a gentle melody in the cellos
– before the previously mentioned trumpet signals enter and disturb the idyll. The second theme as well, also heard first in the celli, is just as lyrical as the following march-like melody. The woodwinds introduce yet another lyrical theme, but Bruckner’s almost dialectical compositional
art rhythmically thwarts this lyricism time and time again. Altogether, five themes can be found in this movement. The manner in which the movement is structured by the grand pauses – which must be understood as integral musical elements – is in light of the thematic multiplicity just as understandable as the two build-ups to the great crescendo with the main theme (unfortunately cut in the later version), before the theme enters in the coda.
The first movement already shows that in its original version, not only was Bruckner more radical and uncompromising, but structurally
more convincing than he later was (because
he was more convinced).
That he placed the martial Scherzo after the overall lyrical first movement – despite all rhythmic diversification – seems more logical and persuasive in the original version than his later exchange of the middle movements. The connection to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is apparent – not only due to the position of the middle movements, but from their characters as well. The essence of this second movement has often been correctly characterized as warlike
and “brassy”, but it is contrasted, however, both by a lyrical theme as well as an emotional Trio in Ländler style. A distinctive feature in this symphony is also the introduction to the coda of this movement by the solo tympani – which Bruckner never did again. We do hear the trumpets
from the first movement in this passage again, however.
The Adagio also seems to more logically fulfill the composer’s original intentions in its original position. It consists of five sections plus a coda. Both this third movement as well as the Finale contain direct quotes from Bruckner’s F Minor Mass. The build-up to these quotes, their incorporation
and preparation is interfered with by the cuts in later versions, which seem in various respects to be less convincing and not always intelligible. A quote from the Benedictus of Bruckner’s
mass, “Qui venit”, repeated twice, is at the center of the Adagio. At first it is only hinted at, but it finally resounds in the strings. The original version of this movement masterfully intensifies as it approaches this quote, and Bruckner also places one of his famous grand pause before actually
stating it, introducing an additional moment of tension as well as the indication: “I have something
important to say here” (as the composer later more or less explained what the function of his grand pauses was). This third movement is virtually
the original form of all later slow movements in Bruckner’s symphonies, and bridges the gap to the famous Adagio of the Ninth Symphony, which was to clinch Bruckner’s legacy as a symphonic composer. The movement’s form seems clear, but Bruckner’s skill in developing his material is no less admirable here than in the work’s other movements or in many other symphonic movements
in his oeuvre. Some themes and quotes from the mass are handled more as chamber music, some resemble powerful chorales, but all emphasize the religious atmosphere of the movement.
Another special feature found in the original version is a solo horn passage at the end of the Adagio in a range that was extremely difficult for
instruments of the time – but which is of highly moving beauty.
As previously mentioned, the Finale solves many puzzles – even if it starts with a surprise, which, however, underscores the relationship of the movements to each other as well as the particular significance of the Finale: Bruckner begins by taking up the main theme of the first movement again. The Finale also cites the F Minor
Mass twice, once at the end of the exposition
and once at the end of the recapitulation. This time, however, it is part of the Kyrie that is quoted. The first occurrence is absolutely original:
at measure 202, Bruckner interrupts the music
– which is at a triple fortissimo – and inserts an almost three-measure long grand pause, before introducing the Kyrie-quote in the strings, set as a chorale. This Finale – formally in sonata-form with three theme groups, one of which is an extremely lyrical melody reminiscent of Schubert
– is gigantic in length alone. The movement’s
dimensions, however, are surpassed by the the intellectual superstructure of the work, both concerning the development of its themes and the parenthesis with quotes from the other movements in the work, and through its relation to quotes from the F Minor Mass.
In addition to the contemplative Kyrie quotes, this movement is shaped by nothing less than a fanatically rhythmic force. This finally leads to a nearly overwhelming finish in which the composer
reintroduces the main theme of the first movement in the coda before bringing the movement
to a radical close with the entire orchestra playing the basic rhythm of the first movement at a triple fortissimo. Just this conclusion must even have shocked Bruckner, seeing as how he toned it down in all later versions.
In its original version, Anton Bruckner’s Second Symphony is in no way a compromise between the First and the Third, but just the opposite; in any event, it is the logical foundation
for the development of the composer’s further symphonic works.
For essential ideas of this essay, the author wishes to thank Manfred Wagner for his work on the problems raised by Bruckner’s various versions, Constantin Floros: A. Bruckner – Persönlichkeit und Werk, Hamburg 2004, as well as B. Rzehulka’s analysis, published in 1988 in Munich.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler