Klassik  Sinfonische Musik
Simone Young & Philharmoniker Hamburg Anton Bruckner: Sinfonie Nr. 4, Urfassung OC 629 SACD
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FormatSuper Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 629
Release date03.06.2008
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Bruckner, Anton

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      imone Young’s Hamburg Bruckner project has been received by professional journalists with great interest and thoroughly positive response. After release of the second and third symphonies, the edition’s third volume is now being released, again as a live recording from Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle. The principle behind this series is presenting the respective fi rst version of Bruckner’s works. That is what gives this outstanding SACD edition even more documentary signifi cance.

      Radical Approaches to Expression and Form
      Remarks about the first version of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in E-flat major (1874)

      The symphony in E-flat major, written in 1874, marks the peak of Bruckner’s creative period that lasted from 1872 to 1875; and is one of the most popular symphonies in music history. However, at the same time, the uncounted modifications and improvements the Maestro added almost manically also added up to previously unimaginable changes. While the situation is already almost inscrutable for the Symphony no. 3, we have to accept almost 10 different version numbers for the Symphony no. 4 in record catalogues and internet forums. It might therefore make sense to get an overview first.

      The version used for this recording is quite indisputably the most definite and obvious one in existence: it is the original, or ur-version written in 1874, the version that had to wait for more than 100 years to see its premiere.

      There is furthermore a version dated 1878 whose first three movements we are most familiar with today, especially the famous “hunting scherzo”, perhaps the most popular movement of a Bruckner symphony whatsoever. The finale of this version, however, the “folk festival”, as Bruckner himself called it, is nowadays published as a separate movement in the complete Bruckner edition. The first three movements written in 1878 have been played together with the finale written in 1880 ever since the first performance in 1881. It follows that the most widely used description of the Fourth by Bruckner is “version 1878/80”. Robert Haas used this version for his Bruckner complete edition compiled before WWII, although he called it “version 1881”, like the version later published by Leopold Nowak which in its turn was published as “written in 1886”. Haas used the date to refer to the premiere; Nowak instead used the date of the final personal revision by the composer’s hand as far as he knew to name the works.

      For a few years, we have now also been aware of another version dated 1888 in the Bruckner complete edition; this one presented by Benjamin M. Korstvedt. It indeed constitutes the final revision by Bruckner himself, and was used as the model for the first print edition of 1889. Both Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak rejected this version as they regarded it as one that Bruckner had not intended as a publishable one and claimed that his students Löwe and Schalk had compiled it. According to the latest findings of Bruckner researchers, this claim cannot be substantiated. Bruckner’s immediate and intensive involvement is sufficiently verified, and thus we have to refer to three versions for the Symphony no. 4, plus (similar to the Symphony no. 3) one independent movement (the above-mentioned “folk festival finale” written in 1878).

      The composer here presents a new development in form and changes in interpretation within this work as in no other of his entire oeuvre. He even completely rewrote large passages, occasionally without any thematic link to the first version. We therefore – and to a much greater extent than for the Second and the Third – have to speak of two distinct, independent pieces in the case of the Fourth, at least for the two versions of 1874 and the version 1878/80 known today. Both can be performed with equal justification.

      Despite the fact that Bruckner researchers, first and foremost Leopold Nowak and Manfred Wagner (whom the author would like to explicitly express his gratitude to for granting access to his works about Bruckner) in the last decades have repeatedly advocated that theory, interpreters were somewhat reluctant to turn to the first versions. All the more surprising is the development that occurred during the last few years during which prominent musicians of the middle and younger generations of conductors vehemently – and, at least some of them, exclusively – supported the first versions of Bruckner’s symphonies; thus not only opening up the way towards a completely new image of the Maestro from upper Austria, but also managing to definitely bring an element of innovation into Bruckner interpretation.

      In fact, familiarity with the first versions of the first four symphonies by Bruckner does not easily allow for an uncritical approach of Bruckner interpretations up to date. Anyone who ever undertakes the exciting journey through the scores of the first versions of the Second, Third and Fourth one after the other will, when afterwards reading the score of the Fifth (written immediately after the Fourth) become aware of a clear line of thought going through symphonies no. 2 to 5; and will also understand beyond the shadow of a doubt that what Bruckner actually wished to express is found only in the scores of his ur-versions. (An observation that is equally true for the Symphony no. 8 ). Such an understanding cannot remain without impact on the approaches to interpretation since many elements that can be found in the original Bruckner music, later withdrawn and qualified under the impression of the sometimes devastating reactions and over-enthusiastic advice from friends and students cannot be denied anymore. Once you have encountered Bruckner’s way of radically direct, free and overpowering writing, you are likely to have difficulty in coming to terms with those interpretations too closely resembling a high mass or those giving too little room to drama and passion.

      It is only natural that Bruckner developed compositional sophistication, technical mastery and refined his art of instrumentation. Nevertheless, any later version must be regarded as a compromise in terms of its core statement, especially when it comes to mellowing its radical approach to expression and form.

      However, the Symphony no. 4 in E-flat major will always be cause for a contradiction of the above statement. In the 1878/80 version, it is, together with the Symphony no. 7, Bruckner’s most popular work and includes – as mentioned above – the most popular and well-known instrumental piece by Bruckner, the “hunting scherzo”. It poses a stark contrast to the extremely rugged, gigantic scherzo and the much more comprehensive and, most of all, more complex exterior movements of the first version that definitely makes higher demands on the listener and especially on the orchestra musicians than the better known and more popular later version.

      Without embarking on the task of a detailed analysis – which would not be possible in this space – we shall now turn to a short overview over Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in its original version. It is, firstly, the first symphony in his oeuvre that is written in a major key.

      However, even before we get to the work itself, we discover a subtitle – the only Bruckner symphony to have been given one by the composer himself: the “romantic”. Before analysing the work, we therefore have to answer the question of what Bruckner meant by “romantic”. In his Bruckner monograph, Constantin Floros quite rightly pointed out that Bruckner’s musical image of Romanticism was mainly determined by how he experienced Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin. Bruckner’s statements on Wagner’s musical dramas do not lack a certain naivety, but the most important understanding one can gain is to comprehend why Bruckner all his life never really contemplated writing an opera. As much as he admired Wagner, he was only interested in very specific extracts of a work in addition to the musical language. The political element in Wagner remained completely alien to him, but he did take the musical mood of Lohengrin as he perceived it as being the epitome of Romanticism. In one of the few programmatic explanations to his Symphony no. 4, Bruckner outlined the first movement to a friend: “Medieval city – at dawn – early morning calls from the city towers – the gates open – the knights gallop out into the fields on their proud horses – the magic of the forest surrounds them – the rustling of the leaves – the song of birds.” As for any composer from Beethoven to Mahler, such programmatic statements must be taken with a large grain of salt, and of course Bruckner had no intention of painting a romanticist picture of nature with the means of music; no more so than Beethoven in his Sixth or Mahler in his Third. And yet we have to remember that musical inspiration before achieving its actual shape through form and development must come from an inspiration that is linked to real life, or the composer’s feelings and his point of view or understanding of the world.

      The first movement of this “romantic” symphony originally was titled Allegro and kept in alla breve time (the later revision also includes a reduction of tempo – as so often is the case in Bruckner’s work. In 1878/80, we find: animated, not too fast; and the version of 1888 even says: quiet, animated (but not fast) (allegro molto moderato), and Bruckner even adds a metronome instruction: a half note = 72).

      The characteristic Bruckner tremolo in the string section accompanies a horn cantilena, presented by the solo horn playing piano. This already comprises the basic character of the entire symphony and at the same time forms the crucial thematic starting point. This main theme presented by the horn unites three important elements: firstly, the choice of the instrument that plays it, secondly, the melodic line and thirdly, the rhythmic element that continually places a semiquaver before the semibreve at the end of the phrase, a turn that contributes to the basic rhythm of the entire symphony to an almost incredible extent. Together with the second descending theme played by the trombones, this first theme almost forms a first episode. The second episode then introduces the typical real second theme that is typical for Bruckner’s symphonies: practically always of a lyrical character, and beginning with the first violins in the Symphony no. 4. This sets in at letter B (all letters and bars referred to in the following relate to the score of the A. Bruckner complete edition vol. IV/ Ed. L. Nowak, 1975, revised 1990). From bar 83 onwards, we can discern a new theme in the string section that is related to the second theme of the first episode. At the same time, Bruckner once more adds the horn calls on top. From C onwards, this development of the exposition culminates in a first summary, almost a “minicoda”: a system Bruckner particularly makes use of in this symphony. All the levels and relationships are so complex and multi-layered even at the beginning of the work that Bruckner feels compelled to organise them, to get things straight; and he therefore adds intermediate summaries. From D to F, the development then takes us to the actual end of the exposition, and the development sets in after a kind of bridge that serves to increasingly reduce the tempo: two bars before letter H.

      As in the first versions of the Symphonies nos. 2 and 3, many modifications of the tempo and rests dominate the overall picture of the movement. The composer would later almost completely eliminate the pauses except for one, and he would also streamline the tempo. In contrast to the Symphonies nos. 2 and 3, he no longer uses mostly fermatas to create those structuring rests, but actual empty bars written into the score. While a full analysis of the complex structures in this movement is impossible at this point, I would like to point out some peculiarities, as, for example, the sudden appearance of the sextuplet at letter N, or at P, where the recapitulation at the same time presents new thematic material. Bruckner then continues to bring the dynamic development to an extreme head (at Q) before the recapitulation of the second episode sets in at R, following one of the many structuring rests. Bruckner’s modulations would be worth their own study: after many “journeys” through the keys, he eventually arrives at the original key of E-flat major four bars before letter W. If one were so inclined, one could claim that from W onwards, there is a development of a pre- or first coda before the actual and, for such an enormous movement, very short coda that is very typical of Bruckner begins at letter X after a general rest and brings the movement to a close.

      The second movement, a funeral march in C minor, begins with a pizzicato passage in the higher strings while the first theme is presented by the cellos in legato from bar 3 onwards. It is obviously based on the horn theme of the first movement. Four bars before letter A, the horn is added in ppp, although it has only rhythmical functions at this point. As in the first versions of his previous symphonies, Bruckner adds a relatively fast tempo instruction to his second movement: Andante quasi Allegretto. (The final version dated 1888 then only says Andante, with metronome instructions of 66 for a crotchet). Another typical element for the first versions is that there is an Adagio part suddenly added on after the exposition (at letter C) that returns to the basic tempo after a general rest at D, where the second theme is introduced, played by the violas. Bruckner later repeats such a tempo bridge at letter H. (In the second version of 1878/80, however, the basic tempo is kept without changes except for one passage shortly before the end that is slightly slower. The 1888 version again includes a large number of exactly prescribed changes of tempo). The second movement also adheres to the basic sonata form. It could be structured in a more precise A1-A2-B-C pattern, although one also seems to discern a rondo form.

      Let us now take a somewhat closer look at the scherzo, since Bruckner research so far has not given it the attention it deserved and there is hardly any information to be found about it, except for that it is based on the first horn motif in the symphony and was later replaced by the popular “hunting scherzo”.

      It is precisely this original third movement that is often used in the argumentation against the ur-versions. On the one hand, this can easily be explained by the popularity the later version gained, but also by our laziness in listening habits. Upon a first listening, this movement seems ragged, restless, seems strangely unbalanced and difficult to come to terms with. In truth, it is, naturally, like every other of Bruckner’s symphony movements: designed with a strict architectural principle in mind. Once one starts to study the movement more closely, it is impossible not to be fascinated by it.

      In principle, the scherzo is designed according to the classical form of ABA. The movement starts out with a horn call that is answered by an onrush from the orchestra which, however, quickly subsides again. The horn call resounds once more, again answered by the onrush from the part of the orchestra, this time much more extensive and making use of material referring back to the first movement (see the second violins at letter R). This A part of the scherzo has its own little coda (from letter D of the third movement). The B part (starting at E) once again is heralded by the horn call. The first answer is even more abbreviated in comparison with the exposition while the second horn call is answered by the orchestra using new material that will later be re-used in the trio. This B part ends at bar 23 1, and is followed by a repetition of the A part. The irregular orchestra replies to the six horn calls which seem somewhat unbalanced upon first listening actually reveal themselves after closer listening as the source of fascination in this scherzo.

      In the trio, we find another extreme examples of that typical Bruckner rhythm of 3:2. The composer leads light pizzicato figures in the lower string section against open fourths and fifths in duplets, thus creating a complete counter line. Once more, we realise just what it was that Bruckner’s contemporaries, among them even his closest friends, regarded as too daring and too extreme for the listeners. The second theme of the trio is not really a theme, as the pizzicato figure is merely reversed and led against the legato line. The listener seems to encounter a new theme although no really new material is used. We would like to specifically mention one development a few bars before letter B in the trio where the melodic development in the violins is reduced to a semitone and finds a pianissimo reply at the minor third from the flutes and clarinets in bars 79 to 80, giving the movement its energetic low point. The coda starts at letter C of the trio. For the first time, Bruckner lets the cellos and double-basses play the theme, with the horn subtly coming in at pp and ppp, a move that prepares the transition to the repetition of the scherzo. What follows then is a shock entry of the movement’s coda, completely unprepared and based on a further development of the horn call rhythm. The 2:3 position is pushed forward to new extremes, and the effect is magnified when, 14 bars before the end of the movement, the key rather suddenly reveals itself to be E major.

      The final movement underwent the most dramatic changes in the course of time, second only to the scherzo. All three versions use the same thematic material as their base: six themes which, however, are developed in very different ways in the different versions.

      A staccato passage in the bass section begins the movement. It is followed by one of the most astonishing and, for many, disturbing inspirations Bruckner had: Quaver thirds in the violins squarely running towards each other immediately convey a chromatic character of the piece. The movement in its original form is designed as a movement of majestic dimensions (616 bars in the first versions, compared to 477 in the second and 514 in the third version). The introduction alone consists of three great rising and subsiding surges. The first theme is firmly embedded in the middle one (at letter A).

      As early as in bar 11, we reencounter the horn theme of the first movement: this time, it first appears in the oboe score, followed by the horn, and, at letter A (as mentioned above), we find the first actual theme in the fourth movement.

      The second theme sets in at letter C. Its quintuplets introduce one of the main characteristics of the ur-version of the finale. Both themes are now developed until letter F where the exposition culminates. The second episode starts five bars later.

      The second episode can also be divided into three passages which the composer clearly marked by rests. It finishes at J where the exposition eventually comes to a close.

      This is where the development begins, designed on the same grand scope. It is itself a three-partite section. Once again, Bruckner later simplified those characteristic quintuplets of the first version and instead used crotchets and quavers or sextuplets respectively.

      The reprise starts at letter R and first deals with the first thematic group, not the actual theme. The second theme then follows at letter T.

      The coda eventually sets in at Y, once again emerging in “surges”. The rhythmic diversity combined with intertwining motifs is of a unique density. At the same time, dynamics continue to rise and the quintuplets gradually capture the entire orchestra until all the wind instruments play them three bars before the end.

      This brief overview should simply serve to point out the immense wealth this first version represents. Naturally, it cannot and should not be regarded as a substitute for a full analysis.

      It is important to understand that the changes Bruckner introduced at a later point, regardless of how successful they may be when seen as individual details, must needs remain a compromise when compared with the wealth of ideas, the rhythmic and harmonious variety and the radical nature of the first version. This is where we can encounter Bruckner at his most fascinating, listen to his original, true language.

      As in the case of the Symphonies nos. 2 and 3, this present recording is a live recording of a subscription concert played in December 2007 by the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by their chief conductor Simone Young at the Laeiszhalle Hamburg.

      Michael Lewin

      translation: ar-pege translations This work owes valuable ideas and thoughts to the following publications:
      L. Novak: Über A. Bruckner. Die drei Final-Sätze zur IV. Symphonie (About A.Bruckner. The Three Final Movements of the Symphony no. 4); M. Wagner: Der Wandel des Konzepts: Zu den verschiedenen Fassungen von Bruckners Dritter, Vierter und Achter Symphonie (The Change of Concept: On the Different Versions of Bruckner’s Symphonies No. 3, 4 and 8); Die Symphonien von Anton Bruckner (Anton Bruckner’s Symphonies) (ed. R. Ulm): Rüdiger Heinze: IV. Symphonie (Symphony no. 4) and conversations with Simone Young). ML

      Tracklist hide

      SACD 1
      • Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
        Symphony No. 4 “romantische” E-Flat Major, original version 1874
        • 1.Allegro19:54
        • 2.Andante quasi allegretto18:28
        • 3.Sehr schnell. Trio. Im gleichen Tempo12:45
        • 4.Finale [Allegro moderato]18.53
      • Total:51:07