Klassik  Sinfonische Musik
Simone Young & Philharmoniker Hamburg Anton Bruckner: Sinfonie Nr. 8, Urfassung (1887) OC 638 2 CD
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Format2 Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 638
Release date06.07.2009
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Bruckner, Anton

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      Philharmoniker Hamburg
      Simone Young, conductor

      Simone Young and the Philharmoniker Hamburg trace the original form of Bruckner’s symphonies. The original versions of Symphonies 2, 3 and 4 have already been published, and now the cycle continues with the large-format Eighth in the version from 1887. Naturally, it is available in the music-lovers’ favourite SACD format which gives the listener the feeling of actually being in the audience in the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg.

      Awareness of the Content in the Original Form Thoughts on the first version of Anton Bruckner’s great C minor Symphony of 1887

      Anton Bruckner’s great C minor Symphony in the first version of 1887 takes us into a hitherto unknown region of the problem of versions with which the Upper Austrian composer’s symphonies have always been associated. While the Symphonies nos. 2–5 were written with great momentum and were then, often years later, revised to produce one or even two other versions, the Eighth Symphony came into being in entirely different circumstances. Composed when Bruckner was at the height of his powers, it followed the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, all of which have come down to us in only one version. The Seventh had been triumphantly successful in Leipzig and Munich, and Bruckner’s fame as a composer spread far beyond his native Austria. He had at last enjoyed the enthusiasm of an unprejudiced audience, and with the resultant feeling of elation, with self-assurance and – this must be particularly noted – with the compositional experience of three-quarters of his life’s work behind him, he wrote between the summer of 1884 and the summer of 1887 what is his most extensive work in terms of performing time (the first version of the Third Symphony has a still greater number of bars). The dimensions of the work only partly account for the comparatively long time it took to complete; the complexity of the material also demanded a good deal of time to develop and transform. Bruckner was beside himself with euphoria directly afterwards. He was still filled with pride at his recent achievement in his letter dated September 4, 1887 to Hermann Levi, who had triumphantly conducted his Seventh Symphony in Munich three years earlier and whom he effusively referred to as his “artistic father”. Bruckner had also already tackled the first movement of his next symphony (the Ninth). A few weeks after obsequiously sending the completed score to the conductor, Bruckner received the unexpected, completely devastating answer from Munich: Levi could not find his way around the work at all. In a letter to Bruckner’s pupil Josef Schalk, the famous conductor expressed his horror at the virtually stereotyped formal similarities in the symphony. While passing a few praiseful remarks on details, such as the exposition of the first movement, he particularly criticized the instrumentation in general, as well as large parts of the development of the material etc. The concluding sentence in the letter to Schalk: “Much may perhaps be achieved by a revision” did not only cause distress for Bruckner, but also initiated his immediate reworking of the score. As will be shown below, Levi’s verdict was virtually law. Left with the task of bringing the bad news to Bruckner, the Schalk brothers attempted to console the severely dejected composer, but also saw fit to endorse Levi’s recommendation of a revision. So it was that, for the first and only time in his life, Bruckner began to revise a work that he had just finished. Finally completed in the spring of 1890, almost six years after he had begun working on the Symphony, that revision would not be premiered in Munich. The first performance finally took place in December 1892, more than eight years after the beginning of composition, with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the large hall of the Musikverein in Vienna – a venue about which Bruckner had grave misgivings due to past experience. That was the last time Bruckner would experience a premiere of one of his works and it probably represented the greatest triumph of his life, and that in the face of his feared adversaries Johannes Brahms and Eduard Hanslick. It might be expected that that brings the story of the versions of this symphony to an end and that the successful premiere signifies that the second version is definitive. (The initial version was published only in 1971 and publicly performed in its entirety for the first time in 1973.)

      That is not the case, however. It so happens that the version which prevailed in the course of the twentieth century was not created by Anton Bruckner. Under the title “original version”, Robert Haas, the editor of the first complete edition of Bruckner’s works, published a score that is based on the revised version of 1890 but returns to the version of 1887 at decisive moments. Haas, whose general credit as a Bruckner scholar is not in the least called into question, believed above all that his studies showed which changes Bruckner had made out of his own inner conviction and which changes had been imposed upon him by the more or less well-meaning pressure of others. It is not the intention of this article to go into Robert Haas’s version in detail, but it must be mentioned because it has surprisingly been used up to the present day by respected Bruckner interpreters. The present live recording of the initial 1887 version of the Eighth Symphony continues the Bruckner cycle begun with the Second, Third and Fourth Symphonies and featuring the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of its music director Simone Young. The underlying premise is that the initial versions contain Bruckner’s original intention in a fundamental sense, and that the revised versions, notwithstanding details which might be considered improvements in terms of form or instrumentation, all represent a withdrawal and an alteration in the direction of artistic compromise. We have already attempted to prove as much in the detailed commentaries accompanying the symphonies thus far released. Our view of the Eighth is principally the same, except that the situation is still clearer. In contrast to the other symphonies that exist in various versions, there are extensive analyses of the differences between the two versions in the case of the Eighth, notably in the works of Manfred Wagner, Constantin Floros and Egon Voss. Additionally, unlike the Second, Third and Fourth Symphonies, which are always heard in the final version, many important interpreters over the past 100 years have performed the Eighth in the hybrid version of Robert Haas, which in essential elements makes use of the initial version.

      Robert Haas’s interest in determining which changes and especially which abridgements Bruckner made of his own free will and which were more or less gently forced upon him, is fundamentally irrelevant. A study of the various analyses, each of which is very meticulous and enlightening in its own way, reveals astonishing variance in the interpretations made and the conclusions drawn by the respective scholars. Apart from the analysis of form and instrumentation, the quarrel among Bruckner scholars over the direction to be taken appears to us to be less germane than the question of content, which surprisingly seems to be treated – if at all – as something of secondary importance. As the great Austrian sculptor Alfred Hrdlicka remarked: “God is not so loving that He gives form to that which has no content”. The aperçu appears to apply particularly well to the discussion about Bruckner’s Eighth. Almost without exception, the formal analyses of the two versions of this symphony use the tools of traditional formal analysis without once really attending to the question as to why Bruckner incessantly wanted to forge that which moved him in the firmly established form of the Classical symphony, although the demands of the content forced him to expand the form in a manner that threatened to destroy it. That raises the question as to the extent to which Bruckner’s undoubtedly high Romantic notions fitted into the strict form of the Classical four-movement symphony. In terms of formal considerations, Hermann Levi was altogether right in saying that the Eighth repeats the outward form of the Seventh in an almost stereotyped manner. Yet that “template” fits nearly all his symphonies: outer movements in strict sonata form, slow movements mostly in five-part A-B-A-B-A form, scherzos in the form scherzo – trio – scherzo, each of which is frequently also tripartite. The order in which the scherzo and the slow movement come varies – even in one and the same symphony – according to the version being used. Now, Bruckner himself very occasionally left hints, interpretations and images regarding individual movements. While it is fair to say that they are all “naively Romantic”, ignoring them completely would be just as wrong as reading a definite programme into them. They are starting points, working bases, way-posts; no more and no less. The scherzo of the Eighth Symphony is supposed to portray “Deutscher Michel” (a proverbial figure representing the plain, honest rural German) and the final movement represents “the meeting between the Austrian Emperor and the Tsar in Olomouc” ; both might provide insight into Bruckner’s mind, but the actual content of his symphonies is much more complex.

      The notion that the symphonies are all alike stems from Bruckner’s lifetime. It may be true to a certain extent as far as form and instrumentation are concerned (the latter is discussed in detail below). However, even moderate involvement with the individual symphonies very soon reveals that their actual content could not be more different and that the complex layering of the closing movements in particular shows how diversely the threads are spun together – even if they do stem from naively Romantic images. As in the initial versions of his earlier symphonies, in the initial version of the Eighth Bruckner’s formal conception is broader, his instrumentation and dynamics much more radical than in the later revision. It was the instrumentation of the initial version that Levi particularly criticized, a fact that Bruckner apologists rather uncritically and unquestioningly reiterate to this day. It is naive to reproach Bruckner for using in the initial version only double woodwinds, 4 horns and 4 Wagner tubas in the first three movements and then calling for triple woodwinds and 8 horns in the last movement. No-one can seriously believe that Bruckner – almost sixty years old, at the peak of his abilities and altogether convinced that his music could reach an unprejudiced audience – did not consciously intend the effect. Instead of asking themselves why a genius like Bruckner wrote it exactly that way in the initial version, critics continue to believe that they have to protect Bruckner from himself. A timorous man with an extremely contradictory character, Bruckner did indeed pander to prevailing taste in his revisions. He began by shortening the initial versions, then he smoothed their dynamics and simplified their technical difficulties, or simply brought them a little closer to what was expected. The very effects which some analysts feel they have to criticize in the initial version of the Eighth are also to be found in the three preceding Symphonies nos. 5-7, where they go more or less unheeded or are even regarded as particularly positive – simply because Bruckner was never forced to revise them. In the initial version of the Eighth, Bruckner’s stubborn-headed Upper Austrian mentality made him return to precisely the features he had used in the original versions of the Second, Third and Fourth Symphonies, some of which he had indeed reintroduced in later revisions. That all tends to indicate that Bruckner, invigorated by the successes in Leipzig and Munich, was again attempting to compose without regard to prevailing taste or the reservations of interpreters and well-meaning pupils.

      Of course, no-one disputes that the second version of the Eighth Symphony contains certain transitions and moments that are particularly successful, and Constantin Floros is altogether right in saying that that score contains some of Bruckner’s most beautiful pages. We do however take issue when he concludes that it is only in the second version that performance of the Eighth Symphony is justified. To return to the beginning of this examination, for us there is little doubt that Bruckner would not have revised this symphony at all if it had not been for that fateful letter from Munich.

      As mentioned above, there exist excellent comparisons of the two versions of the Eighth Symphony, so we will limit what follows to only the most necessary and most important differences in the course of a brief summary of the gigantic edifice. The first thing that one notices when comparing the two versions is that Bruckner had obviously endeavoured to respond immediately to the points criticized by the Munich director of music, accompanied by hurried self-reproaches (“have cause to feel ashamed …”, “what an ass I am” ). Even that does not necessarily signify that Bruckner was being entirely honest in his self-criticism, because he had made much more far-reaching changes in his modifications of the earlier symphonies. It must however be remembered that Bruckner was by no means the naively humble person that numerous all too uncritical descriptions would have us believe he was. A study of contemporary letters and reports reveals him to have been a rather Janus-faced character, and it is difficult to understand how anyone might truly believe themselves able to distinguish from the revisions Bruckner undertook himself whether they sprang from his own free will or were more or less forced upon him from outside.

      As mentioned above, the gigantic work’s opening movement (Allegro moderato, Alla breve) is in sonata form. As he had done so often before, Bruckner used three different thematic complexes, introduced one after the other and closing with an epilogue based on the first theme. The expansive development section with contrapuntal entanglements is followed, in accordance with the Classical structure, by the recapitulation; the climax of the movement comes with the return of the third theme and is entitled “Todesverkündigung” (annunciation of death). The ensuing binary (!) coda forms an epilogue in pianissimo entitled “Ergebung” or “Totenuhr” (surrender, clock of the dead), before the movement triumphally ends fff in C major. The first movement is 36 bars longer in the first version than in the later version and, apart from touchups and changes in the instrumentation that Bruckner undertook later, the later version brings far-reaching changes at three places: the close of the development, the close of the recapitulation (virtually recomposed in both cases) and the end of the movement, where the fff close has simply been deleted and the movement ends in pianissimo – the only opening movement of a Bruckner symphony that does so.

      As mentioned above, in the second version Bruckner brings the instrumentation of the first three movements into line with the final movement by orchestrating everything with triple woodwinds and eight horns. By contrast, the first version sounds more radical and sharper, for much of what is assigned here to the trombones, trumpets and Wagner tubas is later often assigned to the horns and woodwinds. As in all earlier revisions, transitions are toned down, rests abridged or eliminated, expansive crescendos shortened. Periods in which in the initial version the composer rests, producing retarding moments that clearly have a place and make sense in the formidable architecture, are later presented “economically”. Whether that is always of benefit to the whole is an open question …

      As he stated in a letter to the German conductor Felix von Weingartner, who was originally to premiere the revised version of the Eighth Symphony in Mannheim, Bruckner saw the Scherzo (Allegro moderato in 3/4 time) as portraying “Deutscher Michel”, the plain, honest rural German. Though that figure only stands for a caricature today, it had positive connotations in the nineteenth century. The scherzo develops from three motivic particles; the first, a horn call like a reveille, recalls the original scherzo of the first version of the Fourth Symphony. The second element, a tremolo motif in the strings, is sometimes referred to as the “sleep motif ”, while the third is vigorous and energetic, representing “Deutscher Michel”.

      The changes Bruckner later made to the scherzo are all smoothing and reassuring in character, as regards both instrumentation and the shortening of transitions. Though the thematic material is not altered, in the first version it sounds much more powerful, radical and original, and also develops a more immediate and dramatic effect.

      Those who are familiar with the second version in particular must be highly distressed by the Trio (Allegro moderato in 2/4 time), for it is essentially a completely new composition, though with references to the original thematic material. What we stated elsewhere with reference to the scherzo of the Fourth Symphony in the first version also applies here: the later trio may in many respects appear richer and more mature, and it is certainly better known, but the original form clearly sprang from the original ideas, and it is worth mentioning at this juncture that Richard Heuberger, a reviewer at the Vienna premiere who was by no means uncritical of Bruckner, saw the trio of the second version as a foreign body (without knowing that another version existed). As is so often the case with Bruckner, the original trio is tripartite; the first section is songlike, the hymn-like second section contains echoes of the “non confundar” from his Te Deum, and the third section contrasts by being rather “impressionist in tone” (Floros). We do find it inadmissible to consider the trio in isolation from its context as part of the scherzo and also of the entire work. Beautiful as the bars may be in themselves, in the later version it also appears regrettable that the harps – so rare in Bruckner – are introduced prematurely; they are reserved for the third movement in the first version.

      The Adagio (Feierlich langsam, doch nicht schleppend, in 4/4 time) represents the centre of the work, as Bruckner himself stated. As he had done in previous works, including the similarly expansive Fifth Symphony, Bruckner here used two contrasting groups of themes following the A-B-A2-B2-A3 scheme. Each of the two large groups A and B contains four themes that are developed in various combinations in the course of the movement. The movement closes with a coda plus a farewell section. The Adagio of the first version is 38 bars longer than that of the later version, in which the deletion of 10 bars in the A2 part rather brutally interrupts the originally supreme build-up. Harmonic boldness is another merit of the original version: in spite of the home key of D flat major, the movement culminates in C major; Bruckner later changed that to E flat major. Six cymbal crashes sound at the climax of the movement in the version of 1887; his confidence undermined, Bruckner later reduced taht to one cymbal crash.

      Even in the later version, it was always the final movement (Feierlich, nicht schnell, Alla breve) that triggered the strife. It therefore comes as no surprise that the first version is 62 bars longer than the later version. Following the third movement, with the harps providing its very specific sound, in the first version the final movement calls for slightly increased woodwinds and four additional horns to replace the Wagner tubas of the preceding movements. This change in instrumentation is integral to Bruckner’s gigantic concept and creates a decisive dramatic effect that altogether justifies it. The later standardization of the instrumentation seems to us to have stemmed from the prevailing fashion and the suggestions of others, rather than from Bruckner himself. What can have induced the mature Bruckner to suddenly change his mind so profoundly? More than the abridgements and refashioning of sections, it is the change in instrumentation in particular that gives the second version a distinctly different – more conformist – character. Images which may have been the starting-point of Bruckner’s inspiration have also come down to us for this movement. It may be assumed that Bruckner’s inspiration always sprang from such images, but he very seldom revealed them and credible information about those he did reveal is still rarer. The images relevant in this case were mentioned in the letter to Felix von Weingartner, and even if Bruckner’s music is not in the least comparable with the ideas behind the programme music of composers like Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss, knowledge of the underlying images does make it easier to grasp the tremendously complex and complicated structure. The gigantic formal edifice of the final movement does not only use three thematic complexes; at the close Bruckner combines them contrapuntally, a master-stroke of which he was rightly proud all his life. Such a complex edifice of musical ideas naturally takes space and time to unfold, which is why all the later abridgements and simplifications must be seen as detrimental to the whole; in both content and form, the more expansive waves of heightened tension in the first version correspond with Bruckner’s original concept.

      Bruckner gave this gigantic edifice the most magnificent sonata-form layout possible. The first thematic complex of the exposition is the Meeting of the Majesties” (in Bruckner’s own words: “therefore strings: ride of the Cossacks; brass: military band music; fanfare: how the majesties meet” ). Bruckner’s comment on the second thematic complex, which naturally contrasts with the first, was “musical symbol of the Cross”, which is supplemented “with heartfelt solemnity” by a third, which he called “funeral march” – definite references to the “annunciation of death” of the first movement. Bruckner labelled the ensuing transition “transfiguration”; after the repetition of the third theme, the exposition closes in an epilogue that leads back to the first thematic complex. In the development section and the recapitulation following it, the composer interweaves the individual thematic cross-references. At the climax of the development, he combines the principal theme with the inversion of the subsidiary theme. In the triumphant close he then brings together the main themes of all four movements, to end his masterpiece in a radiant fff.

      Bruckner’s great C minor Symphony in the version of 1887 does not represent the first draft of a later masterpiece; it IS the masterpiece – in the form originally given it by a master at the peak of his creative powers, who only altered it because the work might otherwise not have been performed. We adhere to the conviction which this review of all the elements is intended to reaffirm: Bruckner himself saw no reason to change this version. The true content of the Eighth Symphony can be perceived only in the original form.

      Michael Lewin
      Translation: J & M Berridge

      The following publications contributed to the views expressed here and form the basis for direct and indirect quotations:

    • Manfred Wagner: Bruckners Sinfonie-Fassungen – grundsätzlich referiert, Linz 1981; Zu den Fassungen von Bruckners Achter Symphonie in c-Moll, Vienna 1980 Constantin Floros: Die Fassungen der achten Symphonie von Anton Bruckner, Linz 1981
    • Leopold Nowak: Anton Bruckners Achte Symphonie und ihre zweite Fassung, Vienna 1955 ; Vorwort zur Partitur der Achten Symphonie c-Moll, Fassung 1887, Vienna 1972
    • Egon Voss: Die Bruckner´sche Symphonie – Allgemeine Charakteristika, Munich 1998
    • Peter Jost: VIII. Symphonie in c-Moll – „Vielleicht lässt sich durch eine Umarbeitung viel erreichen“, Munich 1998
    • Tracklist hide

      hide CD 1
      • Symphony No. 8 C Minor, first version 1887
        • 1.1. Allegro moderato16:05
        • 2.2. Scherzo. Allegro moderato – .Trio. Allegro moderato14:37
      • Total:30:42
      more CD 2
      • Total:51:54