Much of Ivor Bolton’s international renown is due to his musical direction of the Munich State Opera’s baroque opera productions. But this completely obscures the fact that the British conductor has extensive experience with works of the classic, romantic and modern eras. All the greater was the excitement when he started a Bruckner cycle with the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, which he has led since 2004. Bolton’s recording of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony (OC 364) was rated as an absolute, surprising success! Reviewers consider it equal to the new recordings of the same work by Harnoncourt and Thielemann. The second release of the Salzburg Bruckner project, containing the composer’s Seventh Symphony, is now ready for release.Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 7
Josef Anton Bruckner spent the summer of 1881 in the St. Florian monastery. After finishing
his sixth symphony on September 3, he began the sketches for his next work 20 days later. In the 2nd revised study score from 1954, editor Dr. Leopold Nowak wrote: The 7th symphony plays a special role in [Bruckner’s] life’s work. This is the work that brought the master his first “major” success, the one which first found its way into larger musical circles… It is the first completely mature work from the middle of Bruckner’s second
major compositional period…
Bruckner’s Seventh demonstrates those characteristics
that distinguish his oeuvre from that of his contemporaries. The main subject of the first movement is already filled with a consciousness of sound: surrounded by a brilliant and iridescent E Major Tremolo, the primary musical idea rises to form an endless melody, constructed of broad phrases that climb ceaselessly over 21 alla-breve measures – the perfect example of how a simple
triadic figure can develop. This epic unity is followed without pause by the stepwise second theme, which begins with steady eighth-notes and an orchestration that highlights uniform registers. The third theme, set almost in unison, develops from an one-step motive.
This type of easily understandable formal structure has a forceful effect; the work’s contrasts
are in constant flow and organically combined.
The atmosphere remains loose even in the development; there are few moments of dramatic clouding. The Coda celebrates its ascent over a seemingly endless tympani organ point and peaks with the melodic return to the main motive in a tonic triad.
Bruckner finished sketching the Adagio of this symphony on January 22, 1883. It was the first time he used the so-called “Wagner tubas” – a pair of tenor and bass tubas in B-flat and F. He later told critic Theodor Helm: You see, I had just gotten to this point in the music when the telegram
from Venice (with the news of Wagner’s death) arrived; I cried so much… and then I wrote the actual funeral music for the master.
This funeral music in swaying 3/4 eighth notes is introduced by a transition on the tubas that leads to the gentle, consoling secondary theme in F-sharp Major. In literary ardour, Bruckner’s first biographer Max Auer said that this passage radiates
Mozartean beauty and seems to illustrate the salvation of the afterlife as the reward for the torments of earthly life.
The actual “funereal theme”, an earnest 4/4 subject in C-sharp Minor, was previously handed over to the strings as a hymn, who continue it as a chorale-like motive. Bruckner composes three waves of variation in song-form that vehemently culminate in a C Major chord in the full orchestra: one of the most powerful musical statements in the entire symphonic repertoire! The controversial
cymbal crash, including triangle and tympani, at this point in the music, was a later insertion, apparently at the advice of Arthur Nikisch, the conductor of the premiere in Leipzig over New Year’s in December 1884/85.
But there may well be another secret programmatic
idea behind the movement: Bruckner’s
personal sadness about the victims of the catastrophic Ringtheater fire, which he had
experienced firsthand as the theatre was very close to his Vienna apartment. Even before Bruckner wrote the opening movement, he had completed the unusually simple and transparent A Minor Scherzo, behind whose signal-like, triadic trumpet
calls over string ostinatos and crescendos and “rattling” in the tympani one could imagine the description of that catastrophe.
The energetic, alla breve Finale returns full circle to the work’s beginning point, both in tempo
as well as in the use of triadic motives. This contrasts with the broad chorale sequence, accompanied
by stepwise pizzicatos that ascend one step with each new verse. (The surprising economy of Bruckner’s compositional materials is shown by the connection with previous events in the symphony: the origin of the theme can be found in the three-tone motive of measure 2 of the main theme.) The third theme finally reveals itself to be a unison variant of the first theme.
The unique feature of this opus, dedicated to King Ludwig II, is the manner in which it intensifies
and creates climaxes. This is not only true of each movement alone, but in the sequence of movements as well. For the crowning finale, Bruckner uses the arch-form, which he had first experimented with in his String Quintet in F Major:
after the development, the themes appear in the reverse order in which they were first presented.
A thrice-cited quote from the beginning closes the work with a flash of inspiring glory.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler