Friday, March 12, 2010

Anton Bruckner, Houston Symphony

According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:
« Bruckner took Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as his starting-point...The introduction to the first movement, beginning mysteriously and climbing slowly with fragments of the first theme to the gigantic full statement of that theme, was taken over by Bruckner; so was the awe-inspiring coda of the first movement. The scherzo and slow movement, with their alternation of melodies, are models for Bruckner's spacious middle movements, while the finale with a grand culminating hymn is a feature of almost every Bruckner symphony.

Bruckner created a new and monumental type of symphonic organism, which abjured the tense, dynamic continuity of Beethoven, and the broad, fluid continuity of Wagner, in order to express something profoundly different from either composer, something elemental and metaphysical
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Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 in E major, which the Houston Symphony performed last night, was his most popular work during his lifetime, and it remains one of his best-known symphonies.

I find it difficult to describe in words the sense of deliberate, otherworldly drama with which Bruckner imbues his monumental seventh symphony. His music is set apart by its sheer expansiveness, both in temporal duration and emotional breadth. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who wrote music packed with fast-paced, contrasting elements designed to guarantee the audience's attention, Bruckner embraced the ideals of Austro-German Romanticism and elevated them to create a new musical paradigm.

Some more interesting facts about Symphony No. 7:
  • It is dedicated to Ludwig II of Bavaria.
  • It pays homage to Bruckner's friend and fellow composer Richard Wagner through its instrumentation, which calls for four Wagner tubas.*
  • Bruckner wrote the cymbal clash at the climax of the second movement upon hearing the news that Wagner had died.**
  • The second movement was played on national radio before before the official announcement of the German defeat at Stalingrad in January 1943 and before Admiral Karl Dönitz announced Hitler's death on Radio Berlin on May 1, 1945.
*Wagner tubas have such a focused, haunting sound. It's a shame they never became more popular with composers.

**The cymbal clash was my favorite moment of last night's performance. Goosebumps.

Here's an interesting comment written by Henry Fogel:
« Bruckner had his own sense of time—an expansive, slow-moving sense of time. His music will not enter the time world in which we live; we must turn off our internal clocks and enter his. But, in fact, that is a healthy thing to do once in a while. A favorite story of mine is about the American who goes to visit a friend in Vienna. The friend takes him to a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic that consists of one work only, Bruckner's Eighth Symphony (all 80 minutes of it). Afterward, the Viennese friend asks the American what he thought of the concert, and the American answers: "Well, that piece has many beautiful things in it—gorgeous melodies, wonderfully rich orchestration, power. But my goodness, it goes on and on and on." The Viennese friend answers gently: "Ah yes. But you see, here in Vienna, we like music." »