Author Topic: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?  (Read 22787 times)

Offline barry guerrero

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OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« on: January 21, 2007, 08:25:09 AM »
Is Bruckner no longer a front-line composer, or slowly becoming less of one? There seem to be less Bruckner performances happening, and less recordings being made. If Bruckner was still considered a box office draw, wouldn't the Vienna Phil. - or some orchestra like the VPO - have announced that they were recording their own Bruckner cycle by this point? Are the early Bruckner symphonies too weak in quality? Doesn't it seem that Bruckner is being completely overshadowed by both Mahler and Shostakovitch now? Is Bruckner's message of faith not being heard, or are the fairthful simply not picking up on his music? As the world becomes smaller and more global, is his music simply too antiquated, and out of step with the times?

Offline Leo K

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2007, 09:38:03 AM »
I'm very new to Bruckner.  I just bought my first Bruckner CD last November (8th Symphony/Karajan/BPO) and it was all I hoped it would be...very epic and sublime, with subtle, sophisticated use of musical form.  It's going to take some time to comprehend and assimulate each work, but I'm happy to be getting started.

It would be sad to see him fade into the background.  Perhaps his composition style is too sophisticated, or too formal for various concertgoers in this shrinking world.  On first hearing, his message of faith may not be as obvious or as dramatic as Mahler or Shostakovich?  These are all thoughts of a newbie though. 






Offline Amphissa

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2007, 09:54:19 AM »
Barry, I don't know the answer to all those questions. I can only answer from what I perceive.

I think only a few of Bruckner's symphonies have ever generated much real interest - the 4th, 7th, 8th, and 9th. They've never been played in concert constantly. By which I mean, most orchestras that I keep up with only program a Bruckner symphony every 2 or 3 years.

I think part of the reason for that is because the name just doesn't resonate with most audiences. Most people don't know who he is, haven't heard much of his music.

But another reason is because a lot of people just find Bruckner really boring. His soundscapes are pretty stolid, his lines very simple, his primary form involving lots of repetition. Your average concert goer is not looking for a "transcendent experience." There is not a lot of action and drama in Bruckner. In this age of short attention span, subtlety doesn't sell very well.

I've never really figured out why Mahler and Bruckner get lumped together. To me, they are at opposite ends of the composing spectrum. Mahler is in your face, brazen, irreverent, vulgar, syrupy, everything including mandolins and cowbells, women and children, marching and crying, all thrown together in the pot. In comparison, Bruckner is the monk - polite, subtle, contemplative, holy, austere, the beauty of simplicity.

I also think Shostakovich benefits from the anniversary interest. It is a hook for orchestras to play him. But I don't think most audiences really like Shostakovich very much. Some of his writing is inspired, but some of it is just plain trite, and much of it is such a downer. Fact is, most people don't mind a good cry if the music is beautiful, but they don't want to cry at ugly. There's too much that is horrifying in Shostakovich for your general listening audience.

What I'm getting to is that I think the interest in Shostakovich that we've seen the past couple of seasons will wane pretty quickly over the next couple of years.

I turn to Bruckner for a much different kind of experience than I do any other composer. I enjoy his music for what it is. But I don't reach for it as often as I do some other composers.

As for the VPO - I don't really care if they record Bruckner or anyone else. I'm fed up with them. I will not buy any recording made by VPO and will speak out against them with every breath. I'm not looking to hijack your thread on Bruckner, so I'll just link to a different discussion of this issue.

http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/music/messages/146542.html
"Life without music is a mistake." Nietzsche

Offline ggl

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2007, 10:23:12 AM »
An interesting question.  I suspect there are many reasons for the relative lack of enthusiasm for Bruckner these days, at least as measured by number of new CD/SACD releases compared to other composers, e.g., Mahler & Shostakovitch, and apparent frequency of performances by many orchestras.

The first three Bruckner symphonies do strike me as relatively weak, and if he had stopped at B3, I doubt he would be much played today.  But numbers 4 through 9 are as great as anybody's (excepting Beethoven's), in my view.

Another possible reason is the lack of a compelling biography.  Composers with dramatic life stories intrigue performers and audiences.  Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart, Shostakovitch, etc. all experienced drama or one sort or another -- anti-Semitism/loss of child/adultery/early death, deafness, child prodigy/early death, political persecution, etc.  Bruckner's life story, from what I know of it, is not comparable, and he seems to have been a decidedly unheroic figure in life.   

This shouldn't matter, but probably does.  Witness the amazing amount of attention given to Shostakovitch, and the large number of recordings of what many people (e.g., Pierre Boulez) think is his mostly third- or fourth-rate music.  If Bruckner had a life story as interesting as Shostakovitch's, I'd guess we would be awash in Bruckner even more than we are in Shostakovitch, because (at least in my view) Bruckner's music is much better.

Another possible reason may have to do with our own 21st century zeitgeist.  Someone (can't remember who) has observed that Mahler's symphonies are about striving, seeking God, or transcendence -- about becoming, in other words.  Bruckner has already found God (or something); his music is about being.  In our unsettled world, we can, by and large, relate better to becoming than to being.  Another way of putting this is that Mahler's mood swings more accurately mirror our contemporary inner life; Bruckner, less neurotic, speaks not of our world, but of another.


Offline barry guerrero

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2007, 12:05:35 PM »
I think Bruckner is more problematic than many music scholars would care to admit. I don't care for the first few symphonies (including the "zero" and "double zero"), but I do like the scherzo from the first symphony. The problem with the third symphony, is that there are three distinct different versions.

To my ears, the first version of B3 is way too long (rambles a lot, like me), while the final version is too truncated. I like the middle version, which is sometimes referred to as the Oeser Edition. B4 used to be wildly popular, but it's problematic as well. The slow movement to B4 is kind of a dog, and the finale really isn't very interesting either, until you get to the coda. Of course, B4 has that marvellous "hunting horns" scherzo. However, that was the second scherzo that Bruckner composed for his 4th, and it really has very little to do with the rest of the symphony, thematically speaking. In some ways, I think that the first version is a truer picture of what Bruckner really had in mind with this symphony. Eugen Jochum said that the 4th should be subtitled, "the mystical", and not "the romantic".

I think that Bruckner's 5th is a marvellous symphony, with a very fine Adagio and an outstanding finale. However, I can sure see how most listeners could lose patience with it. There's a lot of mechanical, J.S. Bach-like, grinding out of short thematic material (cells, really), which appear to be going no place. However, they do, infact, arrive upon huge musical vistas. It has, by far, the greatest ending of any of his symphonies - going back to the start of the big brass chorales. I also think that the ending of Mahler's first sounds a bit like the ending to B5.

For the first three movements, the sixth is easily Bruckner's most progressive symphony - both harmonically and rhythmically. However, the sixth is somewhat let down by its finale. Jochum stated that he often times put cuts in the finale; in places where he thought that Bruckner's improvising skills on the organ, got the best of him.

For me, the seventh may be the least flawed of all his completed symphonies. The first two movements are melodically rich, while the scherzo is like a kaleidoscopic rehash of Wagner's "Ride Of The Valkaries". Again, the finale is a bit of a let down - in spots - but has a terrific coda to end it. I really like the 7th.

Most Bruckner buffs will tell you that the 8th is his greatest, but I find it a bit problematic as well. Again, there are two distinctly different versions of it. Most people will say that the first version is too flawed, musically speaking. But I think it's actually a far truer representation of where Bruckner's head was at, when he began composing this piece. It's far more raw, fiery, unfiltered, youthful, and optimistic sounding. It seems to relate much more to Bruckner's more youthful composing. The revised version is a filtered and highly polished product. But it's also a bit more elephantine, staid, marmoreal, and downright old sounding. It was as though Bruckner had been forced to grow up, after Hanslick (or whoever it was) had rejected his first version. But I think that Bruckner, to some degree, overshot his mark. I like it, but I find it hard to love. I prefer the first version, especially in the Arte Nova recording conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.

For me, the 9th - without the conjectural finale - is one of the greatest orchestral compositions ever! In fact, I prefer it to the Mahler 9th (and conversely, I feel that M10 had/has the potential to be an even greater work). Die-hard Bruckner scholars will try to sell you on the necessity of including a finale. I think that's a fine idea, in theory. In reality - to my ears, anyway - what pages do exist, sound more like the beginning of a 10th symphony than a finale to the 9th. Those pages are harmonically far more wild; as though Bruckner suddenly realized that he had to get more in step with the times (or try to anticipate them, a bit). They're interesting, but I just don't find the argument convincing. Anyway, one can decide for themselves by getting any of the three recordings that include a conjectural finale (Tintner/Naxos, Talmi/Chandos, and Inbal/Teldec), or picking up Harnoncourt's excellent Vienna Phil. recording, where he chooses to do a lecture/demonstation on the finale - something that I feel is much more helpful.

By the way, I think you guys made excellent observations! I'd like to read more thoughts on Bruckner. Why does he seem to be slipping out of sight, to some degree?
« Last Edit: January 21, 2007, 10:55:16 PM by barry guerrero »

Offline david johnson

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2007, 01:04:57 PM »
i visit sites that have bruckner fans.   he still seems alive to me.

dj

Offline Leo K

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2007, 01:48:42 PM »
Barry, your brief overview is really helpful, as I have not yet ventured though symphonies 1-3 and 5.  I'm especially curious to hear the original score to the 4th now.

Not too long ago I purchased a used copy of the 1st version of the 8th (Inbal's account), but I have not heard it yet.  I am intrigued to hear that originally the 1st movement ends in the major, rather than the c minor (as in the 2nd edition).  Mahler also ends in the major key in the 1st movement of his 6th, but I doubt he used Bruckner's 8th as a model, or is it possible he saw the original score?  Whatever the case may be, finishing a minor key 1st movement in the major is a great way to move the symphony onward.  I know it has not been done too often in the symphonic literature.

Tchaikovsky ends his 1st movement of his 6th in Bb major.  I don't know where I'm going with this, I just find it interesting. :)


Offline barry guerrero

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2007, 02:15:46 PM »
I don't think that Mahler ever conducted Bruckner's 8th. I know that he did the 5th several times, which has only one version by Bruckner. Between the Haas and Nowak editions of B5, there's very little difference. My understanding is that Mahler paid for the first printing of Bruckner's scores. If that's true, I don't know which versions or editions those would have been. My guess is that some of those would have been the highly messed around with, Schalk versions. My understanding is that the corrected editions of the revised versions - as we know the Bruckner symphonies today - didn't happen until Haas and Nowak did their restoration work after WWII. Before then, performances of the various Schalk versions were quite common, as were other corrupted versions made by Loewe and others. It's all terribly convoluted. And, all of this is outside the issue of Bruckner's own first versions on several of the symphonies. Therefore, I have no idea if Mahler got a look at Bruckner's original, first version of his 8th symphony. I highly doubt it, and here's why: Bruckner was deeply disturbed by Loewe's rejection (Schalk? Nickish? I don't know - somebody's rejection) of his 8th symphony. Apparently, they all but spat upon it. If Mahler had seen it, he undoubtedly would have been very encouraging of it. Instead, Bruckner was so devated, that he completely revised it.

My question to die-hard Mahler scholars - the ones who know what Mahler ate on such and such day, etc. (let's see how smart these guys really are) is this: what version of B5 would Mahler have been conducting? My bet is that he was using the Schalk version, which has a major cut in the finale; leaves out a repeat in the scherzo, and adds lots of percussion to the big brass chorale near the end: cymbals, triangle (I think), and a second set of timpani. Mahler would have gone for that sort of thing, unless he had some animosity towards Schalk.

So, perhaps also ritarding Bruckner's fame, is just the existence of all these different versions and editions. It's too much!
« Last Edit: January 21, 2007, 10:57:18 PM by barry guerrero »

Offline barry guerrero

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2007, 02:30:16 PM »
If you think that you might want to get into the incredibly convoluted world of Bruckner versions and editions, here you go:   http://www.abruckner.com/discography/

Have fun!
« Last Edit: January 21, 2007, 02:32:35 PM by barry guerrero »

Vatz Relham

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2007, 03:36:36 PM »
For me, the 9th - without the conjectural finale - is one of the greatest orchestral compositions ever! In fact, I prefer it to the Mahler 9th (and conversely, I feel that M10 had/has the potential to be an even greater work). Die-hard Bruckner scholars will try to sell you on the necessity of including a finale. I think that's a fine idea, in theory. In reality - to my ears, anyway - what pages do exist, sound more like the beginning of a 10th symphony, than a finale to the 9th. Those pages are harmonically far more wild; as though Bruckner suddenly realized that he had to get more in step with the times (or try to anticipate them, a bit). They're interesting, but I just don't find the argument convincing. Anyway, one can decide for themselves by getting any of the three recordings that include a conjectural finale (Tintner/Naxos, Talmi/Chandos, and Inbal/Teldec), or picking up Harnoncourt's excellent Vienna Phil. recording, where he chooses to do a lecture/demonstation on the finale - something that I feel is much more helpful.

By the way, I think you guys made excellent observations! I'd like to read more thoughts on Bruckner. Why does he seem to be slipping out of sight, to some degree?

Barry,

You may be mistaken about Tintner doing a B9 4th mvmt, I have the recording on Naxos it only has 3.
The Talmi/Chandos does have a 4th mvmt completed by William Carragan, but I agree with you it doesn't really work.
As for the 8th I have to go for the revised Haas version, especially because of the ending to the 1st mvmt I love the big brass chorale, the original version (Nowak 1887) which is heard on Tintner's Naxos recording has a decent brass chorale but then just peters out at the end of the 1st mvmt, it does have a very good adagio though, although it may be a little too long. My favorite B8 is Boulez/VPO (Haas) recorded live at Bruckner's beloved St. Florian.

I would think it will be a great shame if Bruckner's music faded in obscurity. Even though our modern society may find Bruckner's message of simple faith naive, it still has a lot of spiritual power which can be heard in his music. I find an ecstacy in his music that cannot be heard anywhere else, especially in his brass chorales, even as early as the 2nd symphony, no wonder Giulini went out of his way to record it.The Tintner/Naxos original version may be even better. The 3rd symphony is also wonderfull in the brass, I like the way Szell plays it fast, with the Staatskapelle Dresden, and with the Cleveland Orch, twofer with the 8th sym, He creates a feeling of a spiritual orgasm of some kind, that's what I mean by ecstacy, sort of like building up to a sneeze (don't laugh, I know how it sounds :)) and then release. Then there are the sublime adagios, yes there are some very boring moments in Bruckner's music but he more than makes up for it. And don't forget the 3 Masses, especially the 2nd for 8 part choir and winds, the Te Deum also has very ecstatic music. Even the Motets on a smaller scale are gorgeous.

Bruckner's music is timeless and you don't need to be catholic or religious to fully appriciate it.

Vatz   

Offline barry guerrero

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2007, 04:27:17 PM »
"Bruckner's music is timeless and you don't need to be catholic or religious to fully appriciate it".

I completely agree. And trust me, I'm not advocating that we ignore Bruckner. It's just that I've noticed that there far fewer new recordings of Bruckner, than there are of either Mahler or Shostakovich (among others). Here in S.F., we got to hear Bruckner more often when De Waart and Blomstedt were here. MTT does the 6th and 9th. I can't imagine him ever doing B8, but you never know. I'm pretty much boycotting all MTT concerts at this point. The last time I heard the SFSO under him (M7, actually), they sounded like a Broadway pit band. If I'm going to go listen to a broadway pit band, I want the musical that goes with it. I think he's getting worse and worse. Actually, the M7 sounded like a concerto for trumpets, with Broadway pit band accompaniment. I can't imagine how he managed to make such a huge symphony orchestra, sound so small and screechy. I think there's a real danger when any conductor has the same orchestra for too long, and the local press just loves everything he/she does with it. I like to go hear the SFSO when he's not here. They sounded like a totally different orchestra under Rostroprovich, for example. Zinman is always great, when he guest conducts.

I'll have to try harder with the earlier Bruckner symphonies. They really tax my patience, but I'll try. Also, I do share your enthusiasm for the Boulez/VPO B8. That's one that doesn't sound too "old" or stodgy. I just happen to like the first version even more; especially the Russell Davies.

By the way, you're right:  the conductor on the Naxos B9 - with finale - is Johannes Wildner.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2007, 11:00:06 PM by barry guerrero »

pincopallino

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #11 on: January 22, 2007, 08:35:36 AM »
I could never warm up to Bruckner. His music sounds to me "horizontal": big orchestral forces to forward a mere religious message, with no tension, nothing to look for, nothing to hope, nothing to dream. The opposite of Mahler, whose music is a seek for answers.

Offline Ben

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #12 on: January 22, 2007, 10:29:38 AM »
I could never warm up to Bruckner. His music sounds to me "horizontal": big orchestral forces to forward a mere religious message, with no tension, nothing to look for, nothing to hope, nothing to dream. The opposite of Mahler, whose music is a seek for answers.

That's funny you feel it's "horizontal."  To me, Bruckner's music is some of the most "vertical" sounding music out there.  The way his chord structures work with the flow of music make it very vertical; hence, that is why conductors can get away with such slow tempos and it doesn't sound bad (usually).

As for no tension, I can't relate.  There are big build-ups of tension with huge releases scattered throughout all the symphonies.  One of Bruckner's main techniques of building tension is his use of repetition, and of course the harmony.  You don't hear any tension in the Adagio movements from his 7th, 8th and 9th Symphonies?

I think applying one extramusical idea to Bruckner's music is dangerous, i. e. only saying it was written to forward a mere religious message.  I think there is much more to his music than that, not least of which is listening to it for purely musical reasons.  Certainly one can enjoy his music without really knowing what Bruckner was thinking, and the same with Mahler.  Besides, their basis for writing their works is one opinion; conductors, musicians and audience members can infuse the music with their own thoughts and what it means to them.

Of course you can have your own opinion, but I think you're selling Bruckner's music a little short by damning it as forwarding a "mere religious message."

Offline Leo K

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #13 on: January 22, 2007, 02:00:36 PM »
I could never warm up to Bruckner. His music sounds to me "horizontal": big orchestral forces to forward a mere religious message, with no tension, nothing to look for, nothing to hope, nothing to dream. The opposite of Mahler, whose music is a seek for answers.

That's funny you feel it's "horizontal."  To me, Bruckner's music is some of the most "vertical" sounding music out there.  The way his chord structures work with the flow of music make it very vertical; hence, that is why conductors can get away with such slow tempos and it doesn't sound bad (usually).

As for no tension, I can't relate.  There are big build-ups of tension with huge releases scattered throughout all the symphonies.  One of Bruckner's main techniques of building tension is his use of repetition, and of course the harmony.  You don't hear any tension in the Adagio movements from his 7th, 8th and 9th Symphonies?

I think applying one extramusical idea to Bruckner's music is dangerous, i. e. only saying it was written to forward a mere religious message.  I think there is much more to his music than that, not least of which is listening to it for purely musical reasons.  Certainly one can enjoy his music without really knowing what Bruckner was thinking, and the same with Mahler.  Besides, their basis for writing their works is one opinion; conductors, musicians and audience members can infuse the music with their own thoughts and what it means to them.

Of course you can have your own opinion, but I think you're selling Bruckner's music a little short by damning it as forwarding a "mere religious message."

I couldn't agree more.

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Re: OT: Is Bruckner slowly sliding into obscurity?
« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2007, 05:43:57 PM »
For one thing, the Bruckner Yahoo Group, that I'm a member of, gets far more activity then the Mahler Club. If you would look at how many great musicians have shown loyalty to Bruckner, it is hard to see him as descending into obscurity. His 8th is considered the 'Crown of the 19th century'. Harnocourt as well as Barenboim, perhaps the two very prominent conductors of there generations, have shown vast attention to Bruckner. Haitink has come out with a 8th on Concertgebouw's independent label which has gotten rave reviews. Harmonia Mundi label, (French NONE-THE-LESS!) has many releases of Bruckner from recent years. Bruckner could be declining for only one reason, the rise of impatient listeners. Everyone wishes 'fire' in their music, as Thielemann said, Bruckner's 'fire' is always beneath the suface.