about completion of Bruckner’s Ninth
Simon Rattle discusses the four movement version of Brucker's
Bruckner left the score of his Ninth Symphony unfinished at
his death. It’s a moot point whether he might have managed to
complete the finale had he not spent so much time in his last
years making revisions to earlier symphonies. Apparently he
suggested that his Te Deum could be performed as a
choral finale. Although this has been done occasionally, I believe,
there are a number of good reasons not to follow what may have
been Bruckner’s counsel of despair; not the least of which is
the question of key relationship.
There have been at least two attempts to produce a performing
version of the finale from the material that Bruckner left at
his death. One is by William Carragan (1984) and is described
in the booklet accompanying this CD as “generally more analytically
deductive and compositionally liberal (than the version recorded
here by Rattle).” I’ve not heard Carragan’s effort; it can be
heard on Chandos CHAN8468/9 with the Oslo PO conducted by Yoav
Talmi. The performing edition here recorded was begun between
1983 and 1985 by Nicola Samale and Giuseppe Mazzuca. They eventually
joined forces with Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs and John A Phillips.
These four scholars have engaged in what Sir Simon Rattle aptly
calls “forensic musicology.” There has been an earlier recording
of their performing version – or, rather, of the version at
which they had arrived by 1996, I believe – which I reviewed
in February 2004. What we can now hear is described as the “Conclusive
revised Edition 2012.”
Before going any further, let’s consider what it is that Samale
and his colleagues have produced, since EMI’s booklet helpfully
gives quite a bit of detail. Bruckner followed his usual habit
of numbering consecutively every bifolio of manuscript paper
before beginning to write. That’s clearly a great help to scholars
seeking to order the material. The sketches left behind at his
death were extensive and were published as long ago as 1934.
The finale, as recorded here, consists of 653 bars of music
and the material breaks down into three categories. 440 bars
consist of “material taken from surviving score bifolios” and
this includes the first 216 consecutive bars; the last bar in
this category is number 544. We also have a further 117 bars
described as “elaboration of original sketches or drafts”. Finally
there are 96 bars which are “gaps supplemented by the editors”.
So, it would seem there’s quite a lot of authentic Bruckner
material here – at least 67% of the score. One other point should
be noted, namely that “the instrumentation of woodwind and brass
had to be supplemented for around two-thirds of the entire piece.”
My take on all this is that there’s inevitably a degree of conjecture
involved but my ears tell me it’s been informed conjecture;
the result sounds authentically Brucknerian.
Inevitably, there are objections to the process of “completing”
Bruckner’s Ninth. Chief among the objections are the following:-
1.The third movement is “a heartrending farewell to this world”.
This was the view expressed by the conductor Georg Tintner in
his note accompanying his own fine recording of the three-movement
Tintner declared “I for one do not want to hear anything after
this most moving of farewells”. I have a great deal of sympathy
with this last sentence; indeed, to a large extent I share it.
However, I think we must acknowledge that there is an element
of anachronism in seeing the third movement as Bruckner’s farewell
to the world; he did not intend it as such. He finished the
first three movements by November 1894, nearly two years before
his death and began work on the last movement by May 1895 at
the latest. The fact that he drafted so much of the finale –
in fact, he was reportedly working on this movement on the very
morning of the day he died – suggests powerfully that, notwithstanding
his struggles to finish the movement, he fully intended to compose
a four-movement symphony.
2. How can we be sure that the sketches that Bruckner left would
have formed the basis of a finished finale? That’s a very valid
point, especially with a composer who was such an inveterate
reviser. A similar point is advanced by those who are wary of
the performing versions of Mahler’s Tenth symphony. They point
out that Mahler habitually revised his scores after hearing
them in performance but that argument is somewhat undermined
by the fact that he never heard his Ninth symphony yet that
score is universally accepted. All we can say, I think, is that
the work done by Samale and his colleagues represents a “best
guess” but a highly educated one
3. The sketches are insufficiently complete to permit a valid
reconstruction. That’s an equally valid objection but, as noted
above, it appears that some two-thirds of the sketch material
is firmly by Bruckner.
Individual listeners will have to make up their own minds on
the evidence of their ears: it’s time to consider the present
This isn’t Rattle’s first Bruckner recording. In 2006 he recorded
the Fourth Symphony in Berlin (review).
There’s also a 1996 recording of the Seventh Symphony with the
CBSO (EMI 556425 2 – now deleted, I think) which I have not
heard. I said of his Bruckner Fourth that, though it contained
a great deal to admire, it struck me as being in the nature
of “work in progress”. I am much more impressed with this Ninth.
I wonder if it’s the nature of the music that helps. The conductor
writes of the Ninth that by the time he composed it Bruckner
“was writing transcendent music, in a new voice and a language
more revolutionary than he’d ever written before: very dissonant,
often very stark and despairing.” It struck me several times
listening to Rattle’s account of the great Adagio that there
are pre-echoes of Mahler here and Rattle is a very fine exponent
of the adagios with which both Mahler’s Ninth and Tenth symphonies
conclude. Does he feel a greater affinity with this late, visionary
Bruckner, I wonder, than with the Bruckner of the Fourth Symphony?
In the first movement Rattle gives the music the right amount
of breadth but he also keeps it moving forward. It helps enormously
that he has the peerless Berliner Philharmoniker at his disposal.
The majesty of Bruckner’s great climaxes is enhanced by their
sumptuous playing: the orchestral sound has wonderful depth
and body, as can be heard at the first great tutti statement
(track 1, 2:17). However, the power and richness of the sound
is only part of the story. There are many quiet passages in
this movement – and elsewhere in the symphony – and these are
played with consistent refinement. The scherzo juxtaposes delicacy
and power in close proximity – with more of the latter. The
performance of the scherzo material is trenchant but the light,
almost Mendelssohnian trio is done with wonderful finesse.
The Adagio is a conspicuous success. This is Bruckner at his
most advanced and searching; the music is often spare in texture
and it’s one of the most gaunt symphonic movements I know. Rattle
seems to have the full measure of it and, aided by marvellous
playing from the Berliners, he leads a commanding reading. The
huge main climax (track 3, 20:01 – 20:44) has a bleak majesty
yet a few moments later (from 23:18) the concluding pages have
a quiet radiance that’s very satisfying.
It’s very strange to follow the Adagio with more music and I’m
sure that part of my difficulty with the reconstruction is that
I’m simply not used to this. When I reviewed
the Naxos recording of the four-movement version I wasn’t at
all convinced, finding the finale episodic and the basic thematic
material unmemorable. Mind you, I didn’t think that Johannes
Wildner’s account of any of the symphony was all that special.
It perhaps speaks volumes that I can’t recall listening to that
recording much, if at all, in the intervening years. This time
I tried a different tack, listening first of all to the finale
in isolation before hearing it after the first three movements.
Oddly, I was not at all convinced when I heard the movement
in isolation yet, somewhat to my surprise, it impressed me more
when heard after the preceding three movements. I now think
it hangs together rather better, though the seams still show,
I believe. That, I’m sure, is due to the fact that we have a
better conductor on the podium conducting a better orchestra
than was the case with the Naxos release. I remain to be convinced
about the structure of the movement; it remains episodic in
my view. Also, I still don’t find the thematic material sticks
in the mind but that may change with greater familiarity. It
still seems odd to end this symphony in an affirmatory blaze.
Again, no doubt, this is partly a case of what one is used to
hearing but I’m struck by the fact that it appears that the
last 109 bars are the most conjectural of all. One point that
fascinates me is the brief quotation from the first movement:
music that we first heard 2:17 after the symphony began is revisited
briefly in the finale (18:58-19:08): was that Bruckner’s idea
or an editorial decision, I wonder?
For me, the jury is still out though I think I’ll be much more
likely to return to this performance than to the Wildner reading
- and to continue listening beyond the end of the Adagio. Certainly,
Rattle’s advocacy is persuasive. I’m also conscious of one other
thing: we see Mahler’s late music – the Ninth symphony especially
- in a completely different light because we’re now able to
hear the realisation of his sketches for the Tenth; perhaps
the same is true of Bruckner’s Ninth. The work of Nicola Samale
and his colleagues will open our ears to a new perspective on
the first three movements of Bruckner’s last symphony.
See also review
by Ralph Moore (May 2012 Recording of the Month)
A New York performance of the four-movement version by Rattle
and the Berliner Philharmoniker on 24 Feb 2012 was reviewed
for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard by Stan Metzger