Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

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Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

The quest for the best completion of Bruckner's last symphony gets more and more attention, with new updates on the existing completions, some older ones being dusted off, and an increasing number of new recordings appearing. It seems the four-movement 9th is finally becoming canon, just like Mahler's 10th, which was for many years just a one-movement torso.

Some background first:

Bruckner left a large number of sketches for the finale at the time of his death, which can be arranged to form an almost complete movement, with the coda section containing the largest number of "holes". Some scholars claim that Bruckner has in fact completed the movement in draft, but souvenir hunters who raided his home shortly after his death took a number of essential sketches (the ones for the coda) which have been lost since. A rather depressing thought. I personally think Bruckner didn't get as far as fixating the structure of the coda for reasons I'll explain later.

Just like in the Mahler 10th case with the Deryck Cooke reconstruction, there appears to be one completion that's becoming accepted as the most thorough and convincing - and that's the version that was published in 1984 initially by Samale and Mazzuca (later Samale/Mazzuca/Phillips/Cohrs) and got revised numerous times, the latest version being from 2011.

An alternative version is by Carragan (first 1985, latest 2010) and there are at least 5 others, some of which are still played and recorded.

So far I heard three versions of the Finale, all different stages of the Samale/Mazzuca/Phillips/Cohrs-completion.

The first, based on the early draft version (1984) was Inbal's 1987 recording, which was for some reason coupled to his Frankfurt recording of the 5th, on a double-LP. Never really convinced me, it sounded like a random collection of musical ideas without much coherence.

Marcus Bosch' Aachen Symph. version (2007) is based on the 2005 edition and sounds much more convincing. You get a real sense of unity - except for the coda, which is still a mess. Samale/Mazzuca/Phillips/Cohrs have accepted the urban legend that Bruckner wanted to combine the finale theme with the themes of the previous movements - the only source of this being Franz Schalk. Now, this combination of themes sounds so complicated and tense that the much more straightforward rest of the coda comes off as a terrible anticlimax. You've got a passage where the world appears to collapse, immediately followed by some standard homestrech-fanfare, resembling Bruckner's early symphonies. This clearly doesn't work. (What doesn't work either are Bosch' super-fast tempi in the other movements. It's the fastest 9th ever, under 70 minutes with the 20 minute-finale included!)

Last week I listened to Simon Rattle's 2012 performance with the Berliner. This recording uses the latest (2010) Samale/Mazzuca/Phillips/Cohrs version, and it's a subtle but big improvement over the version that Bosch used. Some awkward transitions in the earlier version have been ironed out (I remember one passage in the Bosch recording where a climax ended on a high trumpet note, and the following passage started with that same trumpet not. Sounded like two recordings badly stitched together.) The flow of the coda is better now too, with less of a gap between the final build-up and the closing fanfares. The final pages have gained some depth, but they still comes of as a "Fremdkörper". Of course - with due respect to Bosch - the Berliner's playing is much better than the Aacheners.

Some people have been disappointed in the Finale of the 9th, calling it "2nd rate Bruckner" and even doubting the composer's mental strength in his final years or quoting his failing sanity as reason why he couldn't complete the symphony.

I can't agree there. The early Inbal perfance failed to impress, but now I heard Rattle's Finale, I gotta say that I think it's a better piece (or better: it would have been a better piece if Bruckner could have completed it) than the Finale of the 8th, a movement I never really liked.) The Finale of the 9th comes off as less fragmentary and more organic. In my opinion it mirrors the first movement perfectly, and I always thought of that movement as one of Bruckner's greatest creations.

So why do people dislike it? I think partly because the music is so grim and depressing. It's the darkest movement in Bruckner's entire oeuvre, and I can imagine people who expected the Finale being a happy confirmation of the "heavenly" mood of the adagio, in line with the dedication to God himself being shocked and disappointed.

Instead following the ethereal dying sounds of the adagio we're plunged into a nightmare world, much darker than the first movement. Even the obligatory chorale (3rd theme) doesn't work as an element of faith and praise like in the previous symphonies - it's a monolithic, threatening presence.

The pitch-black darkness of the Finale makes one realize that Bruckner wasn't a happy man in his final years; he was tortured by illnes, obsessions, religious delusions and a gradual loss of his memory and physical strength. Maybe that's why he struggled with the coda so much. Part of him wanted to give it the triumphant conclusion that he gave all his previous symphonies, but he must have felt that it would be out of place and not in connection with the rest of the Finale.

Which brings us back to the question raised at the start of beginning "article": is banal theft by souvenir hunters reponsible for the "missing links" in the Coda? I think the cause lies deeper: in Bruckner's inability to reconcile his traditional concept of symphonic structure with the originality of the material he presented in the Finale.

So, if he couldn't give the Ninth a satisfying triumphant ending (and the various completists couldn't either), what alternatives would be (and will be) there?

Bruckner himself has set an important precedent in his 8th Symphony, by rejecting the triumphant coda of the 1st movement and replacing it with a pianissimo ending in the 2nd version. Something tells me that he - if he had lived long enough to complete the symphony - would have arrived at a similar solution for the Finale of the 9th. Just imagine the music slowly dying out after the final peroration (the passage with the combined themes) and returning to the same mood as the start of the first movement. No heaven, no hell either - but purgatory. It would give the movement and the symphony as a whole a lot more convincing ending - just like the revised ending of the 1st movement of the 8th is more convincing than the original one.

I hope that the people responsible for the various completion projects will realize this and get rid of that ear-sore of a fanfare-coda, in favor of a new composed (based on the sketches of course) pianissimo-ending.

tl;dr: I just wanted to hear some opinions on the various completions and recordings of the Finale, but somehow it turned into a fairly long article. Ah well.

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

Bah, posted a first version of the "article" with the intention to get rid of all the typos later and change a thing or two - only to discover you can't edit the first post in a thread :/

I guess it'll have to do then. Please ignore the typos and the occasional grammar screwups.

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

I do not think that the fragments of a finale that Bruckner
left us for his Symphony No. 9 can ever be successfully
stitched together to form a convincing musical experience.
Besides the missing coda, and we Bruckner lovers know what
fantastic things are there brought forth, there is not much
tonal or thematic momentum to get us to a coda. 
I have eagerly listened to recordings of the several Carragan and
Samale-Mazzuca etal versions since the pioneering 1980's Talmi recording
(Carragan I), and I am supremely grateful to those who have enabled
me to experience some magnificent music. I am especially moved by
the world-weary 2nd thematic group, its heart-breaking recapitulation after
what is the last of Bruckner's famous, or perhaps infamous, aborted
climaxes. Devastating in its Brucknerian way, emotionally reminiscent to me
of Mahler's overwhelming climax and collapse in the Andante comodo of his 9th.

My feelings about the finale are well summed up in Robert Simpson's revised version of his book "The Essence of Bruckner":

   I have nothing but admiration for the intrepidity, skill,
   and patience of those who have made the attempt out of
   dedicated love for the composer...but discussion of any
   of them in detail cannot evade the essential fact that
   even if Bruckner in his last moments had the end of his
   Ninth Symphony in his mind, it cannot enter ours.

Like Schubert's "Unfinished", I think we have to be grateful to posterity
for the satisfying symphonic experience that is the completed movements.

PS - I can't believe that you, as a Bruckner fan, dissed the 8th's finale; have you tried the Knappertsbusch/Munich recording? My favorite of the 1892 version - he gets the tempi just right.

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

I suppose we've got used to Mozart's requiem being completed so why not Bruckner's ninth.

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

Bruckner certainly would not have wanted his work to be a three-movement torso, hence his last-ditch suggestion to use the Te Deum:

Quote:

... I dedicate my last work to the Majesty of all Majesties, to the dear Lord, and hope that He will grant me sufficient time to complete it and mercifully accept my gift. I therefore intend to introduce the Allelujah (probably wanted to say Te Deum) of the second movement again in the Finale with all power, in order that the symphony end with a song of praise to the dear Lord.

The music of the finale is mostly original to Bruckner:

Quote:

554 of the 665 bars of this New Critical Edition [2005] are original (208 bars finished, 224 bars incomplete scoring, 122 bars of continuity drafts and drafts). From 111 bars of replenishment (ca. 17% of the Finale, 5.4 % of the symphony, or approximately 4 minutes of music), 68 were regained by repetition, sequencing, or transposition of original material. Only 43 bars were synthesised without concrete proof, less than two third of the instrumentation required completion by the editors.

Re-use of previous themes in the finale is not unheard of in Bruckner. See for instance the symphony directly preceding the 9th.

The assertion that the finale is "grim and depressing" makes no sense to me. It's certainly more cheery than the adagio. It's not a bowl of cherries, obviously, as it has to climb out of the despond of the previous movement. The whole symphony is about being rescued from darkness by the sacrifice of Christ, hence the importance of the cross motif from the Te Deum in the finale. At the end Bruckner is vindicated through Christ, and ascends into Heaven.

I've heard three recordings of the finale. Apart from any structural issues, Inbal was unable to make it sound idiomatic, which I think is his fault. The recent Rattle recording was to me a complete disappointment, so I wouldn't try to gauge the finale from this effort. The recording by Wildner I find quite convincing; his way with Bruckner is occasionally a little brusque for me, but he makes the structure seem natural and inevitable.

(Quotes are from the essay Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 in D minor WAB 109 - the unfinished Finale by Aart van der Wal, available online.)

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

Thomas Ulicky wrote:

PS - I can't believe that you, as a Bruckner fan, dissed the 8th's finale; have you tried the Knappertsbusch/Munich recording? My favorite of the 1892 version - he gets the tempi just right.

I think I've been influenced in my verdict by the profilic Dutch writer and (amateur) musicologist Simon Vestdijk, who in 1966 published a book about Bruckner and his work. Unlike most "professional" musicologists, Vestdijk wasn't afraid to vent his personal likes and dislikes - and his taste in Bruckner happens to resemble mine a lot. His favorites (5th finale, 6th adagio and scherzo, 7th first movement and adagio, 9th first movement) are mine too, and I share his dislikes as well (most controversially, the adagio and finale of the 8th, and even the adagio of the 9th).

I think it's got something to do with Bruckner's talent for organic growth of his movements - a talent that's most apparent in his middle period (the major key symphonies), but which appeared to fail him in his later works (the 8th and 9th). There are several spots in the 8th and 9th where the symphonic form starts to "fall apart" into disconnected fragments, and that's something that irritates me, specially when listening to a recording that emphasizes the verticality of the music instead of the horizontal flow. Don't know if I'm making sense here.

I guess it's a matter of what one finds important in Bruckner's music. To me it's the sweeping flow of his inventions and the tight structural unity, hence I prefer the middle symphonies. To others it will be the lush romantic soundscapes and the wagnerian harmonies - so much present in 8 and 9.

As for the 8th, the recordings that get the tempi "right" in my opinion are the relatively fast ones: Schuricht, Furtwängler, Jochum (DG and EMI) and Barbirolli (1970, my favorite for this work). In line with my preference for a natural flow and strong forward drive in Bruckner. Performances in the "let's take it easy and enjoy the pretty sounds" tradition tend to bore me to death. Haitink, with his penchant for this symphony I find unlistenable, same for Celibidache. I listened to Wand's much-praised 2001 performance with the Berliner recently, and it does close to nothing for me.

eyeresist wrote:

The assertion that the finale is "grim and
depressing" makes no sense to me. It's certainly more cheery than the
adagio. It's not a bowl of cherries, obviously, as it has to climb out
of the despond of the previous movement. The whole symphony is about
being rescued from darkness by the sacrifice of Christ, hence the
importance of the cross motif from the Te Deum in the finale. At the end
Bruckner is vindicated through Christ, and ascends into Heaven.

That's of course a valid interpretation. I don't hear it in the music, though. The adagio I always regarded as an essentially "positive" piece, in that a decent into heaven comes to mind in its final pages - which is then followed by a grim "wake-up call" in the finale. Of course it depends on how the adagio is played. You can easily turn it into a tearjerker, in the vein of Mahler's adagietto from the 5th, which also got (and gets) abused by conductors who get visions of Aschenbach dying on the beach when conducting it.

Quote:

I've
heard three recordings of the finale. Apart from any structural issues,
Inbal was unable to make it sound idiomatic, which I think is his
fault. The recent Rattle recording was to me a complete disappointment,
so I wouldn't try to gauge the finale from this effort. The recording by
Wildner I find quite convincing; his way with Bruckner is occasionally a
little brusque for me, but he makes the structure seem natural and
inevitable.

I think Inbal is capable of a very idiomatic Bruckner, as his complete cycle proves. He was just hampered by a version of the Finale that had more holes in it than a swiss cheese. Rattle I didn't really like in the first three movements either. He obviously had the same idea as Bosch about turning the first three movements into a large build-up for the finale - but with more leisurely tempi. To me, he leaned a bit too much on the established Bruckner-tradition of the Berliners here, it sounds not unidiomatic as one would expect, but more unpersonal. I loved what he did with the Finale, though. Let's not forget that Rattle has a thing for unfinished masterpieces: see his 2 recordings of Mahler's 10th.

Wildner I don't know yet. I'm tempted to check his recording out, since what you call a "brusque" performance is exactly what I like in Bruckner.

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

Interesting post, 50m. Who says the forum is dead?

I could be wrong, but I thought it had now been established beyond any reasonable doubt that Bruckner DID finish the finale. There is too much documentary evidence of one sort or another. (He was mid way through the instrumentation, for one thing, which he wouldn't have started if he hadn't finished the short score.) The idea that he didn't because he was "stuck" or "senile" or "depressed" has now, I thought, been decisively overturned by modern scholarship. With Bruckner, even a lot off stuff written in the sixties and seventies (by Cooke, for instance) is full of howlers and misleading assumptions. The idea, in any case, that Bruckner couldn't finish the piece originally came from the fraudulent testimony of Schalk et al after his death - evidence we now know is untrue in many respects. 

As to the 8th and 9th being "weaker" compositions, I just don't see it. For me, they are the supreme Bruckner creations - more profound and more beautiful than anything that came before them. They are different, certainly, to the earlier symphonies and don't have the same "lyrical" flow, but I have never seen that as a weakness or deficiency.

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/forum/general-discussion/any-thoughts-on-the-completion-of-bruckners-9th

Hi 50ml et al... You might be interested to cross-reference with this debate we had a few months ago. It might have been before you joined us. It's on page 6 of General Discussion.

Mark

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

You are right, Mark, but, still, this is good and interesting reading. Particularly, when one may observe how the Brucknerites may disagree on the "deficiencies" and the virtues of the great composer and some more.

Parla

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

Number 5 has got to be his worse symphony, 4 and 7 are nice but light. 2 seems underated.

RE: Bruckner's 9th (Finale)

Yes Parla agreed, it is good stuff, and very knowledgeable and fascinating reading. Hopefully it will carry on!

Mark

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

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