Monday, July 22, 2002

[7/22/2012] Bruckner 7 -- a symphony built on its opening pair of musical twin towers (continued)


Eugen Jochum conducts his longtime orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, in the first part of the opening Allegro moderato of one of his signature pieces, the Bruckner Seventh Symphony. (The conclusion of the movement is posted below.)

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E

We start, of course, with those two great powerhouse movements, the Allegro moderato and the Adagio. That the dominant mood is elegiac is for me reinforced by the odd sensation that these are both slow movements and both -- notwithstanding the actual tonality, E major -- in minor mode.

i. Allegro moderato

Bruckner was always central to Herbert von Karajan's repertory, and the Seventh Symphony was a particular specialty. His special mastery of the full resources of the symphony orchestra was regularly channeled into a masterful delivery of what we might call the standard traditional Germanic understanding of the piece -- including two lovely earlier recordings with his own Berlin Philharmonic.

I think you'll hear here that Carlo Maria Giulini, a great Brucknerian (we heard some of his remarkable 1974 EMI recording of the Second Symphony with the Vienna Symphony in the aforementioned post on that work, and if we ever get around to "doing" the Bruckner Ninth, we'll certainly be dipping into his terrifying, blood-drenched second recording, with the Vienna Philharmonic) who had unusual access to the dark, depressed side of the composer's imaginings, lives the music at a somewhat higher intensity level.

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded live, April 1989

Vienna Philharmonic, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. DG, recorded June 1986

ii. Adagio: Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam
(Very solemn and very slow)

The great Adagio of the Seventh -- which we heard first in the January 2010 post, "Adagio -- moving slowly from Beethoven through Bruckner to Mahler" -- became associated in Bruckner's mind with Wagner through the accident of his hero's death while he was actively engaged with its composition. But while the movement is clearly elegiac in tone, it's hard to believe that it was ever imagined as an elegy to any particular individual.

This may be the most beautiful movement Bruckner ever composed, and for all its breadth and expansiveness undoubtedly also one of the hardest to miss the point(s) of. I think we have a couple of really special performances here, though. Both Eugen Jochum and Karl Böhm had been not only conducting but recording Bruckner since the '30s, and while Jochum took a perhaps more optimistic view than I'm inclined to, his close personal identification with the music was one of the great musical identifications -- nobody managed the great climax of the Adagio more ringingly than he did, and in recorded performances from all over the musical map, which adapted to a larger degree than one might expect to the particular qualities of the orchestra he was conducting. This live performance from Vienna seems to me at once utterly representative of his way with the Bruckner Seventh and special for its embrace of the Vienna Philharmonic.

As for Böhm, Bruckner figured less in the concert activity of his later decades, but fortunately his record companies. Decca produced excellent stereo versions of the Third and Fourth Symphonies (if I could have only one recording of the Fourth, it would probably be this one), and in 1976 DG made gorgeous recordings of the Seventh and Eighth for release originally as a three-LP set (the symphonies have been released as single CDs) -- all with the Vienna Philharmonic, naturally. It may be worth considering that while both Bruckner and Böhm were adoptively Viennese, they in fact both hailed from Austria's "other" major cities -- Bruckner from Linz, Böhm from Graz.

Vienna Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance, June 9, 1974

Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded September 1976

The coming of electrical recording coincided with the publication, finally, of editions of Bruckner's symphonies that attempted to re-create some version of the composer's own conceptions rather than the heavily reworked editions prepared by well-meaning friends and disciples. Considering how cumbersomely a Bruckner symphony fit onto 78s, it's remarkable how much recording was done in the '30s, and at the forefront were none other than Jochum and arl Böhm, recording mostly in their then-musical homes, Hamburg and Dresden, respectively. Jochum's Seventh was done in Vienna, however, and we also have this lovely wartime Böhm Seventh from Vienna. I thought we might hear the Adagio from both.

Vienna Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. Telefunken, recorded May 8-9, 1935

Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, June 4-5, 1943

iii: Scherzo: Sehr schnell (Very fast)

This is the movement we heard in Friday night's "Two scherzos" preview post, set alongside the Scherzo of the Bruckner Fourth Symphony. As I noted, the Scherzo of the Seventh isn't that much shorter than that of the Fourth, but in its proper place it is dwarfed by the two giant movements that precede it. The Scherzo of the Fourth seems to me a much fuller, more rounded musical experience, as against the more monomaniacal quality of the Scherzo of the Seventh, which almost seems to be running from ghosts haunting the earlier movements.

Vienna Philharmonic, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. DG, recorded June 1986

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded live, April 1989

iv: Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht schnell
(Lively, but not fast)

The finale of the Seventh is almost anti-Brucknerian in its concision and getting-to-the-pointness. Usually Bruckner liked to recapitulate and ruminate in his finales.

Vienna Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance, June 9, 1974

Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded September 1976

Here's the conclusion of the first movement of the Bruckner Seventh as performed by Eugen Jochum and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which we heard the first half above. (The remaining movements can also be found on YouTube.)


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