Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Classics: Bruckner 7 -- a symphony built on its opening pair of musical twin towers


The string chorale that bursts out shortly after the start of the Adagio (at bar 4 above) of the Bruckner Seventh

by Ken

As promised in Friday night's preview, our subject today is the seventh of Anton Bruckner's outsize nine symphonies, which unlike the Fourth Symphony, with its remarkably evenly weighted four movements, is cast in the form, as I put it, of "an opening movement and an ensuing slow movement of such emotional weight as to dominate the whole piece." (We heard the whole of the Fourth Symphony in the January 2010 post "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements." We also heard the formative Second Symphony, in the August 2011 post "Bruckner begins to establish his voice, hushed and clear." The latter post, I just discovered, had a broken link to the click-through, which I've fixed -- in case anyone has been waiting all this time to read and hear that post.)

Which means that our obvious focus is going to be on those first two movements, which dramatically counteract the silly image of Bruckner which seems to me to excite the ardor of the composer's devout faithful: Bruckner as a a sort of musical idiot savant, a piously Catholic naïf piously erecting monumental musical cathedrals in the ether. About Bruckner being in some ways naïve I don't think there's much doubt, but I think we would have some serious disagreements, the Bruckner Faithful and I, as to where and how that naïveté kicks in. However, the idea that these symphonies are underpinned by reflexive piety seems to me fairly nutty. (I'm embarrassed to own that I've used one of those cheesy architectural mega-metaphors for the title of this post. It's just so tempting.)

There's a reason why Bruckner's Fourth and Seventh Symphonies, and perhaps also the three movements he completed of the Ninth, are the symphonies of his which are often enjoyed by music-lovers who don't have much use for the rest of his work. And yet it seems to me that it would be hard to think of anything more quintessentially Brucknerian than the orchestral chorale we just heard from near the opening of the Adagio of the Seventh, or the opening two minutes of the symphony which we're about to hear, which already demonstrate Bruckner's dependence on repetition as well as the way he can build the orchestra from the softest hush to the most thundering outburst.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E: opening


The performances we've heard so far, by the way, both feature the Vienna Philharmonic (the orchestra best known to Bruckner), as indeed do all the performances we're going to hear today. The snatch of the Adagio at the top is conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, that of the opening of the symphony by Karl Böhm. (We'll hear the complete performances of these movements -- and more -- in the click-through.)



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