Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam

Bruckner Symphony No. 7

‘The Bruckner problem’ is a permanent source of discussion amongst musicologists. Even Bruckner’s most faithful supporters had difficulty in coming to terms with the idiosyncrasies of his music during his lifetime: their well-meant advice was all too frequently taken to heart by the insecure composer and the first published editions of his works were often ‘improved’ editions that had been prepared for performance by well-meaning conductors.

Bruckner would also then decide — sometimes years later — that revisions were needed for symphonies that had already been published. It was with the intention of settling the question of these different versions that musicologists in the 20th century created their own versions — and in so doing only added to the chaos. In brief, it is now extremely difficult even to keep track of the numbers of differing versions of the symphonies; music lovers, conductors and orchestras are now compelled to make their own choices. Despite the fact that Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 is the only one that was completed without any notable problems and that also received a successful premiere, it too suffered from the ‘Bruckner problem’. For example, the charismatic Hungarian conductor Arthur Nikisch advised Bruckner to add cymbals and triangle to the climax of the Adagio (here at 37’30”). Today, therefore we can choose between the Robert Haas edition (the original version without percussion) and the Gutmann Leopold Nowak edition (the version with percussion). There are also conductors who choose the Nowak version, but who leave out the percussion. Mariss Jansons here conducts the Nowak version, with percussion.

Wagner, Bruckner’s idol, is not far away in the Third as well as the Seventh symphony. The overwhelmingly beautiful Adagio (from 20’57”) came to him when he thought of Wagner’s ill-health: “I came home and I was very much upset; I thought to myself that the Master cannot live much longer. It was then that the C sharp minor Adagio came to me”. Wagner died two weeks later. Bruckner also incorporated four Wagner tubas into his orchestration - these were the instruments that Wagner had caused to be built for his Der Ring des Nibelungen and that Bruckner must surely heard during the cycle’s premiere in Bayreuth in 1876. The public of the time would have surely have noted the link between their capacious sound — as in the very beginning of the Adagio — and the dead Wagner.

After the Master’s death Bruckner felt that he had to dedicate the score to Ludwig II of Bavaria. The eccentric king was just as fanatic about Wagner as was Bruckner, for he had financed not only the Ring cycle but also the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

Translation: Peter Lockwood