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Wydawnictwo: Pentatone
Seria: Bruckner Works / Janowski
Nr katalogowy: PTC 5186351
Nośnik: 1 SACD
Data wydania: maj 2010
EAN: 827949035166
na zamówienie
Nasze kategorie wyszukiwania

Epoka muzyczna: romantyzm
Obszar (język): niemiecki
Rodzaj: symfonia

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Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat (1875-1878) Nowak Edition

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The Discovery of Slowness

In his novel “The Discovery of Slowness”, the German writer Sten Nadolny describes the life and death of the English naval officer and Arctic explorer John Franklin. The book is a subtle study on time. Franklin was a slow human being. He spoke slowly, thought slowly, and was slow to react. And even if he failes outwardly at the end, he yet emerges victorious, as in the old paradox of the race between Achilles and the tortoise. Because, from the perspective of slowness, the world does change. And the reader feels this. So what has that got to do with Anton Bruckner and his Fifth Symphony in B flat major? Well, at first glance, not a lot. But if we look more closely, it is not so difficult to credit this late Romantic composer with the “discovery of slowness”. The Fifth, like Nadolny’s book, is a deeply personal study on time.

In his symphonic works, Bruckner often stretches the parameter of time to the edge of what is bearable. Or perhaps we should say, to the edge of what is perceptible. Bruckner’s symphonies carry within them a musical incendiary for the future, especially in the almost endless first versions. An explosive device which was too much for the musical world of the time. As a consequence, Bruckner not only reworked most of his symphonies down to the deepest compositional levels, but went further. He also reconceived them, thus defusing the device at least to some extent...

The temporal dimensions of Bruckner’s symphonies (particularly the Fifth) are almost twice the size of traditional works in the genre. Instead of just the two themes normally prescribed for the sonata form, Bruckner expands them into large-scale thematic complexes, and, as though that is not enough, he then adds a third. More and more cumulations, rising like waves, overlay the movement structure; climax follows climax until the last breakthrough of the main theme. The combination of powerful temporal expansion, dynamic extremes and the large size of the orchestra led to Bruckner’s style aptly being described as monumental. And the “discoverer of slowness” interprets the distinctive pauses - for instance, between the thematic complexes or between movement segments – as an integral part of the development. Far from being empty bars, they function more like imaginary exclamation marks, marking moments of conscious silence and emotional rest for listeners and interpreters alike.

Bruckner worked on the Fifth Symphony in B flat Major from 14 February 1875 until 16 May 1876; reworkings were undertaken in 1877, followed by several smaller and smaller adjustments between 1878 and 1887. The work exists only in one version; Bruckner never heard it performed by an orchestra. At the time of the premiere in Graz on 9 April 1894, he was too ill to attend. The conductor was Bruckner’s pupil Franz Schalk, who presented his own version of the work, with calamitous distortions. He had made drastic cuts and substantial instrumental changes which were diametrically opposed both to Bruckner’s tonal ideas and basic conceptual thoughts. The Fifth’s “real” premiere, true to Bruckner’s autograph manuscripts, did not take place until 28 October 1935, under Siegmund von Hausegger, who conducted the Munich philharmonic orchestra. In 1951 Leopold Nowak published the symphony in its true form, sticking closely to Bruckner’s autograph scores. In the preface to his version, Nowak speaks lyrically of “… moving thoughts of a true giant emerging out of solitude into the diversity of the world, in a symphony replete with artistic mastery and skill in form, movement and sound; unforgettable for anyone who had ever entered the “cathedral” of its polyphony, its melodies, its chorale.”

Bruckner indeed continues to explore new compositional territory with his Fifth Symphony. The Fifth is the epitome of a “finale symphony”. In the 19th century, the development of the sonata form as a cyclical form progressed with the emergence of the finale problem. The cyclical form (four-movement form) was no longer seen as a compulsory characteristic of the genre. Instead, the finale was seen as fulfilment and central point which should preserve the unity of the cycle. The recognition that the finale could no longer only be a “last dance” (the so-called “Kehraus”), or purely entertaining, but had to be the final objective of the cycle led to the deliberately cyclical conception of the symphony. Bruckner had already walked this path to the fulfilling finales of the Third and Fourth Symphonies. However, the inexorable consistency with which he structured and aligned all the thematic material and the musical course in the Fifth towards the finale is found nowhere else in his oeuvre to such a far-reaching degree.

Despite their formal autonomy, the first three movements are, in the end, no more than preparation for the finale. All four movements of the symphony are thematically tightly interwoven: the outer movements refer to each other while the inner movements represent variants of each other. And thus on the one hand the movements are formal pairs but further than that, they are interwoven in their inner structure. Bruckner apparently described the Fifth as his “fantastic” symphony. Not that we should see references to Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique; we should rather admire the astounding imagination with which Bruckner took theme combinations to the limit.

Bruckner’s Fifth is the only one of his symphonies to begin with a slow introduction. The listener perceives the much-quoted slowness in the rising and falling of the deep pizzicato, which is also supported by the held tones of the high strings. The further course is determined by bursts of the whole orchestra playing in unison and choral like motifs.

Then the main theme appears in the allegro played by violas and celli, oscillating between major and minor. With it’s sighing cantilena above syncopated pizzicati, the second theme group is completely different. The final group has a distinctive brass unisono above syncopated strings. The development briefly picks up again on the introduction before Bruckner works with the main theme and its inversion. The regular recapitulation is followed by the coda, which is characterized by the punctuated rhythm of the main theme – in the blazing fff of the orchestral tutti.

Brucker noted that the adagio was to be “very slow”, and the combination of triplet rhythm in the strings and the oboe cantilena in four-fourtime emphasizes the faltering, the reluctance of this movement to proceed. Bruckner then finds the greatest possible contrast with this in the pressing, yearning musical idiom of the second theme group (to be played “very powerfully and vigorously”). After this powerful heightening of intensity, the movement then fades away with the oboe theme in the major key.

Bruckner achieves the already mentioned structural bonding between movements in the following scherzo through the renewed use of the motif that had already opened the adagio in pizzicato style - but this time stomping and propulsive. Bruckner allows two themes their head, the almost demonic woodwind theme and the “Ländler”-like theme played by the violins. Essentially, Bruckner is further developing these themes. The trio has chamber-music characteristics.

The finale again takes up the introduction of the opening movement. Then we have brief recapitulations of the allegro main theme from the opening movement, and the oboe theme with pizzicato accompaniment from the adagio. They function as flashbacks on musical incidents, reminiscent of Beethoven’s last symphony. But already in the third bar, the clarinet tentatively sounds with two octave leaps – the distinctive motivic nucleus of the finale. Between the flashbacks to the other movements, Bruckner scatters the head motif of the main theme of the finale into the clarinet, to almost alienating effect, as Mahler would later do. The exposition begins with fugato strings over the main theme of the finale. Bruckner is already announcing what is to come. Pure counterpoint! The second theme group is a swaying violin cantilena, which is not used to develop the fugue. In the third theme, Bruckner has the brass instruments carry out mighty unison octave cascades; the close relationship with the main theme substantiates the punctuated rhythm. The movement falls in on itself, the music maintains a dissolving character before a monumental chorale theme creates space for itself after a chromatic sequence in ff. The development starts with a gigantic double fugue with the chorale theme as the first and the finale main theme as the second. Further on in the movement, the contrapuntal connections between all thematic material appear. Here, formal borders blur between development and recapitulation. The main theme of the opening movement experiences its true destination only when deployed in the finale, where it is integrated as it were into the contrapuntal events. It is not used as a quote, but as a component of the polyphonic network of themes. All the themes are interconnected. In the coda, we are brought in a rousing and powerful manner to the climax of the finale and with it of the entire work: when the chorale in fff again breaks through, for the first time since it appeared in its original harmonic form, and asserts itself stirringly over the fugue theme. Without any doubt, this is an absolute climax; not only in Bruckner’s oeuvre as a whole but regarding all symphonies ever written. All the artistic contrapuntalism, motif combinations, rhythmical-dynamic intensification – in a nutshell: all that compositional art must fade in importance behind the suggestive power, the astonishingly affirmative gesture of a deeply personal musical language. After this experience, all that is left is amazement, silence, thought, a deeply felt gratitude to the discoverer of slowness.

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