Music like a thunderstorm. Violent. Majestic. Music like a prayer. Full of consolation and devotion. Anton Bruckner’s last word. “I don’t want to start writing the 9th [symphony], I don’t have the courage – Beethoven concluded his life with his Ninth”, the composer apparently said with apprehension. While he composed the first three of four planned movements, he realized that recurrent phases of illness proved him right. This symphony in D minor would be his legacy as a composer. And what a legacy it is!
Bruckner dedicated this work to the ultimate authority – God. And though Bruckner did not intend to write programmatic music, the puece will show you will God in his different forms: the violent god of revenge and destruction of the Old Testament, the loving and consoling god of the New Testament, god as the source of all beings, god as a means in itself. The symphony’s language is noble which is appropriate considering the divine nature of the subjectas it should be if the subject. At the same time it makes you feel man’s vulnerability when confronted with God. The symphony is a testimony of the composer’s humility and commands the audience’s humility before the sublimeness of this piece.
Wagneresque moments of drama
What else does this symphony hold as a surprise for the audience? An extremely colourful orchestration following the example of Franz Liszt. Dramatic moments as you may only find them in Wagner’s operas. A self-quotation from Bruckner’s Mass in D minor, the Miserere, in the third movement. A first movement with no main theme, but rather a succession of themes, one leadingbtomthe next, with comon subelements. A second movement, disconnected from the rest of the symphony, as a self-sufficient element.
Here are some sequences I want to point out: the brass and woods in the first movement – a thunderstorm, a volcano, an almighty god, a show of force. The overall mood of the second movement: an eery feeling, fairy queens dancing in a magical gardens or, to stick with Bruckner’s idea, angels playing graciously in paradise. Delicate pizzicato* alternating with a thunderous Star Wars like staccato march. A third lyrical movement with a pastoral theme, inspiring a celestial calm and spiritual elevation. It is a hymn to God, a praise of his goodness and his love for Man, an expression of hope for deliverance.
No last movement!?
And what about the last movement? Ah, the last movement! Bruckner died before he finished it. He has left sketches, but he also had said that his Te Deum should be performed instead of the last movement if he were to die before he could complete the symphony. Many composers have written a fourth movement upon the fragments that Bruckner had noted before. I haven’t listened to any of them. I am not interested in constructed happy-ends. I prefer unfinished business. Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Schumann left incomplete works. So what? I listen to what these great composers had to say.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim has recorded Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor. No fourth movement. But… the same recording features Bruckner’s Te Deum. You know what you have to do.
© Charles Thibo