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Bruckner Discussion

Bruckner Discussion
December 08, 2011, 06:24:36 PM
This was originally a response to another post concerning Sibelius, but my response became more about Bruckner than Sibelius, so I figured it was worth making a separate thread for it.

Regarding length, I find Bruckner's music is very cyclical and even a bit OCD but the tension-release certainly originates in a much more natural mechanism than Sibelius, probably there's every bit as much of the Schubert-Beethoven tradition in his work as there is Wagner.

Maybe, but beyond the influence of Viennese composers of the previous generation, the essence of Bruckner's craft was sacred music; this is what sets him apart from other composers at the time, with the exception of Liszt who was also an ordained priest, but who lacked Bruckner's humility to be able to write music as meditative. To me the reason why his symphonies are enjoyable at all is because he treats the orchestra like an organ, orchestrating in large blocks that mimic the combination of different stops on an organ. This is similar to Wagner, but without the voices and solo passages for section leaders to break up those taxing full orchestral textures.

But I'll say here what I've said before about Bruckner; since all this is the case, why not go straight to the source and listen to his sacred organ and vocal music, which shows his two artistic strengths, contrapuntal mastery and a profound understanding of religion and its associated musical history, in full force? From my perspective, people's praise of Bruckner symphonies looks like someone listening to "Domination" by Morbid Angel and enjoying it; there is a whole separate part to their output that unless you address, you aren't really evaluating them fairly, and many people do the same with Sibelius. You haven't heard Morbid Angel until you've heard "Blessed...", you haven't heard Sibelius until you've heard the fourth symphony, and you haven't heard Bruckner, indeed perhaps you've not lived at all, until you've heard this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkTUK0nEtco

"Os justi meditabitur sapientiam,
et lingua ejus loquetur judicium.
Lex Dei ejus in corde ipsius:
et non supplantabuntur gressus ejus. Alleluia."

Roughly:

"The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks what is just.
The law of his God is in his heart;
and his feet do not falter. Alleluia"

Terse, cogent, and passionate, compared to the symphonies, which are drawn-out, and passionate only.

Re: Bruckner Discussion
December 10, 2011, 01:49:12 AM
Actually I was lucky enough to hear some of Bruckner's choral music in performance a few months ago and yes it was very moving. On the whole I do need to explore his early organ and choral works but I tend to think this period of his artistic output is one of development, not to say it's unimportant but he really didn't start finding his voice until he wrote his 4th symphony. I find 'getting better with age' is often the case with classical composers (and it seems to be the opposite for metal).

My all time favourite of his works is the unfinished 9th symphony where I think he entered a new period of development yet again, it's still very cyclical but with more subtle variations in the repetition of its phrases, it also contains some of the most beautifully intense melodies/harmonies he ever wrote. By the end of the third movement I always find myself lost in deep thoughts, imagining what would have come next.

Re: Bruckner Discussion
December 10, 2011, 02:57:12 PM
I find 'getting better with age' is often the case with classical composers (and it seems to be the opposite for metal).

I've found the same thing, with some very notable historical exceptions like Schumann. Probably because metal musicians devote almost no time to developing "craft", and also because many don't see it as their profession. If you're not committed to improving your musicianship every year and working yourself like a slave, then you're likely, as in metal, to use up all your good ideas within a few years. This is a far cry from life-long professional composers like Brahms, who did counterpoint exercises when he was bored.

My all time favourite of his works is the unfinished 9th symphony where I think he entered a new period of development yet again, it's still very cyclical but with more subtle variations in the repetition of its phrases, it also contains some of the most beautifully intense melodies/harmonies he ever wrote. By the end of the third movement I always find myself lost in deep thoughts, imagining what would have come next.

Can you recommend a good recording of this piece?

Re: Bruckner Discussion
December 13, 2011, 01:17:08 PM
I find 'getting better with age' is often the case with classical composers (and it seems to be the opposite for metal).

I've found the same thing, with some very notable historical exceptions like Schumann. Probably because metal musicians devote almost no time to developing "craft", and also because many don't see it as their profession. If you're not committed to improving your musicianship every year and working yourself like a slave, then you're likely, as in metal, to use up all your good ideas within a few years. This is a far cry from life-long professional composers like Brahms, who did counterpoint exercises when he was bored.

Something I often think about is the timeframe behind the making of genius music. i.e. is carefully designed and insightful composition a substitute for the spontaniety of energy? In terms of developing "craft", it could be argued that many metal bands actually became more technically skilled (look at Emperor or Immortal for example) and the decline was more in the purity of their vision.

My all time favourite of his works is the unfinished 9th symphony where I think he entered a new period of development yet again, it's still very cyclical but with more subtle variations in the repetition of its phrases, it also contains some of the most beautifully intense melodies/harmonies he ever wrote. By the end of the third movement I always find myself lost in deep thoughts, imagining what would have come next.

Can you recommend a good recording of this piece?

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1944 would be my pick. Furtwängler was an expert at shaping tempo around the inherent tension of the music and Bruckner's symphonies are perfectly suited to this method of interpretation.

Re: Bruckner Discussion
January 04, 2012, 04:49:54 PM
Bruckner's concept is best expressed this way: sonic cathedral

He wanted to replicate the effect of an organ, which covers several octaves with pipes that display harmonic resonance for one another. The point is to create a sonic tapestry by dropping and adding different voices, sometimes octave duplicates, in order to change the harmonic texture of the sound.

On top of this, he adds the Wagnerian sense of melody as an expression of storyline, in which each melody is a character or development. Bruckner's music is highly religious and so most melodies represent thoughts and emotions of someone confronting a spiritual truth or fear.

To say he is repetitive is like saying that Wagner or Beethoven are repetitive; Bruckner is more so, but not without cause, since the "prismatic" effect of his music requires we come to repeated passages in new contexts, which is how he builds up the tension that he unleashes in full force with his sonic cathedral method.

Re: Bruckner Discussion
January 06, 2012, 09:12:51 PM
The previous post pretty much sums it all up with Bruckner.

But I'll say here what I've said before about Bruckner; since all this is the case, why not go straight to the source and listen to his sacred organ and vocal music, which shows his two artistic strengths, contrapuntal mastery and a profound understanding of religion and its associated musical history, in full force?

I recently got a cd with his Te Deum and would recommend this as an introduction to anyone interested in exploring his sacred works. Written around the time of his 6th and 7th symphonies, it showcases his understanding of the early religious music within the time period of his most accomplished orchestral writing.

I'm also waiting on a purely organ rendition of his 8th symphony, might be interesting.