Bruckner’s Ninth – Complete (A Response)

Symphony No. 9 (Complete)

Russian National Orchestra conducted by Robert Bachmann

Reviewed by: Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs

Reviewed: 6 November, 2000
Venue: Moscow Conservatoire

Read Duncan Hadfield’s Review

Like Duncan, who is a good friend, I am a dedicated Brucknerian; however, we do not agree on a four-movement Ninth or on Robert Bachmann’s stature as a Bruckner conductor. Unlike Duncan, I do feel that this is the place to discuss completing Bruckner 9. Not having heard it, I cannot, of course, comment on Bachmann’s RNO concert, but Duncan’s constant reference to power, brilliance and force suggests that Mr Bachmann was characteristic in asking for every available decibel, which, in London, I have found not only crudely overloud but to the detriment of the music. I do though admire Mr Bachmann’s championing of the music, his determination to perform it and his considerable memory (he never uses a score it seems).

These London Bruckner concerts, in which Bachmann has conducted the Royal Philharmonic, have included the Fifth (twice), Seventh and the Ninth, the latter the UK premiere of the Linz Committee’s completion of the finale’s sketches. It seems to me that although such completions – there have been several of 9 (iv) – of Bruckner’s sketches are worthwhile and fascinating, the end results can only be a stand-alone appendix rather than a genuine apotheosis to the three movements Bruckner did complete. My opinion on Robert Bachmann’s four-movement Bruckner 9 UK premiere – originally written for The Bruckner Journal – follows and is not related in any way to the Moscow performance that Duncan heard. In turn that is followed by some views on the Ninth’s finale from Riccardo Chailly, which is previously unpublished from the interview I had with Chailly, which appears elsewhere on The Classical Source.

From The Bruckner Journal:


Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Bachmann
17 May 2000, Barbican Hall, London

The UK concert premiere of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony in its four-movement form, the Finale played in the second performing version by Samale, Phillips, Cohrs and Mazzuca. In a succinct pre-performance talk hosted by Duncan Hadfield, Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs said that the team’s work should not be thought a definitive statement of what Bruckner might have done. All Brucknerians will be very grateful to these men (and to William Carragan who, I believe, has also completed a second edition) for their painstaking work on furnishing Bruckner’s last musical sketches into a wholesome movement. While it’s fascinating to hear Bruckner’s final musical thoughts, this Ninth Symphony Finale, when played immediately after Bruckner’s completed three, displays a marked falling-off of creativity.

Robert Bachmann’s way with the music was predictable: if it’s loud play it as loud as possible! The hard-working RPO string players were swamped in tutti passages by bludgeoning trombones and coarse trumpets – at Bachmann’s behest I should add. Bachmann led a stodgy first movement, the strangeness of the music undermined by a dogged pulse and cautious approach. Although Bachmann’s 28 minutes is matched by Giulini (DG) and overtaken by Colin Davis (LSO concert) and Celibidache (EMI), he seemed a whole lot longer because little colour or phrasal variety was to be heard. Bachmann’s crass speeding-up for the stormy development underlined his sectional approach which rendered some passages inconsequential. Bachmann’s unvaried manner made the scherzo appear gratuitous and unimaginative (brass and timpani well to the fore). The trombones’ subito fortes closing the (traditionally twice-played) scherzo were a new feature (one of the emendations made by Cohrs to Bruckner’s text?) and the biscuit-barrel timbre of the timpani solos (hard sticks played on the rim of the drum) was effective.

How to treat the slow movement when it is now not the last?Bachmann took a flowing view of it and was quite convincing, the opening less intense than usual, the magisterial passages a little subdued, and the `farewell to life’ theme played (agreeably) with little sentiment. But the movement lacked gravitas and wasn’t helped by passages of slack ensemble and poor tuning. The anguished tread to the climax was not as grinding as it needs to be; the dissonant chord it arrives on too trumpet-dominated.

It was a pity that some of the audience applauded here, but how would Bruckner have topped the greatness of the first three movements? This committee Finale seems to belong to a different world – an earlier time, Bruckner raiding his bottom drawer for unused ideas for Symphonies 4, 5 & 7. There are too many sub-Wagner references – I thought Fasolt and Fafner were knocking on the door at one point! – and there’s too much repetition of some pretty uninspired material. This excepts the striking chorale (too loud, Mr Bachmann, too loud). For me Bruckner 9 is an unfinished masterpiece of remarkable vision. I remain interested in the various Finale completions (as recorded by Eichhorn, Inbal and Wildner) but only as an appendix to be listened to occasionally – on its own.

Riccardo Chailly – in his own words:

“I’ve studied it indeed and have spoken to Mister Samale who showed me the sketches; I have the score of the finale. I intended to perform it once but then I changed my mind. I do feel that the finale is a very interesting issue if it is played completely separately from the symphony. If it’s taken as a workshop concert I could see the point; but to try to sell it as the finale of the symphony, linked to the rest of the piece, I think is really not right. Samale showed me – the sketches are like playing cards, pages without numeration where you do not see any order and not any feeling of shape of the composition. There’s also the discrepancy of the quality of music – what can you say at the end of the Adagio? The quality of the music is so incredibly high; then you go back to a kind of sketchy, scholastic, almost rhetoric piece. It’s my idea that it should be done in the morning of an evening concert. You do a workshop of one-hour about the finale, explaining the piece, and in the evening you perform the symphony in three movements – that to me is the only possibility. I think that Mazzuca and Samale did a very good job, and I admire their belief in what they did, because they have been very honest and very scrupulous – but that does not mean that the piece should be done with the rest of the symphony.”

A postscript to the postscript:

It may be that because Riccardo Chailly only mentions Mazzuca and Samale – who produced their own earlier version – that it’s their completion that Chailly is commenting on. However given the Italian duos further participation in the ’Linz’ version, I suspect that Maestro Chailly wouldn’t have a significantly different view of the latest attempt, if indeed he wasn’t already cognisant of it when we spoke.

Colin Anderson

…a further response

Regarding Bruckner’s unfinished Finale, I should add that Maestro Chailly was wrong in his memory, since I know from my friend and colleague Nicola Samale about their conversation in detail. Chailly mentioned “sketches like playing cards”; in fact, this refers to a set of 13×20 cm photographs of the Cracow sketchesto the entire Ninth, which Samale took from the Microfilm for his studying purposes. These photos include only one sketch page for the Finale. In fact, the new philological research shows clearly, that the Finale material consists a) of various particello sketches and drafts, b) several rejected score bifolios, and c) the subsequently numbered, valid score bifolios of the emerging autograph score.

Several of the valid score bifolios, however, were stolen by souvenir hunters from Bruckner´s dying-chamber. It was possible to reconstruct what remained from the Finale´s autograph score on a solid philological fundament. The incomplete autograph score (not “the sketches”!!!) today breaks off after ca 562measures, shortly before the coda, which survives in at least further 56 measures, including the final cadenza going back into the tonic. From the manuscript it is evident that Bruckner must have completed the entire score at least in strings some time before his death; also the exposition (13 score bifolios) musthave been ready in full instrumentation. Several of the final, valid score bifolios are lost today, most likely also including the very end of the movement, which was originally ca 700 measures long. Therefore, Maestro Chailly is simply wrong if he states that theFinale consists of “pages without numeration where youdo not see any order and not any feeling of shape ofthe composition”.

I would like to suggest that whoever is interested in the Finale of the Ninth should study the recent editions in the Bruckner-Gesamtausgabe before talking about the matter, and perhaps better not publish statements based merely on hearsay. Available now from Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag, Dorotheergasse 10, A-1010 Vienna, a) a facsimile edition of all surviving Finale manuscripts, b) the fragment of the autograph score, edited from the surviving manuscripts, and c) a performable ’Documentation of the Fragment’ for speaker and orchestra without additions (this has been first performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Vienna, 14 November 1999, however, excluding the coda sketches). An additional text volume is to follow in 2002. All these editions have been prepared by John Phillips. Also available is now my critical new edition of movements 1 to 3 of the Ninth (score, parts and critical report), intended by the Bruckner-Gesamtausgabe to replace the old Orel and Nowak editions. I think posterity has done enough harm to Bruckner’s own intentions which include clearly a Ninth in four movements, ending with the tonic D, and not in three movements, ending in the 2nd dominant E. One could perform the Ninth, plus Te Deum after an intermission (Bruckner was careful enough to give a direction to posterity how to save his idea in case he would die! Other composers were not). One could also use a completed performing version of the Finale, or at least include the ’Documentation of the Fragment’ into the programme. I would even like the idea to find another ’song of praise’ complementing movements 1 to 3 after the concert intermission (for instance, Psalm 100 by Max Reger). But one should not disrespectfully excuse away Bruckner’s own intention – to end the symphony with a ’song of praise’ – in favour for a simple we-know-better-attitude.

Though, I understand if people feel disappointed that Bruckner did not compose a solemn, Super-Te-Deum-like ’crowning cathedral’, but just the opposite: a toccata-like, musical expression of death with all the anger and radicalism of age he was able to achieve,almost minimalistic and ascetic in its style. However: Would we argue so much about the musical quality if it would be not ’THE Finale of Bruckner’s Ninth’, but, say, a ’Toccata infernale’, composed by a Franz Liszt shortly before his death?

Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs, Bremen, Germany
(Conductor &Musicologist; Co-Editor/Bruckner Complete Edition, Vienna)

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