Bruckner and Politics

By Paul Hawkshaw, Yale School of Music

Written for the concert Bruckner and 20th –Century Politics performed on Jan 13, 1995 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

No composer has suffered more at the hands of special interest groups than Anton Bruckner (1824-96). Generations of supporters and adversaries have involved his name in furthering their own political or personal agendas, often coloring and negatively impacting the perception of Bruckner as a person and composer and hindering the dissemination of his music. As early as 1867, when Kapellmeister Johann Herbage and the powerful critic, Eduard Hanslick, fought in the face of heavy odds to bring Bruckner from the provincial capital of Linz to imperial Vienna, they thought they had found the contemporary Austrian symphonies who could serve as a suitable counterweight to the pernicious modernist influence of Richard Wagner. The composer’s unabashed admiration for Wagner’s music soon turned Hanslick into Bruckner’s most powerful adversary. For the next thirty years the critic and his followers, in a segment of the Viennese press representing a strange combination of political liberalism and musical conservatism, vituperatively condemned what they described as the uncontrolled Wagnerians and decadence of Bruckner’s “music of the future.”

Hanslick’s reaction played perfectly into the hands of Viennese Wagnerians. The Academic Wagner Society of Vienna propped Bruckner up on a pedestal, and he became the darling of the local anti-Brahms, politically conservative, and often anti-Semitic press. Young Wagnerians including Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, August Göloller, Ferdinand Löwe, and the brothers Franz and Joseph Schalk were among his staunchest supporters and were often responsible for the publication and performance of his music. Bruckner received much of his contemporary critical acclaim from Wagnerian fundamentalists, many of whom belonged to what Margaret Notley has described as “the most extreme part of the völkisch fringe” of Vienna.

Wagnerian ideology and contemporary politics controlled Bruckner’s legacy well into this century. Realizing that his young editors were not always scrupulous and sometimes even tried to make his music sound more like that of Wagner, he left the autograph manuscripts of most of his major works to the Imperial Library. His wish was to have accurate scores available for posterity. If he had expected these to appear in public soon after he passed away, he was mistaken. Powerful Viennese families with vested interests in the early editions (not to mention a few skeletons in the closet) intervened and, for forty years, most of the manuscript versions remained relegated to the library shelf.

One of the great ironies of the history of the Bruckner legacy is that a major impetus for the first officially sanctioned attempt to address the “editions problem” came as a result of a far greater political evil. In 1937 Adolf Hitler consecrated a bust of the composer in Regensburg’s palace of Valhalla. Bruckner had become a paragon of Wagnerian virtue and prototypical German composer. As Bryan Gilliam observed in a recent essay, this native son of Hitler’s own province of Upper Austria and hero of the Viennese conservative press (which Germany needed to support the Anschluss) had become a cultural icon of the Nazi party. An Austrian peasant genius victimized by Jewish (i.e. Hanslick’s) criticism admirably served the National Socialists’ agenda; it didn’t matter that Bruckner was a devout Roman Catholic–a fact very much downplayed by the Nazis. In any event by now it was propitious to publish the pure “Original Versions” of this German master in a new musically and politically correct Collected Works Edition prepared by Robert Haas and Alfred Oriel.

Any benefits which accrued as a result of the appearance of the new scores were more than offset in many parts of the world by the negative implications of Bruckner’s adoption by the Third Reich. After the Second World War public sentiment demanded the expurgation of Nazi influences on the preparation of the Collected Edition. Leopold Nowak began a new one with his own agenda. His policy for more than thirty years as Director of the Music Collection of the Austrian National Library was to shield the primary sources from outside scrutiny even more rigorously and effectively than his predecessors at the beginning of the century. Only in the past fifteen years have performers and scholars from the international community been allowed consistent access to surviving materials and begun to participate in a systematic investigation of the sources for Bruckner’s major works.

As a result of their work a major reassessment of Bruckner, his music, and its editions is taking place. For example, Benjamin Kristine and William Carragan have pointed out that questionable editorial practices, sometimes inspired by political ideologies, caused editors of the first Collected Edition to mislead performers and scholars by rejecting out of hand valuable evidence provided by some of the earliest printed scores. On a broader scale, that Bruckner remains cloaked in an almost exclusively Wagnerian mantle is no longer justifiable. There is no question he admired Wagner and often made references to his music; the “Meister aller Meister” certainly influenced his harmonic language and orchestration. Yet aesthetically, politically, and philosophically the two men could not have been further apart. Wagnerism has clouded the more pervasive traditional roots of Bruckner’s symphonic and choral styles. As Timothy Jackson has demonstrated in his study of the Mass in F Minor, Bruckner knew his Bach; was well-versed in the Viennese classics–Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert; and spent considerable time with the music of more contemporary figures such as Berlioz and Schumann. All surviving evidence indicates that, during periods of self-analysis, he turned to these composers–not to Wagner.

All of the factors which played a role in the vagaries of the dissemination of Bruckner’s music are in evidence on this evening’s program, beginning with the two works for male chorus. The men’s choral society was an important musical and social institution in German speaking lands during the nineteenth century. Any number of composers including Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, as well as Bruckner wrote for it. Texts varied from rustic, often nostalgic, poems such as Abendzauber, to drinking songs, to fervent patriotic expressions like Germanenzug. Their sentiments served to fan the rising flames of German nationalism to such an extent that the great Austrian statesman, Metternich, (1773-1859) banned male choral societies, referring to them as the “German poison.” Their attraction for the National Socialists of the 1930s and 1940s is self-explanatory.

Bruckner composed Germanenzug during the winter of 1863-64 in Linz. He regarded it as his first work as a professional composer. He had just completed his studies with Simon Sechter and Otto Kitzler and wrote it for a composition competition held in conjunction with the inaugural Upper-Austrian Male Chorus Festival scheduled to take place in Linz in July, 1864. Bruckner’s piece was one of the winners (only second place, much to his chagrin) and received its premiere at the festival. The prize included publication by the local firm of Kranzl that same year. Germanenzug achieved considerable popularity during the composer’s lifetime, so much so that, of all his works, the middle section was chosen for performance at his funeral. It is another of the many ironies of the Bruckner legacy that this piece, at the height of its popularity and since almost forgotten, was selected to honor the death of its composer who’s fame was only beginning to rise.

To the best of our knowledge Abendzauber was never performed during Bruckner’s lifetime, perhaps because of the difficulty of coordinating the Alpine yodelers with the traditional male chorus. It was composed in Vienna in 1878. Special vocal effects were not uncommon in the nineteenth-century male-chorus literature, particularly in the nature songs. Nevertheless the use of yodelers is somewhat of a curiosity.

Psalm 146 is an enigma. When it was written, why, and for wham are all unanswered questions. It survives in two manuscript scores–an incomplete autograph and a complete copy with autograph entrances. Neither could have been used for a performance; there are too many mistakes. The handwriting in the autograph suggests it is a relatively early work, probably from the 1850s. Perhaps because it has never served the needs of any of the special interest groups promoting Bruckner’s music, to date Psalm 146 remains unpublished. The score for this evening’s performance was prepared by this author and will be printed in Vienna next year as part of the Bruckner Collected Works Edition. It is being heard for the first time tonight. Evident throughout are many formal and stylistic influences of the Bach cantata.

If Psalm 146 suffered neglect as a result of its lack of value as grist for some social, political, or musical propaganda mill, Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony has paid a very different price for other reasons. He composed the work between 1875 and 1878. during this period, in the face of stern opposition from Eduard Hanslick, he was vying for and eventually appointed to a post as lecturer in harmony and counterpoint at the University of Vienna. It has been speculated that his particular concern with these learned musical matters at this time explains the often extreme contrapuntal textures in the Symphony-especially the massive double fugue of the Finale.

Bruckner only heard his Fifth Symphony performed on two pianos. He was too sick to attend the orchestral premiere under the baton of his student, Franz Schalk, in Graz on 8 April, 1894. For the performance Schalk had prepared a much-abbreviated new score with a massive reorchestration including the addition of an extra brass ensemble to accompany the chorale in the Coda of the last movement. This score was printed by Doblinger in 1896 and remained in use until 1935 when Robert Haas published the “Original Version” as it is preserved in the autograph manuscript. Because the editors of the new score were able to demonstrate that Bruckner was not involved in preparations for 1896 edition, the Fifth Symphony was held up as conclusive evidence that the manuscript versions more accurately represented Bruckner’s intentions and were therefore far superior to the first prints. Even though, as research has since shown, the evidence is not nearly so conclusive for many of his other works, the new edition of the fifth symphony served as a prototype of the “pure” Bruckner score. By extension, according to Christa Brüstle, it became a musical symbol of uncontaminated “innate [German] artistic genius” perfectly suited for National Socialist propaganda of the 1930’s. The new score was performed after the consecration ceremony in Regensburg in 1937 and again that same year at the closing of the Nazi party convention. Schalk’s version has all but disappeared.

This evening Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra allow us a rare opportunity to hear the symphony as it was known in Bruckner’s lifetime and for a generation afterwards. At least one major conductor, Hans Knappertsbusch, refused to learn the work any other way, continuing to perform the Schalk version until his death in 1965. Referring to the Finale which he heard only in this version, the critic Theodor Helm wrote: “Not Bach, not Beethoven, not Wagner had such an inspiration. It is as though the genius of these three masters has been remolded into a new artistic personality which could be none other than Anton Bruckner.”

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major [Schalk edition] (1894)

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Bruckner and 20th –Century Politics performed on Jan 13, 1995 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Amidst all the discussion of politics, a few words should be said about the music in the major work on this program, the Bruckner Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat.

The work, which is in four movements, was written in 1875 and 1876. Bruckner revised it again in 1878 but never heard the work performed by an orchestra. It was published in 1896 with the help of Franz Schalk, who conducted the first performance. For the published version, large sections were reorchestrated, the last movement was cut extensively, and a brass choir was added at the end to strengthen the closing bars. At the first performance the added brass were offstage, but the score explicitly calls for the new brass choir to be “behind the orchestra on a raised platform.” Either the offstage placement did not work or there was no room. Some Bruckner devotees may wince at this version, but I believe it makes a fantastic case for the work. In this version, the work should be heard more often and recorded.

The first movement is nominally in B-flat major. This can be said because the first movement may be one of the most interesting and powerful experiments in the relationship of harmony to the conventions of symphonic first-movement sonata form. The work has a slow introduction (the only one of its kind in Bruckner), which resists a firm tonality and drifts through G-flat into A until the Allegro. But even in the Allegro, tonality always seems to shift, together with wonderful new thematic and rhythmic materials and periodic breaks in the surface continuity. C major, F minor, E major, G minor, B-flat minor, E-flat major-among others-all are explored as this grand, nearly improvisatory harmonic journey makes its way to its massive end, which asserts the B-flat major. This movement is one of the most innovative in the nineteenth-century literature and bears the marks of Bruckner’s genius in using harmonic color and unexpected relationships to frame the emotionally powerful but intricate and subtle musical structure, in which the matter of a defining tonality is challenged.

The second movement is in D minor and is marked by a lyrical clarity achieved, In part, by simple cross rhythms. The second subject is in C major. Bruckner’s melodic genius is evident throughout. The closing bars are particularly notable with the D pedal in the timpani and the quiet close in D major. The third movement Scherzo is in D minor and is typical Bruckner. There is a slower second theme, reminiscent of the Austrian Ländler dance. The transition to the trio, which is not In 3/4 time, is an example of Bruckner’s harmonic usage. The F sharp of a D-major triad becomes used as a G-flat. The audience hears the same sustained note from one context immediately become the basis of another unrelated context without warning. in this movement, particularly the Trio, Bruckner’s humor and his relationship to Schubert and the eighteenth century are audible.

The last movement, after the introduction, is built around the writing of fugues. There is also a stunning chorale. Throughout this massive, multi-subject contrapuntal movement-even in this shorter form- Bruckner’s dramatic sense and sonic imagination are breathtaking. For the listener there will always be two outstanding aspects: the constant influence of the sound of the pipe organ on Bruckner’s use of the orchestra and the utterly original attitude to the creation of musical continuities. A majestic structure is built around blocks of sound, closely interrelated musical ideas, and carefully organized counterpoint–all placed in discrete and harmonically unexpected sequences. Bruckner creates his own sense of time and therefore the inner journey for the listener, it is likely that the essence of that journey, for Bruckner, was the celebration of faith and a sense of awe; and the expression of the variety and majesty of God’s creation through sound.

Bruckner and 20th –Century Politics

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Bruckner and 20th –Century Politics performed on Jan 13, 1995 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

This concert is designed to invite the audience to think about how we come to appreciate and hear the music of the past. It would be nice simply to be able to answer that it is all a matter of the “music itself.” It would seem logical that music that was written down can be considered a constant, much the way we might regard a fixed distance or a monument. We might argue that Mozart wrote such and such a piece, published it, and there it is. When we read about how past generations loved that piece, we hum the very same bars of music to ourselves that they must have. Likewise, the Statue of Liberty, although it may have been cleaned and refurbished periodically, remains much the same thing. It is unchanging, relatively speaking. Generations of school children who have been taken to see it would recognize it, identify it, and never think there was much to contemplate in terms of difference.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes pose a more daunting problem. They recently have been “cleaned,’ apparently to restore them to the condition they were in when they were done. We now can see them, scholars claim, as Michelangelo “intended” them to look, and as they did when he was finished. However, the reputation of these paintings, as well as most of the powerful interpretations of them and the posthumous fame of the artist, was based on the darker and entirely different appearance that these “same” works acquired since they were completed. The whole nineteenth-century cult of Michelangelo, all the millions of treasured reproductions, and our understanding of Renaissance art history were based on quite different-looking images.

The same holds true, perhaps on a more extreme scale, for our view of Greek classical architecture. For more than a century we have prized the white, austere surfaces of classicism that are now tourist attractions and have been reproduced in our finest neo-classical public buildings. It turns out, however, that the Parthenon might have looked quite colorful, decorated in bright pastel and other brash pigments. Over time, the gaudy color disappeared, leaving the white surface, which the Greeks who built the Parthenon might have thought naked and ugly. The sober dignity of classical architecture–an ideal to which we have been committed for so long- may now vanish as something “authentic.” In its place we have the unsettling notion that what the ancients built and treasured was, in terms of its colors and combined effect, more akin to the aesthetics of our brightly colored suburban malls and the worst of post-modern architecture than to the Lincoln Memorial.

In music, this kind of unsettling change has been accomplished most dramatically for Baroque and Classical. Efforts to utilize the instruments and performance styles in use at the time the composers were alive have altered the surface of what was once seemingly unchanging and familiar music. The Mozart we accept today just is not quite the same as the Mozart Bruno Walter was accustomed to thinking about and performing. We rarely, if ever, will hear Bach, Handel, Mozart, or Haydn performed in a manner resembling the approach Mendelssohn, Wagner, Brahms, or Bartók took in performing the works of these composers.

The balance between what remains the same and what is different can be exaggerated, of course. There is possibly more sameness than difference, but the differences are constant and play a decisive role. Perhaps the fetish of so-called “authentic” performances has run its course. The obsession with “historical authenticity” has a tendency to obscure the competing and equally valid questions regarding the range of possible meanings and interpretations that can be associated with any text, irrespective of what the composer may have “intended” (if one could ever really establish what that was in terms of a musical performance).

The case of Bruckner, as Paul Hawkshaw has so elegantly argued in the essay that accompanies this program, is even more daunting. The texts themselves have been, from the beginning, in disarray. The kind of certainty about what the Fifth Symphony of Bruckner “is”–by comparison with the Beethoven Fifth, the Mahler Fifth, or the Shostakovich Fifth–simply eludes us. There are, no doubt, passionate and close-minded advocates of this or that version, but an inflexible claim to certainty and expertise in Bruckner must always remain suspect. Richard Osborne wrote in Gramophone in August 1991 that in the case of the Bruckner 5th, the matter is “simple”; and that “once we have scotched the validity of Franz Schalk’s 1893 version. it is relatively plain sailing”.

Unfortunately, the Schalk version, which dates from 1896, not 1893 (the first orchestral premiere was in 1894) has, as the work of Ben Korstvedt and other scholars suggests, more claims to authenticity, respectability, and to reflecting Bruckner’s wishes than heretofore suspected. Bruckner actually may have approved of the version of the symphony whose printing took place in 1896, the year of his death. Not only was the Fifth known for the first third of this century in the version being performed today, but that version may have reflected the composer’s own revisions, even though some of the suggestions may have come from a loyal disciple.

Bruckner was not the only composer to reconsider aspects of a work after the first performance and at the urging of trusted colleagues and students. Korstvedt has shown that the revisions of Symphony Nos. 2 and 4 and of the Quintet did reflect Bruckner’s wishes. We do not know what version he heard in the first four-hand piano performance of the Fifth. Schalk maintained that Bruckner explicitly approved of the additional brass at the end of the work. The 1896 edition may be a perfectly valid representation of the Fifth.

We are so accustomed to respecting “true” painstaking scholarship that we fail to retain a healthy skepticism. Every music student has had the experience of looking for the “Urtext” edition-the uncorrupted “real” unedited and distorted text. In Bruckner’s case the motivation and the procedures behind the creation of the “Urtext”–the meticulous scholarship begun in the 1930s, particularly on the Fifth Symphony–was National Socialist ideology, masquerading as “neutral” scholarship. “Facts” simply did not speak for themselves. Even anti-fascists and Jews of that era were unwittingly influenced by a view of Bruckner encouraged by the Nazis. After all, the tainted “critical edition” of the Fifth was published in 1935, deceptively, as a “neutral” scholarly achievement.

For the listener, however, there is a larger question at stake. We have fallen into the habit, in the United States, of thinking about Bruckner too much in terms of the Nazi appropriation of him and his music. No doubt, in his lifetime and afterwards Bruckner was the darling of those who championed the worst form of reactionary and intolerant politics, particularly anti-Semitism. But the popularity of Bruckner during the Nazi era was not an obvious legacy for the composer or the music.

Most important, the Nazi embrace took its toll on the way the music was played. The spirit, tempos, and timbres of practically all Bruckner performances–especially those praised by critics and Bruckner enthusiasts–are based on models that date from before 1945. Contemporary conductors thoughtlessly turn to Karajan or Furtwängler or examples set by other German and Austrian contemporaries between 1930 and 1945 to find the true approach to Bruckner. But Karajan and Furtwängler–and too many of their colleagues–were more a part of the world of Nazism and its ambitions to present Bruckner as essential and true Aryan culture than should make us comfortable.

The easy disclaimers (interpretation is just a matter of looking at the “same” music, and doing what somehow is “objectively” in it) won’t work. Given the importance of Bruckner to the Nazis, why do we assume that the “German” performance tradition of the mid-twentieth century is the place to begin? After all, Bruckner’s music has never quite achieved the popularity it deserves. In the United States, the Fifth–perhaps because it was Hitler’s favorite Bruckner symphony–is one of the lesser known symphonies. Perhaps a fresh approach to the texts and a distancing from received performance traditions will help.

This concert therefore tries to present Bruckner anew. We start with his early and strikingly patriotic Germanenzug. Bruckner’s sympathies were perhaps more congruent with his unattractive reactionary pan-German patrons in Vienna than many scholars are willing to admit. But the distance between mid-nineteenth century patriotism and Nazism should not be passed over lightly. We move to some lighter material, the Abendzauber, written for the same male chorus for which Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube was written a decade earlier in 1867; an organization that, as Hawkshaw correctly points out, was feared in the 1840s by Metternich because its leaders were in the forefront of liberalism and the movement to democratize the Habsburg Monarchy. Among those who lost their lives in the 1848 Vienna revolution were organizers of the Vienna Men’s Choral Society.

We then turn, in Psalm 146, to the most powerful aspect of Bruckner’s personality: his devout Catholicism. Bruckner was an unassuming, provincial Austrian genius with few pretensions. He was loved by his students. His use of dialect, his simple mode of dress, and his manners were the source of much humor and may have offended some of his more cosmopolitan colleagues. But above all he was truly a man of God. Today’s performance of this youthful work is a world premiere.

This brings us to the Fifth. It may not be the stirring, warlike work that was performed in 1937 to illustrate Aryan masculinity, spirituality, power, and grandeur. The cruelest fate has been the extent to which Bruckner, the devout and brilliant organist, counterpoint teacher, and composer was tarnished posthumously by the Nazis. Unlike Wagner, Bruckner was not a rabble-rousing anti-Semitic polemicist. What in his works can be interpreted plausibly as politically nefarious, as might be done in the case of Wagner? The Fifth may be about theology and faith as music, as are other works.

The question posed by this concert, therefore, is: Can we listen to and appreciate Bruckner in a way that puts the Nazi era behind us? To do so not only requires that we play repertoire and use editions that are less laden with the Nazi legacy. It also demands that we perform Bruckner differently: independently of the suspect traditions that have come down to us.

Bruckner and 20th Century Politics

01/13/1995 at 08:00 PM – Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center

    Concert Notes