Symphony No. 4 (Löwe version) (1888)

By Benjamin M. Korstvedt, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota

Written for the concert Bruckner’s Divided Vienna, performed on Dec 1, 1999 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

The Fourth Symphony is one of Bruckner’s most well known and popular works, yet tonight’s concert will present a score that is not generally familiar. For more than half a century, the Fourth has been heard almost exclusively in its1880 version. This evening we shall hear instead the 1888 version. Bruckner himself considered this to be the final version of the symphony and chose it as the form in which the Fourth was to be published, yet for reasons that are neither immediately obvious nor wholly justified it has been dismissed as “not authentic” in more recent times.

Bruckner completed the initial version of the Fourth in 1874, but withdrew the score even before it had been performed because, as he wrote, he realized the work “urgently needed a thorough revision.” Between 1878 and 1880 Bruckner revamped the entire symphony, and it was in this revision that the Fourth was given its first performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under Hans Richter on February 20, 1880. The 1880 version was performed once more (in 1881), but then remained on the shelf until 1886, when Bruckner again felt called upon to revise. (It was also at this time that Bruckner gave a copy of the 1880 score to Anton Seidl, who brought it to New York and used it for the American premiere on April 4, 1888. This score, heavily marked and cut by Seidl, is now in the collection of Columbia University.) In 1887-88 Bruckner prepared the final revision of the symphony for a performance in January 1888, again by Vienna Philharmonic under Richter. It was this 1888 version–which contains slight but significant revisions to the orchestration, new tempo and dynamic indications, and adjustments to the form of the Scherzo and Finale–that Bruckner had published in 1889. This edition of the symphony, which was the only score of the Fourth Symphony known to the public for more than 40 years, was performed scores of times in Europe and the Americas from the 1890s through the 1930s.

Since the 1930s, however, the 1888 version of the Fourth has been in eclipse. It was not admitted to the canon of Bruckner’s works as defined by the Collected Edition prepared by Robert Haas between 1932 and 1944. Haas contended–at times on flimsy, circumstantial evidence–that the versions of Bruckner’s symphonies published in the nineteenth century were corrupt and inauthentic. This was despite the fact that these scores had been published during the composer’s lifetime and with his apparent approval. Haas came to argue, in the midst of great debate on all sides, that these publications had been editorially modified in violation of Bruckner’s true wishes and that therefore, despite appearances, they did not represent the “real Bruckner.” This agenda matured in the ideological context of Nazi Germany and was typically conceived of in terms that reflected this terrible ethos: Haas’s edition was often imagined to right injustices visited upon Bruckner by unscrupulous (and, it was taken for granted, Jewish) editors and publishers by purifying his music of accreted “foreign elements.” In keeping with his editorial policies Haas rejected the 1888 version, which was of course a published score, in favor of the 1880 which was preserved in an unpublished–and presumably “pure”–autograph manuscript.

After the war Haas’s work did not, despite its seemingly compromising history, attract skeptical criticism. Indeed his basic position gained general acceptance and soon modern critical editions based on manuscript sources (notably those prepared by Haas and his successor Leopold Nowak) all but entirely supplanted the versions published during Bruckner’s lifetime. In the past few years, however, fresh research and analysis has demonstrated that despite widespread opinion to the contrary, many, if not all, of the authorized nineteenth-century publications of Bruckner’s symphonies have strong claims to legitimacy. The1888 version of the Fourth Symphony is perhaps the clearest case: by any reasonable standard, this score is authentic. The manuscript score used in its publication was not copied by Bruckner, but was painstakingly revised by him; moreover it is clear from the composer’s correspondence that he wanted this version, not the 1880 version, to be performed. If for no other reason, the 1888 version deserves to be heard.

Musically, the 1888 version is an astute and effective modification of the familiar 1880 version. There are two cuts: the reprise of the Scherzo, which in 1880 was a literal da capo, is shortened by 65 measures (a new transitional passage also now leads to the Trio, thus reserving the loud, decisive cadence to the end of the movement). More importantly, Bruckner substantially revised the recapitulation of the Finale. He removed the powerful recall of the movement’s opening theme that ushers in the reprise in the 1880 version and he revamped the tonal scheme (now the second theme group returns in D minor, not F# minor). The primary effect of these revisions is to postpone any feeling of dènouement until the final coda.

The orchestration is modified in subtle, even subliminal, ways. The scoring, especially of heavy passages, is often made a bit more economical and less massive (a good example is the first entry of the brass section early in the symphony, where the heavy brass resound a bit less forcefully in the revised score). In a few spots the instrumentation is changed to new effect. The clearest examples of this are the addition of a cymbal crash at the crest of the great wave of music that opens the Finale and the added pianissimo entry of the same instrument above the soft trumpet calls that haunt the final pages of the symphony.

The 1888 version also contains as wealth of tempo and dynamic markings absent from the 1880 version. These markings spell out some tempo relationships that were left unclear in the earlier version. In addition, they sculpt the flow of the music in ways that are not familiar to modern ears habituated to late twentieth-century performances based on the 1880 version: the music is instructed to surge energetically toward climaxes, to ebb and flow romantically in lyrical passages, and generally unfold with a keen sense of symphonic drama. These new markings undoubtedly make explicit aspects of performance practice and interpretation that Bruckner felt free to leave unspoken in the 1880 version (which was never prepared for publication by the composer). The 1888 version thus contains uniquely valuable information about how this music was played in Bruckner’s day. Its greatest value is, however, musical not historical. It casts new light on a familiar masterwork and in the process makes the Fourth into a newly vivid and meaningful musical experience.