Bruckner’s Divided Vienna

By Leon Botstein

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

Rarely have politics and music engaged each other with such tenacious consistency as in the case of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Vienna and German-speaking Austria. The recent elections in Austria that have enlarged the power of Jorg Haider and his People’s Party may seem at first glance to have little to do with tonight’s concert. But as the politics of the Salzburg Festival in recent months have shown (in large measure through the insightful commentary by Cornell historical Michael Steinberg) culture, particularly surrounding music, has long been political in Austrian life. The president of Austria, Thomas Klestil, and Haider have all attacked the current leadership of Salzburg in terms strikingly similar to the critical vocabulary used at the turn of the century against Mahler and his innovations at the Vienna Opera.

The consistent politicization of music stems from the divisions that occurred in the rapidly growing metropolis which Vienna was after 1867, when constitutional reform made migration to the city from within the Empire much freer. The pieces by Brüll and Goldmark were written and premiered in the twilight years of a liberal era in Vienna. The 1860s and early 1870s had been a time of rapid economic expansion and massive physical reconstruction in the city. But the stock market crash of May 1873 ushered in a long era of disillusionment and decline. By the time the Löwe version of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony was first heard, a new radical politics was in the ascendancy, marked by a nostalgia for pre-industrial artisan economy, anti-Semitism, and the aggressive assertion of the superiority of Germanic culture and people. Despite the fact that Vienna was a multi-ethnic and polyglot capital, by the end of the nineteenth century it had become a place that mixed an open and creative cosmopolitanism with a narrow-minded provincial rigidity most often expressed in rabid anti-Semitism. Jews were the city’s most visible and significant minority. Their visible and extraordinary contribution to cultural life was widely understood.

The political divisions between liberal traditions and a new radical political conservatism which was nativist and reactionary had their musical mirror. Brahms who settled in the city in the early 1860s was identified with the liberal tradition. He was north German and Protestant, and his friends were predominantly liberals and included many Jews. Brüll (who had the distinction of having his portrait painted by Franz von Lenbach) was one of Brahms’s closest friends. What linked them was not only Brahms’s admiration for Brüll’s spectacular pianism and Brüll’s allegiance to an anti-Wagnerian compositional tradition, but a shared outlook which was open to progress and to tolerance. It should be noted that Brüll’s music was more successful and is more compelling than recent scholarship suggests. More of his music deserves a hearing. Even though Goldmark absorbed many Wagnerian habits and was an enthusiastic admirer of Wagner’s, in the politics of Vienna, Goldmark and Brahms were allies and friends, despite differences in compositional and aesthetic outlook. Goldmark, a Hungarian Jew, was an outsider in the terrible racial politics which engulfed the city.

The career of Anton Bruckner denotes the other side of the story. Brought to Vienna from Linz as an organist and teacher of counterpoint and legendary as an improviser, Bruckner was anything but cosmopolitan. Unlike Brahms, Brüll, or Goldmark, he remained true to his local roots, resisted the pleasures and blandishments of elegant urban life, proudly displayed his regional dialect and remained devoutly Catholic. His rise to fame among a younger generation of students and musicians in the 1870s and 1880s was only in part due to his embrace of the Wagnerian. Bruckner seemed the true heir to Schubert–a genuinely local genius whose strength appeared to derive from things decidedly Austrian and Catholic. Although Löwe was himself of Jewish birth, an important source of support for Bruckner as an antipode to Brahms and later even to Mahler (who deeply admired Bruckner and performed his symphonies, albeit with cuts) came from Bruckner’s willingness to be used as a cultural symbol against what was perceived to be the growing influence of foreign elements in Viennese culture. In this debate cosmopolitanism took on the negative connotation which it has retained to this day as a code word for “Jewish” and the influence of the “other.” Bruckner permitted himself to be the honorary head of a new academic Wagner society in Vienna, distinct from the one Goldmark helped create, which had as one of its bylaws the explicit provision that no Jew could be a member. The right-wing press and politicians lauded Bruckner, and he developed the aura of a local Wagnerian master whose genius was underestimated and unrecognized as the result of a conspiracy of Jews and cosmopolitans who controlled public opinion and who failed to understand the spiritual essence and greatness of Bruckner’s music. Bruckner became the embattled, marginalized master, struggling against people like Eduard Hanslick, institutions such as the Neue Freie Presse and an apparent cabal of influence peddlers and second-rate foreign artists including Brüll and Goldmark, who were supported behind the scenes by Brahms. Brahms did not think much of Bruckner’s music, and there was little fondness between the two men, who ended up dominating the musical life of the 1880s and 1890s.

This was the ugly world into which Gustav Mahler stepped in 1897 and in which the young Arnold Schoenberg struggled to make a career. This was the environment in which psychoanalysis was branded as a Jewish science and alliances on behalf of new art, literature, and music, were constantly threatened by provincial politics, anti-Semitism and intolerance. As Benjamin Korstvedt makes clear in his essay, Bruckner, who was genuinely a spiritual and harmless figure surrounded by intense and loyal admirers, was deeply uncertain about the final form his symphonies should take. It is true that this insecurity may have derived from the difficulties he encountered among Viennese critics and with Viennese audiences.

But some of Bruckner’s uncertainties were compositional in nature and not political. He had relatively little experience with orchestration. As a result, Bruckner like any other composer shared his work with loyal admirers and often took their advice. He was grateful for the support he received, given that he was by no means an unqualified public success. Among his first supporters was the Viennese publisher Gutmann and Löwe, both of whom were of Jewish origin. In the case of the Fourth Symphony, he clearly agreed to and endorsed the first publication and the changes it contains from earlier versions. But the contemporary suspicion that foreigners had meddled with the true Aryan and Austrian master who was helpless against the “evil whisperings” of people really incapable of understanding his true essence, survived in Brucknerian circles and among Wagnerians well into the 1920s. It should therefore come as no surprise that when a new critical edition of Bruckner came into being under the aegis of the Nazis, that Löwe’s version of the Fourth would be discredited. Bruckner was probably Hitler’s favorite composer, and his music was, as Bryan Gilliam has convincingly argued, considered a source for an alternative to both Christian and cosmopolitan spirituality. Bruckner’s music provided the sounds of a new Aryan religion.

The restoration of the original versions in the critical edition had the effect of bringing back to the stage an often more austere orchestral sound and less concise forms of many of the symphonies. Only a few conductors, out of instinct, championed the versions published in Bruckner’s lifetime, the versions which had helped make many of the symphonies including the Fourth world famous. These included Eugene Ormandy and Hans Knappertsbusch. A new generation of scholars including Benjamin Korstvedt (whose pathbreaking scholarly work on the Fourth Symphony in part inspired this program) and Crista Brüstl, have pierced the veneer of objectivity and scholarly care associated with the work of Haas and Nowak, the editors of the critical edition. The fingerprints of Nazi cultural politics have now been exposed. The irony is that in this case the Nazis did not invent history; they simply extended and augmented an attitude spawned during Bruckner’s lifetime.

Tonight’s program therefore offers three individuals who represent the spectrum of Viennese taste in the 1870s and 1880s. On the most musically conservative side stands Brüll. Here we see the irony of an alliance between musical conservatism and progressive liberal politics. In the middle we find Goldmark, who managed a synthesis between Brahms and Wagner. The modern, represented by the figure of Wagner, was linked to reactionary nationalist politics. In Goldmark’s career art and politics become separate. Aesthetically he was more inclined to Wagner, but socially and politically he kept his distance from Wagner’s political implications. In Anton Bruckner we hear a profound religious conviction, a brilliant and inspired appropriation of Wagnerian techniques and new impulses within symphonic form. Although he seemed a naïve individual, grandeur, profundity and subtlety have legitimately become the hallmarks of Bruckner’s music. For most of the twentieth century, outside of Austria and Germany, the tensions between Brucknerians and Brahmsians which seemed sharp and unbridgeable to their contemporaries in the 1880s disappeared long ago. Conductors from Mahler on have performed the works of both composers with equal conviction and allegiance. It is tragic, however, that as the memory of World War II and the Holocaust recede, the Viennese political discourse which accompanied the creation of the works on tonight’s program is still relevant and continues to wreak its havoc.

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.

Overture to The Golden Cross (1875)

By Anthony Burton

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

In “Bruckner’s divided Vienna” of the late 19th century, Ignaz Brüll (1846-1907) belonged to the opposite camp to Bruckner’s: the circle surrounding Johannes Brahms. A successful pianist and composer even before the age of twenty, the Moravian-born Brüll became Brahms’s favorite interpreter of his new works, both as a solo pianist and as his partner in two-piano try-outs of orchestral pieces. Outside the music room, he was valued for his ability to keep up with Brahms on his walks in the Vienna Woods, and for his knowledge of French. He traveled to Italy with Brahms, and introduced him to the pleasures of summer vacations at the lakeside resort of Ischl. What Brahms seems to have especially valued in his younger colleague was his directness and simplicity of character. In his biography of Brahms, Richard Specht, who knew both of them, described Brüll as “a man of middle height, who was apparently flaccid, but in reality strong and under whose bald head was a calm, kindly face with radiant blue child’s eyes, a dreamily smiling mouth and a long, fair, silky beard. You succumbed from the first moment to this dear, great infant.”

The list of Brüll’s music includes works in most of the categories favored by Brahms: symphonies, serenades, two piano concertos and a violin concerto, chamber music, piano music, solo songs, part songs. Unlike Brahms’s, it also includes operas–no fewer than ten of them. Of these, by far the most popular, much to the detriment of Brüll’s later works, was the second, Das goldener Kreuz. This was first performed in Berlin in December 1875, with the great Lilli Lehmann as the heroine; within a year it was also produced in Prague and in Vienna, where it was conducted by the celebrated Hans Richter. It was taken up by the touring Carl Rosa company in England in 1878, and was presented by a German Gesangverein (choral society) in New York the following year; a production at the Metropolitan Opera followed in 1886. The opera remained popular in Germany for many years: in 1892 the critic Eduard Hanslick wrote that “it still holds sway on all the German stages”.

It is a sign of the divisions prevailing in Vienna that, according to Specht, The Golden Cross “was even played off against Wagner” (whose Ring cycle had its first complete performances in 1876). This opposition now seems ridiculously contrived, because Brüll’s opera was aimed at a completely different public from that of Wagner’s music dramas. It is a two-act Singspiel, a light opera with spoken dialogue, in the tradition of Lortzing among German composers, and Boieldieu and Auber among the French. Hanslick described it “one of those agreeable Singspiele which in the spirit of the old opéra comique were able to create a happy blend of the touching and the cheerful”. The libretto, adapted from a French source by the highly experienced Salomon Herman Mosenthal, is set in a French village at the time of the Napoleonic wars. To save her brother from the draft, Christine offers to marry anyone who will take his place, giving the recruiting sergeant a golden cross as a pledge; her offer is taken up by the nobleman Gontran, and on his return from the wars he claims Christine as his bride.

The Overture to the opera demonstrates Brüll’s generous flow of melody, and his efficient handling of the orchestra, if also a certain musical naïveté which was affectionately mocked by Brahms: the London critic who wrote in 1878 about its “rigid adherence to one key” was not entirely right–the main Allegro is correct enough in its varied key -scheme–but not entirely wrong either. E major is not only the basic key of the main Allegro, but also the key of all three segments of the introduction which precedes it: the first a short Adagio; the second based on Gontran’s Act I Romance (which returns in the Act I Finale, to the words “Fatherland, homeland, you see me depart”, and again in the Act II Finale); the third a quick march which recurs in the Act II Finale when the soldiers return from the war. Of the four main themes of the main section, the second has echoes of Weber; the third, an expressive violin melody preceded by an accompaniment figure in the lower strings and bassoon, is again taken from the opera, from a second Romance of Gontran in Act II; the fourth once more suggests the military background of the opera, as does the short but emphatic coda.

Goldmark Violin Concerto

By Leon Botstein

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

Asked what he did for a living by an old lady with whom he found himself traveling, Karl Goldmark (1830-1915) is said to have answered, “I am a composer-I am the composer of The Queen of Sheba.” “Ah yes,” the lady responded, “and does the post pay well?”

Apocryphal it may be, but the incident underlines the fate of a certain kind of composer. There are composers we celebrate for an entire oeuvre; and then there are those whose names have come down to posterity linked to just a single title. One such was Anton Rubinstein, long known at one time only for his Melody in F (and even that has largely disappeared from current view); another was Henry Litolff, whose Scherzo, from the Concerto symphonique No. 3, enjoyed warhorse status half a century ago among romantic pianists.

The Hungarian-born, Vienna-based Goldmark’s choice of The Queen of Sheba as self-evident calling-card may seem to put him in the sympathy-evoking category of the “one-work composer.” His case, however, is a little more complicated. There may be few music-lovers or even musicians today who can claim acquaintance with the whole range of his production. On the other hand, the category must be expanded in this instance from one work to three-though perhaps never all three at the same time. During the last forty years of his life, the Goldmark work of note was indeed that first of his six operas, premiered in Vienna in 1875. By the middle of the twentieth century, Sheba had been passed in popular esteem by Rustic Wedding, composed in 1877. A vividly atmospheric symphonic poem, it was one of those slightly off-the-beaten charmers that formed a major segment of Sir Thomas Beecham’s repertoire.

By now, with its other great champion Leonard Bernstein no longer among us, Rustic Wedding in turn has lapsed into relative obscurity. And so for practical purposes we are left with the piece that has, through all these vagaries, maintained at least a degree of currency thanks to the advocacy of such star soloists as Ruggiero Ricci and the late Nathan Milstein: the A-minor Violin Concerto, also dating from 1877, and sometimes referred to as “No. 1” though all trace of its putative successor seems to have vanished.

If he is to be relegated to “one-work composer” status, the Violin Concerto is as deserving of being that work as either The Queen of Sheba or Rustic Wedding. Indeed, it may be fairly described as combining Goldmark’s best qualities in the highest concentration. A skilled orchestrator, thanks in part to his experience of playing and also scoring other composers’ music during years of working as a violinist in Vienna’s theater orchestras, he achieved in the concerto a finely effective balance between solo and tutti, often reinforcing the pyrotechnics of the violin part by backing it with unobtrusive but firm woodwind lines in longer note-values. This technique is used with particular flair in the colorful finale, whose rhythms at once recall the “polacca” style of the last movement in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and foreshadow the bolero meter of the finale in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto.

If skill in orchestration comes partly from training and experience, the gift for lyrical melody is essentially inborn. Goldmark possessed it in abundance, and it comes to the fore in the warmly expressive lines of the central Andante movement. Along with those two qualities, and reinforced by the enthusiasm for Wagner that marked Goldmark’s critical writings (and had led him in 1872 to take a leading role in the formation of the Vienna Wagner Society), was a taste for expanding the scope of his themes beyond merely lyrical proportions. Thus, in the first movement, after a brief orchestral exordium, the solo violin’s first entry spins a rapturous line, marked by turns “cantabile,” “dolce,” and “espressivo,” suggestive of Wagnerian “endless melody,” before dashing off on a flight of more conventional bravura.

The soloist’s subordinate theme is even more expansive in its melodic reach. And there is a nice touch at the recapitulation, where, after a vigorous orchestral fugato based on the spikier opening theme of the concerto, the violin enters after a short silence with a demonstration that she can play at that game too-but soon returns to her original expressive cantilena as if to say: “But this is what I am really about.” Clearly, that is also what Goldmark was about, and it is what has kept the appeal of this tuneful concerto fresh for more than a century.