Bruckner symphony number 9 in D Minor

The South Birmingham Sinfonia performed this symphony in their Winter 2013 series. The notes here are by Richard Kaye.

1. Feierlich, Misterioso - Moderato
2. Scherzo - Trio
3. Adagio

Schubert's 8th symphony and Bruckner's 9th are both what might be termed two “finished unfinished symphonies”. Conductor and composer Günter Wand regarded Bruckner as the"most important symphonist after Beethoven" [] and performed Bruckner's 9th symphony with Schubert's unfinished at the opening concert at the 2001 Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Lübeck on July 8. Time and again towards the end of his life, Günter Wand combined these two works in a single programme, his interpretation of them confirming their affinities in the finest manner imaginable.

Both symphonies seem to be genuinely incomplete, and (as usually performed) both start and finish in different keys. In the case of Bruckner 9, starting in D minor and ending at the end of the third movement in the very remote E major.

In the case of the Bruckner, it appears that his time had really and truly run out and as much as he did not want his music to end with the third movement that is where the great composer's energy ran out.

There is an obvious axis of similarity between Schubert's music, through Bruckner, and leading ultimately to Mahler. All are rooted firmly in the Austrian pastoral, with emphasis on the tunes and the rhythms of the folk music of that era and place. Nowhere is this more evident in the Ländler-style scherzos that all three enjoy so much, notably in the great C major of Schubert, and of course in the second movement of Bruckner 9.

But Bruckner's style was in most other respects so very different from Schubert's. Where Schubert allowed the melody to flow wherever it would, Bruckner preferred, in general it seems, to block out whole sections of the music to be completed in the best possible way to reach its goal in its time-allotted span. It's an extraordinary method, and one that makes extraordinary demands on the orchestra. Nowhere else does an orchestra have to so-control its crescendos (and many of them very long indeed) to culminate exactly where the composer wants, and nowhere else do the players have to appreciate such structures of sequence and canon that the composer writes to ensure the overall direction of the music it is performing. But this is the fascinating beauty of Bruckner: how all of his music is focused in some way or other, inexorability, to its final conclusion.

©RWK for SBS, 27th December 2012

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