1 CD - 3984-24488-2 - (p) 1999

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 7 in E major
60' 01"
- I. Allegro moderato 19' 10"
- II. Adagio: Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam
20' 48"
- III. Scherzo: Sehr schnell - Trio: Etwas langsamer 8' 53"
- IV. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell 11' 09"

Wiener Philharmoniker
Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Luogo e data di registrazione
Musikverein, Vienna (Austria) - giugno 1999
Registrazione live / studio
Producer / Engineer
Wolfgang Mohr / Martina Gottschau / Friedemann Engelbrecht / Michael Brammann / Christian Feldgen
Prima Edizione CD
Teldec Classics - 3984-24488-2 - (1 cd) - 60' 01" - (p) 1999 - DDD
Prima Edizione LP

Anton Bruckner's Seventh Symphony
Performed for the first time under Arthur Nikisch at a Gewandhaus concert rn Leipzig on 30 December 1884, Anton Bruckner's Seventh Symphony in E major was the first of the composer's symphonies to win him immediate acclaim and international recognition, soon becoming known not only in Europe but even as far afield as America. By this stage in hrs career, Bruckner was already sixty and had been writing symphonies for some twenty years. He was now living in Vienna, where he was the regular butt of scornful and devastating reviews on the part of the city's leading music critit, Eduard Hanslick, whose antipathy towards Bruckner was in inverse proportion to his friendship for Brahms. As a result, the great acclaim accorded to the Seventh Symphony in Leipzig and elsewhere was a novel experience for Bruckner, but no less delightful for all that: "He stood there in his simple clothes in front of the excited crowd, bowing again and again in his helpless, awkward manner," wrote the critic of the Berliner Tageblatt on 10 August 1885 after a performance of the work in the city. "Now a wistful smile would play around the old man`s lips, as though the result of effortfully suppressed emotion, now a curious light filled his eyes, and his face - by no means attractive, but sympathetic and innocently trusting - glowed with warm and heartfelt pleasure."
Bruckner was a slow composer who spent almost two whore years working on his Seventh Symphony and no fewer than fourteen months honing the opening movement alone. The autograph score bears witness to the different stages in the compositional process. Generally Bruckner wrote clearly, in a clean and legible script, but the score Contains numerous revisions: some passages have been pasted over, others havec been erased and yet others scraped away, thereby offering a graphic picture of the composer's evident need to revise his works. Yet he must have regarded the Seventh Symphony as somehow finisched, since it survives in only a single version, unlike his other symphonies - notably the Third - which have come down to us in a whole series of often radically differing versions. Only one passage exists in divergent recensions: bars 177-82 of the Adagio. This passage remains a bone of scholary contention, for it is unclear whether the famous cymbal crash and, with it, the timpani and triangle, belong here or not. According to Josef Schalk, they were merely a concession to Arthur Nikisch, who conducted the first performance and who had asked the composer to give greater emphasis to the climax of the Adagio. If this is so, they are not really by Bruckner himself: they are not an authentically Brucknerian idea. On the other hand, Bruckner noted down this brief passage on a separate strip of paper and added it to the score, which he then bequeathed to the Austrian National Library. Was this an oversight on his part or was it intentional? Advocates of the cymbal clash argue that Bruckner could have removed and even destroyed the slip of paper, which was merely inserted loosely into the score, if he had so desired. The opposing faction, by contrast, prefers to adopt a more puristic approach and rejects all such additions, drawing attention to a (possibly inauthentic) note added to the scrap of papper, "gilt nicht" (i.e., invalid), and arguing that Bruckner made this change only because he was prevailed upon to do so by a third party.
The introduction to the Seventh Symphony is typically Brucknerian, with its string tremolando preparing the way for the first subject which, at twenty-one bars, is arguably the longest of any symphonic subject written before that date. By laying the foundations fot the main theme, these introductions are among Bruckner's most distinctive features as a composer. But no less significant for the overall structure of his individual symphonic movements is a kind of editing technique particularly noticeable in the case of the second subject, which Bruckner was later to use in his Te Deum and which has since become known, in consequence, as the Te Deum theme.
The Scherzo is dominated by a striking theme on  the trumpet which, once again, is entirely characteristic of the composer, with its ascending octave to e, followed by a descending fifth to a thrice-repeated o (the first note doubly dotted) and, finally, by a return to the initial note. Frequent repetitions of this theme ensure that it becomes ingrained in the listener's memory.
The final movement is surprisingly succinct and, apart from that of the "Nullte" (i.e., the Symphony no. "0"), is the shortest of all Bruckner's finales. Here the waves of sound that invariably lead to the orchestral climaxes in his music are briefer and more concise than in any of his previous symphonies.
Bruckner's Seventh Symphony was a success from the very outset - not that this persuaded the single-minded Hanslick, who had his own ideas of "the beautiful in music", to take a more favourable view of Bruckner's compositional style. For him, the work was a "symphonic boa constrictor" of which he could make little sense. It was Bruckner's organ playing that first brought the two men together, and their initial contacts seem to have been entirely cordial. As a composer of sacred music, Bruckner earned Hanslick's respect, but as soon as he began to take a serious interest in the field of the symphony, Hanslick applied different standards, as set forth in his book On the Beautiful in Music: as a form of absolute music, the symphony reigned supreme, but in order to justify that status it had to meet certain criteria, criteria that Hanslick found embodied in Brahms's symphonies, but not in those of Bruckner. As a friend of Brahms and an opponent of the New German School (among whose members he wrongly numbered Bruckner on account of the latter's veneration of Wagner), he had little choice but to reject the Austrian composer's works out of hand. In addition, he had had to give way to Bruckner in an interminable tug-of-war over the question of a teaching post at the University in Vienna, a circumstance that seriously affected relations between the two men and made it impossible for Hanslick to adopt an objective attitude to Bruckner's works: he could never judge them impartially.
Bruckner suffered so badly from this rejection that in the wake of the Seventh Symphony's successful première in Leipzig, he wrote to the Vienna Philharmonic - wich had already given the first performances of the Second, Fourth and middle movements of the Sixth Symphonies -
and specifically asked them not to perform the piece "for reasons that stem solely from the deplorable local situation with regard to the leading critics, a situation that could only detract from the successes that I have recently enjoyed in Germany". None the less, Hans Richter conducted the work at a regular Philharmonlc Concert in the city on 21 March 1886, when it attracted conflicting notices on the part of Vienna`s critics. According to Hanslick, the audience "put up little resistance; some of them fled after the second movement of the symphonic boa constrictor, and their flight turned to a fullscale exodus following the third movement, so that only a small band of listeners remained to enjoy the finale". But even Hanslick had to concede that "this plucky legion of Brucknerians applauded and cheered with the fource of thousands. There has certainly never been an occasion when a composer has been called out on to the platform four or five times after every movement". Although he found the work "unnatural" and "inflated", Hanslick admitted that he could not judge it properly. It is no wonder, then, that Bruckner was so terrified of Vienna's critics. His fear is immortalised in countless anecdotes, a number of which have come down to us in multiple versions, suggesting that they may contain at least a kernel of truth: on receiving the Order of Franz Joseph, Bruckner was apparently asked by the emperor what he desired more than anything else and is said to have replied to the effect that he wanted the emperir to stop Hanslick from criticising his music. But even without the emperor's intervention, Bruckner was eventually able to triumph over his critics.

Renate Ulm
Translation: Stewart Spencer

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016)
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