2 CD - 8573-81037-2 - (p) 2001

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 8 in C minor (Nowak edition)
82' 38"
- I. Allegro moderato 16' 25"
- II. Scherzo
14' 19"
- III. Adagio 27' 22"
- IV. Finale 24' 32"

Berliner Philharmoniker
Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Luogo e data di registrazione
Philharmonie, Berlino (Germania) - aprile 2000
Registrazione live / studio
Producer / Engineer
Wolfgang Mohr / Martina Gottschau / Friedemann Engelbrecht / Michael Brammann / Tobias Lehmann
Prima Edizione CD
Teldec Classics - 8573-81037-2 - (2 cd) - 30' 43" + 51' 53" - (p) 2001 - DDD
Prima Edizione LP

The first performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony in Vienna in December 1892 was brilliantly successful. "A total triumph of light over darkness," wrote an enthusiastic Hugo Wolf. But for the nearly septuogenarian composer, the triumph came almost too late: this was the last symphony that he was able to complete.
By the time thot the work was unveiled by Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Muikverein in l892, it had already undergone a series of substantial revisions. In the opening movement, for example, Bruckner had removed what had originally been a fortissimo ending. For the second movement - a Scherzo - he had written a new Trio. And he had made a whole series of other cuts and changes at climactic moments in the work. Above all, however, he had revised the instrumentation.
This revised version was published in Leopold Nowak's critical edition in 1955. It is not, however, the version that is generally known as Bruckner's Eighth Symphony today, forthe version usually performed in the concert hall is the one published by Robert Haas in 1939 and incorporating characteristic passages from the first version that are inextricably bound up with the work in the hearts and minds of all who know the piece.
Nikolaus Hornoncourt, too, was initially af the opinion that Haas's version came closest to Bruckner’s intentions. In the course of an interview that he gave early in April 2000 during a playback of the recording that he had made within the framework of four concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, he spoke of the place occupied by the Eighth Symphony in Bruckner's late symphonic oeuvre and of the conditions under which these more than eighty minutes of music can be made to make sense for the listener - and why he finally decided not to wallow in the "purple passages” of the score but to follow the Nowak edition.
"The first and second versions are different attempts to come to terms with the same material," says Harnoncourt. "In the Eighth, unlike his other symphonies, Bruckner did not alter points of detail or merely accede to the requests of various conductors, as he did, for example, with the third version of the Third Symphony, where the message is watered down. The Eighth he radically altered on his own initiative, ironing out the tonal asperities - which were undoubtedly intended as such in the first version - and altering them in the direction of what we generally call a Wagnerian sound. These may appear to be small matters: in the second version, for example, he invariably writes for triple instead of double woodwind. But it is a different principle of instrumentation that is at work here, producing an essentially different sound. Each version creates its own musical picture, which is why I do not think that they can be mixed."
Harnoncourt sees the Eighth Symphony as closely related to the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies. (The former he has already recorded and the latter he performed at a memorable concert with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1999 that also included the surviving sections of the fragmentary final movement.) "From the Seventh onwards, Bruckner clearly felt that everything belongs together and so he used quotations where he felt that he had already said something valid." And whereas the Eighth is dedicated to the Emperor Franz Joseph (the emperor accepted the dedication and paid for its publication), the Ninth took this a stage further and was inscribed simply to "the dear Lord".
In terms of its overall character, the Eighth is clearly about death, an aspect underscored by its key of C minor. Harnoncourt draws attention to many of the allusions that underpin this basic rnood. There is, for example, no denying the similarity between the opening movement's first subject and the Dutchman's monologue - also in C minor - from Act One of Der fliegende Holländer. The opening movement also includes an elaborately concealed reminiscence of Mozart's Requiem, where a chromatically ascending line in the bass, beginning in bar 109 and extending over one and a half octaves, necessitates exactly the same harmonies as those found in the "Quam resurget".
But the main determining element is the motif described by Bruckner as the "Todesverkündigung" - the "Annunciation of Death" - first heard in the trumpets towards the end of the opening movement's development section (bar 255). Later, too, it remains "very quiet", even when all around it is fortissimo. Towards the end of the recapitulation, it is repeated ten times, surrounded by sighlike figures in the woodwind, before the coda begins, bringing with it an atmosphere that Bruckner himself described both as a "Totenuhr” - a clock ticking away at a dying man's bedside - and as an "act of submission". The "Annunciation of Death" permeates the whole work. "The piece is in tact written around this upbeat motif," says Harnoncourt.
Of particular importance to the conductor in this context is the finale's striking beginning, where the last thing he wanted is the so-called "Schusterstrich" - a "cobbler’s stroke" - in the strings: "The Schusterstrich", says Harnoncourt, "is the usual form of bow-stroke, but Bruckner demands the exact opposite. This is far harder to play, but it makes a big difference as the short note is an upbeat, not a downbeat and, hence, not a stressed note."
Bruckner frequently indicates the types of bowing required and also notes those passages that are to be played on the G string. "This produces a very specific sound that is free ot overtones. Bruckner himself was o very good violinist. We did everything exactly as he prescribed."
The virtuosic freedom with which Bruckner handled his thematic material, coupled with the work's vast dimensions, makes the Eighth Symphony difficult for interpreters to analyse and for listeners to tollow. In Harnoncourt's opinion, a coherent picture emerges only if the conductor has the clearest possible overview of the work's architectural structure: "It is like a vault in which every stone has an immutable function at a particular point. I need to have o clear idea of that structure, then I know exactly where I am. You can compare it to the great oratorios, where every number is related to the others. In Bruckner’s case this isn’t always easy to work out, but only in this way does every movement acquire its overarching structure and the work as a whole acquires its archlike form, a form made up of these individual movements."
At 709 bars in length, the Eighth Syrnphony's final rnovement is the longest symphonic movement that Bruckner ever wrote. As such, it places great demands on its interpreters. "If you look at just the tempo markings: Slow - Even slower - Tempo primo. But what is 'tempo primo'? You have to create your own tempo relationships. I can grasp this logic by indicating the different tempo layers in the diflerent score. There is an incredible logic to it!"
Hornoncourt makes no attempt to explain the whole-bar rests and alien-sounding chorale sections in this final movement. Instead, he draws on an image: "The chorale interpolations with their fermatas are thematically unrelated to the rest of the movement. It is as though Bruckner goes off to pray from time to time. He has set off on a long journey and cannot complete it without first having said his prayers."

Monika Mertl
Translation: Stewart Spencer

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016)
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