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World premiere: Bruckner Symphony no. 4 (1878 version)
May 1 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm$19.50 – $34.99
MusicaNova will play for the first time publicly the 1878 version of Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. Days before the concert where it was scheduled to premiere, Anton Bruckner abruptly called it off. Three years later, the world heard a much revised version. The 1878 edition was tossed on a musical trash heap, lost to the world.
Prominent scholar Benjamin Korstvedt resurrected the lost score, including a long, gorgeous passage in the slow movement, and offered it to MusicaNova for a world premiere. We are proud to present this long-lost work.
Purchase tickets at this link.
The 1878 Version of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony Revealed
By Dr. Benjamin Korstvedt
Professor of Music at Clark University
Anton Bruckner always conceived of the Fourth, which he dubbed the Romantic Symphony, as “the most easily grasped and popular” of his symphonies. Posterity has affirmed his ambition; the Fourth has consistently been the most appreciated and frequently performed of his works.
Bruckner worked long and hard to achieve this goal. His extraordinary efforts extended over more than 15 years and involved the creation of three distinct versions of the Fourth. He composed the first version in 1874 and revised it over the next two years. After the collapse of plans for a performance in 1876, the composer withdrew this version and recomposed the symphony in 1878-1880. This new version of the Fourth finally received its premiere, in February 1881 by the Vienna Philharmonic directed by Hans Richter.
After two fruitless attempts, in 1885 and 1886, to find a publisher willing to take on the symphony, Bruckner decided to revise the score one last time. This third version received its inaugural performance in early 1888, again by the Vienna Philharmonic under Richter, and was finally published in the following year.
In the mid-20th century, Bruckner’s first modern editors, Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak, resurrected the second version (from 1880) of the symphony and it has since become the most well-known version of the Fourth.
Despite its steady popularity, a great deal about the Fourth and its versions has long remained unknown or misunderstood. The existence of multiple versions, each of which offers its own special musical rewards, is fascinating if somewhat perplexing. Yet only now has the extensive research I have carried out for the New Anton Bruckner Complete Edition, drawing on all the extant manuscript sources, been able to reveal a clear picture of the remarkable processes through which Bruckner composed, revised, and reworked this symphony as his conception sharpened through early performances and was informed by his deepening experience as a symphonist.
This research has also made it possible to reconstruct the version that Bruckner completed in 1878. At the time Bruckner regarded this version as finished and arranged for a complete copy of the score to be prepared for use in performance. Yet before any such performance could take place, he withdrew this version, replaced the Finale with a fundamentally new composition, and made changes to the first three movements. As a result, the 1878 version of Bruckner’s most popular symphony was never performed. As remarkable as it may sound, today’s performance is the world premiere of this version after a delay of 144 years!
Listeners familiar with the now standard version of the Fourth Symphony will recognize the first three movements. The opening movement, marked Bewegt, nicht zu schnell (Moving, but not too fast), presents a sweeping symphonic panorama. The opening, led by a solo horn call, strikes a romantic tone. Bruckner once characterized this passage as a depiction of dawn in a medieval town, with clarion calls sounding from the town’s towers. Following a grand climax, the musical scene changes abruptly. As the cellos intone an expressive melody, the sounds of bird song can be heard from the violins. These musical ideas form the basis of the movement’s ongoing development, often driven by the contrast between splendidly sonorous sections and gentler more lyrical passages. The glorious chorale intoned by the brass section in the middle of the movement and the powerful conclusion are particularly outstanding.
The second movement, marked Andante, quasi Allegretto, is similar to the well-known version we usually hear. The gently marching opening theme and the melancholy song later played by violas to a plain pizzicato accompaniment are both memorable musical expressions. What makes this 1878 version most special, though, is a passage about two thirds of the way through. As the music grows calm following the second appearance of the viola song, we encounter a remarkable stretch of music that Bruckner cut during rehearsal when the Fourth was first performed and that has not been heard since! This is quietly evocative music, with falling figures in the woodwinds and strings interspersed by solitary horn and trumpet calls, leads into a widely sweeping passage that builds steadily to conclude the movement.
The third movement is the famous “Hunt” scherzo, a highly evocative piece with brilliant horn calls echoing across the orchestra. At its center, we enter a new realm in the trio section, led by a wonderfully rustic tune in the woodwinds that Bruckner once described as “the hunters’ dinner music in the forest.”
The Finale of the 1878 version is a singular musical conception. It lacks the darkly epic character that looms over the later versions. Instead, it is vigorous in spirit and often quite exuberant, as would be expected from the title Bruckner added on his copy of the score: “Volksfest” or “folk festival.” The opening, with its slinking chromatic passages in the strings, is extraordinarily original. The great unison theme that soon emerges is familiar from the later versions, as is the contrasting group of lightly dancing themes that follow, but much of the rest is unique to this version. The inventiveness with which Bruckner develops his ideas is remarkable for the array of richly contrasting episodes it produces. The tremendous coda that concludes the Finale brings the symphony to a powerfully impressive culmination.
No one can know for sure why Bruckner decided to withdraw this version before it was performed or even heard in rehearsal — the ways of creative genius are never fully accessible to our understanding. But it is a special privilege to be able to hear it today. . . for the first time.
About Benjamin Korstvedt
Dr. Benjamin M. Korstvedt is an active researcher and scholar, a committed and enthusiastic teacher, a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, and a productive author and editor.
Professor Korstvedt. is a leading scholar of the Austrian symphonist Anton Bruckner. He serves as president of the Bruckner Society of America and is on the editorial board of the New Anton Bruckner Complete Edition. His work has explored the complex text-critical issues surrounding Bruckner’s works, the reception of his music by critics and scholars in the Third Reich, the place of Bruckner’s music in the culture of fin-de-siècle Vienna, and the form and meaning of Bruckner’s symphonies.
He has published numerous articles on these topics as well as a monograph on Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony that considers the history, musical design, aesthetic meaning, and performance of that great work.
His current book project is Bruckner’s Fourth: The Critical Biography of a Symphony, which explores the long history of the Fourth Symphony starting with its extraordinarily complex compositional history and continuing through its reception by later generations as they performed and interpreted the symphony in their own ways.
He graduated summa cum laude from Clark University in 1987 with a B.A. in music and received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995. He joined the Clark faculty in 2002, where he is professor of music and serves as chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts. He previously held faculty positions at the University of St. Thomas, Ball State University, and the University of Iowa.