Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3: Complicated


For the real essence of Bruckner, this is the one for me.

I know the later works are musically better structured and of course I believe the Ninth to be the absolute symphonic masterpiece even in three movements, but what a joy the Third is. Bruckner seems to let himself go and could not care less, with his excessive use of brass, there is a wonderful example of this brass under Solti in the third movement. I had never heard this extension at the end of the movement, what a delight. I love this music.

This is the first of the monumental Bruckner symphonies which probably followed the experimental No. 0 and not No. 2. I especially love the polka passage in the last movement and then that wonderfully exhilarating finish.

Apparently some listeners find the closing bars bombastic; to my ears they simply convey pure innocent joy in a glorious and unexpected triumph. Bruckner might well be described as the Susan Boyle of classical music.

The history of the Third is quite complicated (first version 1873, second version 1877, third version 1889).

Until the early 1980s the scherzo in the second and third versions of this Wagner-symphonie was thought to be without a coda. Then during the research for the edition of the second version not only an intermediate version of the slow movement (1877, between the second and third versions) resurfaced, but also a coda for the scherzo of (at least) the second version (possibly for the third as well).

Haitink in his recording with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was the first to record this scherzo-cum-coda (as he prefers the second version).

Although in terms of symphonic development and finesse the third version might be preferred (though the finale loses a lot of it impact in its straightened form), I believe the first version, with all those Wagner quotes and that juxtaposition of funereal music and dance (polka) music in the finale, is the most interesting and impressive.

I checked the score that I have and noted that the first movement marking was Mehr langsam, misterioso – an enticing Brucknerian cocktail of German and Italian. When I thought about it, I wondered what mehr langsam actually means, because grammatically it is not clear – to me at least as a fairly inadequate German speaker. It is not “more slowly” which would be langsamer. Anyway, more slow than what? Mehr (more) cannot normally qualify an adverb/adjective such as langsam. It must be used here in the sense of eher (“rather” or “more likely”). Presumably he is telling the conductor something like “if in doubt, tend towards slowness” or “go slow rather than fast”.



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