Listening to Bruckner

This evening I’ve been listening to a new recording, by Simon Rattle, of Bruckner’s 9th symphony, with a completion of the final movement, which I’ve only heard a couple times before. (Initial reaction: it’s OK, will listen again, but not sure it’s essential, the way the completion of Mahler’s 10th is absolutely essential.) And it occurred to me that composers — at least the major ones we still listen to after a century or two, which may bias my thesis here — do not lapse into a mature stage where they repeat themselves unto death, the way some film directors and, ahem, writers do. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, kept re-inventing their symphonies every time. Even Bruckner, who in a sense wrote the same symphony 9 or 10 times, kept refining them; you would never say the 4th was the pinnacle and the 8th and 9th were mere repeats. Yet… it’s not difficult to think of film directors, and writers, who, after an initial ascent into maturity, kept repeating themselves…. WdyAln.. JGBld..?? (Not to mention those authors who *descended* into formula via collaborations with lesser authors, including alas ACC and LN…) Now, this apparent repetition is not *necessarily* good or bad. Some authors or directors develop a style, a theme, that can productively be explored endlessly in various new contexts. It deepens their thesis, for those who appreciate it, and are willing to keep revisiting it. (At the same time, authors who deliberately *vary* their style and theme from book to book — Norman Spinrad is the first who comes to mind — do so at the expense of a loyal readership and their financial career.)

2 Responses to Listening to Bruckner

  1. russ elliott

    I agree to a degree. For those of us who are music history buffs, it is essential that we have available these completion pieces. Beethoven’s 10th, Schubert’s 8th and Bruckner’s 9th. Some of these are obviously NOT very note worthy, but are nice to have as reference. With Mahler I agree that this is essential. It is a completed thought, even though in the process of orchestrating, he would have added, subtracted and alter parts that were in essence complete at the time of his death.
    Thanks for mentioning this completion recording of Bruckner. I will now be on the lookout for it in my favorite CD store.

    Russ Elliott, former Locus volunteer.

  2. Mark R. Kelly

    Wow, thanks for the reply – the one real reply out of several dozen spam, to this post!