Wolfgang Sawallisch has received wide critical acclaim as an interpreter of the music of Anton Bruckner. This recording certainly stands out in his recorded catalog of Bruckner, with Sawallisch at the peak of his relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Recorded live October 3, 2002, Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
It is sometimes difficult for a modern listener to realize just how powerful Wagner’s music was when it was new. Today, more than 100 years after the composer’s death, his chromatic harmony and melodic style is found everywhere around us—in movies, in popular tunes, and in Broadway shows. And even at that, it can still overwhelm us. But for composers and musicians in the mid-19th century, the revolutionary strains of Tannhäuser or Tristan und Isolde must have seemed utterly staggering—a virtually inexorable force, “as irresistible as the sea,” in Debussy’s words. One could either resist the force (as Brahms did, with partial success) or succumb to it (as nearly everyone else did). “An enervating poison, a sickness, a disease,” Nietzsche supposedly called it, as a counterpoise to those who proclaimed Wagner a savior; the remark hints at the polemically charged nature of 19th-century discussions of Wagner. Critics such as Eduard Hanslick made whole careers of bashing the composer in print. Conductors and singers built lives around him; new types of distinctly Wagnerian singers were born—the Heldentenor, the “Wagnerian Soprano.” The pressure was particularly critical for composers working at mid-century (worst of all for composers of the Austro-German tradition), for after Tannhäuser it became clear that Wagner was altering the whole shape of Western music. He could not be ignored—only followed or “reacted against.” A Wagnerian Inspiration When Bruckner first encountered Tannhäuser in 1863, he was ripe for the picking. His strict Austrian training in counterpoint and the music of the past had brought him an astonishing mastery of polyphony and instrumental craft. His first compositions were accomplished and beautifully styled, but little else. He might have lived out his years quite content as a church organist and schoolmaster had it not been for that crucial day in February 1863 when he heard the Linz premiere—under his teacher Otto Kitzler’s direction—of Tannhäuser. Bruckner would never be the same again. For in Wagner he found a composer who knew all the harmonic “rules” that he himself had spent three decades mastering—and yet who broke them wantonly and knowingly, creating a music of astonishing beauty and “rightness.” The effect of this on Bruckner’s own music was immediate and profound, and it was his subsequent acquaintance with Wagner’s operas that set him off on an almost spiritual quest that led him to compose 11 symphonies (nine with numbers, two without) that have been characterized as the assimilation of Wagner’s style into symphonic form. A “Wagner Symphony” Bruckner made his first symphonic attempts in Linz, including the F- minor “study symphony,” the D- minor Nullte (“No. 0”), and the first work on which he chose to place a number, the Symphony No. 1. In 1868, two years after completing the first version of this latter work, he moved to Vienna to take up a teaching appointment at the Conservatory. For the rest of his life he was to direct most of his life’s energies into teaching and the composition of symphonies. The initial reception of his works in Vienna was anything but warm. The Vienna Philharmonic rejected the First Symphony out of hand, and upon playing through the Second (composed in 1871-72), pronounced it “unplayable.” Bruckner persevered. In September 1873 he made an unforgettable sojourn: Unperturbed by having received no reply to the letters he had addressed to Wagner, he traveled to Bayreuth to ask him, face- to-face, for permission to dedicate either his Second or his as yet unfinished Third Symphony to him. Later Bruckner described the historic conversation to Hans von Wolzogen. Initially Wagner, who was stiff and patronizing, tried to brush him off. I replied: “Master, I have no right to rob you of even five minutes, but I am convinced that the highly discerning eye of the Master would only have to glance at the themes and Master would know what to think of it all.” Then the Master said to me: “Very well then, come along.” And he went with me into the drawing room and looked at the Second Symphony. “Very nice,” he said, but all the same, it did not seem bold enough for him (at that time the Viennese had made me very timid). Then he took the Third Symphony (in D minor) and with the words: “Look at this! Look! I say! I say!” he went through the whole first part (mentioning the trumpet most particularly) and then he said: “Leave this work here; after lunch I will have another look at it. ... This evening at five o’clock you are invited to Wahnfried; you will see me then. After I have had a good look at the D- minor Symp hony, we can discuss the dedication.” Wagner was extremely pleased with the work (which he declared a “masterpiece”) and told him that night: “Dear friend, your dedication is in order.” But the next day Bruckner panicked during the previous evening spent at Wahnfried (Wagner’s Bayreuth chalet), the two had drunk a number of beers together, and Bruckner now found that he could not remember which of the two symphonies Wagner had accepted for dedication! He wrote back to Wagner, “Symphony in D minor, where the trumpet begins the theme?” Wagner scribbled below “Yes! Yes! Warmest regards!—Richard Wagner.” A Disastrous Premiere Twice the Vienna Philharmonic rejected the Third Symphony (which Bruckner had initially titled “Wagner-Symphonie”). He revised the work in 1874, and then again in 1876-77, with the help of his friend Johann Herbeck, removing some themes he had quoted directly from Wagner’s operas in the first and last movements. Finally the work was scheduled for performance in December 1877; upon the death of Herbeck, who was to have conducted, Bruckner himself had to step in. It was quite probably the most humiliating experience of his professional life: The musicians were uncooperative, and the audience booed, jeered, and finally most walked out. According to publisher Theodor Rättig, who would later release the Symphony, “a group of ten to 20 mainly very young people, both male and female, who stayed and applauded, stood in opposition to the hissing and laughing crowd.” Among them was an admiring, 17-year-old Gustav Mahler, who Rättig later hired to make a four-hand piano version of the Symphony. Of course it was not difficult to predict that Hanslick, who hated Wagner’s music and all it stood for, would discredit the work. He began his review by saying that he did not “enjoy upsetting the composer” and therefore would simply state that he “did not understand his gigantic symphony. [Bruckner’s] poetic intensions were not clear to us— perhaps a vision of how Beethoven’s Ninth befriends Wagner’s Die Walküre and ends by being trampled under her horses’ hoofs.” Endless Revisions The Vienna debacle, which may have had more to do with Bruckner’s conducting than with his music, dealt a serious blow to his self-confidence. For the rest of his life Bruckner was surrounded by well- meaning friends who besieged him with suggestions for “improvements” on this and other symphonies. He listened to their advice all too often, and as a result most of his symphonies exist in more than one version, some of which include highly dubious revisions. The case of the Third Symphony is particularly complex. The version Bruckner himself performed in 1877 was published the following year by Rättig. Changes were made to the original during the preparation of the print, changes that the beleaguered Bruckner later regretted having agreed to. The composer and Franz Schalk later issued (through Rättig) a revised and partly recomposed version, published in 1890 with changes by Schalk alone. All told, then, there are five versions of Bruckner’s Third: 1873, 1874, 1877, 1889, and 1890. In the present century the Bruckner Society has issued two editions, one a reproduction of Bruckner’s 1877 score, the other the Schalk-Bruckner version of 1889—without the changes Schalk made before the 1890 printing. The latter, which is the version being performed on these concerts, might be described as the Fassung letzter Hand—that is, the one that represents the composer’s final thoughts on the piece. It includes some cuts made on the recommendation of others, including considerable trimming of the finale. In contrast to the 1877 performance under Bruckner’s baton, this last version received a successful Viennese premiere in December 1890, with the great Hans Richter on the podium. “I am still too deeply moved by the reception of the Philharmonic audience,” Bruckner wrote to his friend August Göllerich after this important occasion, “who must have called me forth at least 12 times—and how!!” A Closer Look The D- minor opening of the first movement (Mehr langsam, misterioso: “Slowly, mysteriously”) reminds one as much of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as it does of Wagner. But the pregnant trumpet theme, which begins the work and which generates much of the movement’s discourse, grows straight from the spirit of the Master of Bayreuth. The horn expands this theme, leading to a curt, explosive unison motif that reappears throughout. This is one of Bruckner’s most magnificently craggy movements—a relatively simple sonata form built on judicious but dynamic themes of complex unity, and organized in the composer’s usual “structural blocks.” The Adagio, bewegt, quasi andante is plangent and somniferous, slipping mysteriously into a gigantic climax that alludes strongly to the “Sleep Motif” from Die Walküre. The lively Scherzo (Ziemlich schnell: “Fairly quickly”), featuring brilliant writing for wind choir, is set off by a Ländler-style Trio of the cheerful sort later favored by Mahler. (The Ländler is an Austrian folk dance.) The Finale (Allegro) is striking for the arching octave- motifs introduced by the brass—a sort of organic outgrowth of the first movement’s opening motif. The accompaniment- figure, too, seems to have grown from the last four notes of the whole Symphony’s opening subject. A second theme (Langsamer: “More slowly”) is songful and “yearning” in a Mahlerian fashion, and the movement’s enormous climax is capped by what seems inevitable—at least since Beethoven’s Ninth: a dramatic slide from stormy D minor to bright, triumphant D major. —Paul Horsle y/Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2002. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTIST The 2002-03 season marks Wolfgang Sawallisch’s tenth and final year as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Acclaimed as one of the greatest living exponents of the Germanic musical tradition, he has enriched and expanded upon the Orchestra’s century-old tradition of excellence. He was an outspoken advocate for the construction of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s new home at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. He actively participated in planning for the concert hall’s acoustics and operations, and conducted the Orchestra’s first performances in Kimmel’s Verizon Hall, in December 2001. Mr. Sawallisch was born in Munich and graduated from that city’s Academy of Music. His career began in 1947 at the Opera Theater of Augsburg, where he was vocal coach, chorus master, and conductor of ballet, opera, and concert music. In 1953 he became the youngest conductor to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. He next held successive music directorships in Aachen, Wiesbaden, and Cologne and appeared annually at Bayreuth. During the 1960s he was music director of both the Vienna Symphony and the Hamburg Philharmonic and from 1973-80 served as artistic director of Geneva’s Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. In 1971 he became music director of the Bavarian State Opera, serving concurrently as general manager during his last decade there before coming to Philadelphia. Mr. Sawallisch’s discography includes numerous orchestral and opera recordings, both with The Philadelphia Orchestra and with a number of European ensembles. His recordings of Schumann’s symphonies with the Dresden Staatskapelle are considered a benchmark against which other renditions are compared. His Philadelphia discs include works by Bruckner, Dvořák, Hindemith, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. Mr. Sawallisch’s artistry has been recognized with many awards. He was given the Toscanini Gold Baton in recognition of his 35-year associa¬tion with La Scala and he has received honorary degrees from the Curtis Insti¬tute of Music, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and Villanova University. Last season he received the Pennsylvania Governor’s Distinguished Artist Award, as well as the new Avatar Award for Artistic Excellence, created by the Arts and Business Council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. A gifted pianist, Mr. Sawallisch is highly regarded as a chamber musician and accompanist. 10/2002 PRODUCTION CREDITS Balance Engineer: George Blood Recording Engineer: George Blood Editor: Charles Gagnon Assistant Editor: Jason O’Connell Archival Transfer: Jason O’Connell Cover and Bio Photo: Chris Lee