Work: Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109
About This Work
As Bruckner progressed on his Ninth and last symphony, he daily petitioned God for the strength to complete it, saying "If He takes the pen from my hand, it is His responsibility." From 1889 to 1896, the composer doggedly worked on the
Ninth. But on October 11, 1896, after a morning walk, Bruckner went home and quietly passed away, leaving behind what is possibly the greatest unfinished symphony since Schubert's.
The Ninth is often cited as one of the most important musical links between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, taking the innovations of Wagner's Tristan a step further. The pounding rhythms of the scherzo seem to look ahead to Stravinsky and Bartók while the wide interval leaps and grinding dissonance look ahead to the Second Viennese School. Although the three movement torso is the standard format for presenting Bruckner's last symphonic essay, the final sketches (which have been recorded along with a few "completed" versions of the finale) show that despite failing health and occasional mental detachment, Bruckner's musical mind remained virile and imaginative to the end. The immense fourth movement would have surpassed even the Eighth's in scale, utilizing a fugue and quotes from the Te Deum. Yet, there is something satisfying and uplifting in closing with the adagio.
The solemn drone against which the symphony commences sets the stage for an otherworldly conflict, evolving into a whirlwind and erupting into the shattering main theme. This is followed by a characteristic hymn-like passage and a restless rocking-like third theme; in the development section a twisting 6/8 motive emerges and will later be used as a propelling device against which the apocalyptic coda plays out, ending on a menacing open fifth. No hint of a peasant dance or earthly image is left in the pounding, demonic scherzo, placed second in order; even the trio, while starting out with elfin lightness, soon evolves into a mysterious, half-lit dreamscape of vague and unsettling images. The following adagio is considered the composer's valedictory to life. The tortured leap of a ninth ushers in a slow-unfolding vision which explodes, Tristan-like, into a climax of spiritual ecstasy. This is followed by a beautiful, autumnal song-theme which seems to radiate from a nostalgic looking-back on life's joys; then appears an austere march-like theme derived from the symphony's opening. Against a stuttering sixteenth note figure, the autumnal theme makes a last appearance. It is gradually joined by a noble hymn-like theme which gradually sours with dissonance while becoming even more intense in its attempted fervor; this works up to the famous seven note dissonance, grinding and terrible, and is followed by an even more terrible silence, as though staring into a void. But then, stealthily a motive from the movement's opening drifts the music to a final serene plane. In the coda, Bruckner fondly quotes from his Eighth and Seventh symphonies, taking an eloquent and affecting leave of the world.
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