Friday, January 3, 2014

Preview: Two Scherzos

[This preview begins the second part of a three-part Bruckner series, begun December 6-8 with "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements," a reprise of a January 2010 post I've always been fond of. This Bruckner Seventh preview post appeared originally in July 2012. The Bruckner series -- and, I'm projecting, Sunday Classics -- will conclude with a new post on the Ninth Symphony. -- Ken]

Eugen Jochum conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony in the Scherzo (third movement) of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony.

by Ken

In writing recently about the structure of Tchaikovsky's string sextet Souvenir de Florence, I noted that it employs a particular movement format:
an opening movement and an ensuing slow movement of such emotional weight as to dominate the whole piece. Haydn was already doing it when he invented the [four-movement symphonic] form, doing it in both symphonies and string quartets. It's the format of the wonderful Symphony No. 88, with the otherworldly slow movement, which we heard in September 2010.) It's also the format of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, which we heard last week.
I added:
Bruckner, who supersized everything else about the symphony, also supersized this ratio in his Seventh Symphony, which has that massive opening movement and then that haunting Adagio, followed by an invigorating but comparatively brief Scherzo and Finale. The trick is to have those later movements hold up their end of the deal even while conceding emotional primacy to the first two movements. This is in marked contrast to Bruckner's differently remarkable achievement in the Fourth Symphony: producing four movements of roughly equal musical and emotional weight. (We actually took in the whole shebang in January 2010, in "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements." ) It just goes to show that there really aren't any rules about any of this, that it's all about what you can make work.

For better or worse, I'm so highly suggestible musically that this naturally set the Bruckner Seventh running in my head. For tonight I thought it would be fun to listen just to the Scherzos of the Bruckner Fourth and Seventh. You'll notice that they're not radically different in length, but they seem to me radically different in emotional weight (we can talk about this Sunday), and of course the Scherzo of the Seventh is rendered virtually svelte by the vastly greater weight of the symphony's first two movements.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat:
iii. Scherzo: Bewegt (Lively)

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. and Nov. 1963

Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi, cond. Decca, recorded Oct. 8 and 10, 1989

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E:
iii. Scherzo: Sehr schnell (Very fast)

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded November 1960

Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi, cond. Decca, recorded August 1990


As you may have guessed, we're going to hear the Bruckner Seventh Symphony.

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