Day 49: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (Barenboim)

A new cycle of Bruckner symphonies begins today!

This morning, I am listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (WAB 108), interpreted by Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (1942-), whom I saw conduct the Staatskapelle Berlin in a performance of Bruckner’s Eighth at Carnegie Hall on January 28th of this year.

NOTE: I have two Barenboim CD box sets for this leg of my Bruckner journey. The first (which I call the “Blue Box”) is on the Warner Classics label. The second (which I call the “Pink Box”) is on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The performances in the Blue Box were recorded in the 1990s. The performances in the Pink Box were recorded much more recently, 2012 and 2010.

So…alpha by conductor, then chronological by dates of performance.

Because today’s recording comes from the Blue Blox, Barenboim’s orchestra for this performance is the Berliner Philharmoniker. And the music label is Warner Classics, which was awarded “Label of the Year” at the 2016 Gramophone Awards in London last October.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s First in this leg of my journey, visit Day 1.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Second in this leg of my journey, visit Day 6.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Third in this leg of my journey, visit Day 11.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Fourth in this leg of my journey, visit Day 17.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Bareenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Fifth in this leg of my journey, visit Day 25.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Bareenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Sixth in this leg of my journey, visit Day 33.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Bareenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Seventh in this leg of my journey, visit Day 41.

One of the reasons why I love these musical explorations that I impose on myself from time to time is that I enjoy learning. With each symphony, orchestra, box set, music label, conductor, musician, and composer, I learn a great deal that I didn’t know before.

In this case, because today starts a new cycle of symphonies, I get to learn about Symphony No. 8 in C Minor.

To that end, the following is from its entry on Wikipedia:

Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor is the last symphony the composer completed. It exists in two major versions of 1887 and 1890. It was premiered under conductor Hans Richter in 1892 in Vienna. It is dedicated to the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.

This symphony is sometimes nicknamed The Apocalyptic, but this was not a name Bruckner gave to the work himself.

Bruckner began work on the Eighth Symphony in July 1884. Working mainly during the summer vacations from his duties at the University of Vienna and the Vienna Conservatory, the composer had all four movements completed in draft form by August 1885. The orchestration of the work took Bruckner until April 1887 to complete: during this stage of composition the order of the inner movements was reversed, leaving the scherzo second and the Adagio as the third movement.

The story of Bruckner’s Eighth is a long and relatively sad one, in my opinion. He had so many critics telling him it needed to be revised that he revised it. And even switched the order of movements.

From the excellent liner notes for Symphony No. 8 (written by Marion something; I can’t tell what her last name is because one of the characters is in German):

“My Eighth is a mystery,” Bruckner solemnly declared, and the depths laid bare by this mighty work certainly seem to justify that description.

Bruckner notoriously subjected his symphonies to repeated revisions.

In the argument over the relative merits of the two versions, the edition used here – Robert Haas’ edition of 1939 – offers as compromise. It largely follows Bruckner’s final autograph score, but skillfully combines it with the merits of the first version.

About those versions, its entry on Wikipedia tells us,

Two complete autograph manuscripts of the symphony exist, dating from 1887 and 1890 respectively. More sketches exist from all phases of work on this symphony than for most of Bruckner’s works. For example, thanks to the sketches, we can see the evolution of the opening theme. Part scores show that the tonal ambiguity of the symphony’s opening was not how Bruckner originally envisaged the main theme: the rhythm was to fit an arpeggiated contour in C minor. The final opening is much less defined and hovers in more of a B flat major region, though it suggests several keys.

Of the (controversial) Haas edition, its entry on Wikipedia tells us,

Haas edition
Robert Haas published his edition of the Eighth Symphony in 1939. Haas mainly based his work on the 1890 autograph but also included some passages from the 1887 version that were changed or omitted in the 1890 score.

Haas argued that Levi’s comments were a crippling blow to Bruckner’s artistic confidence, even leading him to “entertain suicidal notions”, although Haas had no evidence for this. This led, Haas maintained, to Bruckner’s three-year effort to revise the Eighth Symphony and many of his earlier works. This line of thought supports Haas’ editorial methods. Haas took what he admired from Bruckner’s different versions and rolled them into his own version. He justified the rejection of various features of Bruckner’s 1890 revision on biographical grounds: they are the ideas of a Bruckner who mistrusted his own judgment, and therefore non-Brucknerian.

The most significant omissions that Bruckner made (and therefore of Haas’s restorations) are in the Adagio and Finale of the work. In addition, Haas inserted eight bars into the finale that he appears to have composed himself by combining the harmonies of the 1887 manuscript with material Bruckner penciled into the margin of the 1890 score, discarding five bars of Bruckner’s own music in the process. There were no footnotes or other indication in Haas’s edition that these changes had been made. Korstvedt has described these interventions as “exceed[ing] reasonable limits of scholarly responsibility”. Despite its dubious scholarship Haas’s edition has proved enduringly popular: conductors such as Herbert von Karajan, Bernard Haitink and Günter Wand continued to use it even after the Nowak/1890 edition was published, while noted Bruckner conductor Georg Tintner has written that the Haas edition is “the best” version of the symphony and referred to Haas himself as “brilliant”. On the other hand, Eugen Jochum used Haas’s edition for his first recording, made in 1949, before Nowak published his edition, and Nowak’s for his subsequent recordings, while Wilhelm Furtwängler, despite having given the premiere of the Haas score, reverted to the 1892 edition in his final years.

The controversy over the Haas edition centers on the fact that its musical text was a fabrication of the editor and was never approved by Bruckner himself.

Here are the objective aspects of today’s performance:

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (WAB 108), composed 1884–1892
Daniel Barenboim conducts
Barenboim used the “Robert Haas Edition, 1939,” according to the back of the CD sleeve
Berliner Philharmoniker plays
The symphony clocks in at 77:02
This was recorded in Berlin, Germany, in February of 1992
Barenboim was 50 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 68 when he finished composing it
This recording was released on the Warner Classics label

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four movements. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 8 in C Minor), from this particular conductor (Barenboim) and this particular orchestra (Berliner Philharmoniker) is as follows:

I. Allegro moderato………………………………………………………………………….14:38
II. Scherzo: Allegro moderato – Trio: Langsam…………………………………………………………………………………………..14:16
III. Adagio: Feierlich langsam; doch nicht shleppend langsam…………………………………………………………………………………………….25:43
III.
IV. Finale: Feierlich, nich schnell……………………………………………………….22:24

Total Time: 77:02

Okay. Now, here are the subjective aspects:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 1 (severe defect in the Finale – many pops and scratches and flutters in the source tape; makes listening to and enjoying the performance impossible)
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 5 (a heavy booklet, 1/4-inch thick with lengthy essays translated into English, French, German, and what appears to be Portuguese)
How does this make me feel: 3

This should have been – and was – the crown jewel in this Barenboim box set. Bruckner’s Eighth is my favorite.

But the Finale is severely marred by distracting imperfections in the digital file, probably in the mastering stage. Skips and pops and flutters from about 13:00 onward (especially severe around 15:20 and 18:02) completely destroy this performance.

I contacted the Marketplace seller. Then I contacted the manufacturer, Warner Classics. I’d like a replacement CD 8. The Marketplace seller was most obliging. Instant refund. The second Marketplace seller was equally obliging. Refund. I bought this box set a third time, from a different seller, and got the same problem – only worse. CD #8, Track 4 is seriously flawed in the mastering.

Other than that, up until that point, I was absolutely digging this performance.

But I knew I would. I like Barenboim. I like Bruckner’s Eighth. And I have liked this box set thus far.

So to have the recording flawed to the point of marring it is a let down, indeed.

I don’t know what else to write at this point.

3 Comments

  1. Niklas

    Hi Bill,
    I have the same set but no sound problems at all. The problems are in your copy. A very fine Bruckner 8 in my opinion.
    /Niklas

    • Thanks, Niklas.

      Figures I’d get a defective copy.

      But, thankfully, the very next Barenboim (Day 50) – with the Staatskapelle Berlin – was every bit as fun. Not quite as well recorded as the Warner Classics set. But still pretty darn lively, especially for Barenboim.

      Thanks for letting me know. Glad your copy was OK.

    • Niklas,

      When did you buy your Barenboim/Berliner Philharmoniker box set?

      I’ve purchased three of them so far, each has the same defective CD #8, Track 4. The third one is even worse, if possible. I counted two dozen instances of popping/ticking that disrupted the performance.

      I returned two box sets. The third I’m keeping until there’s a replacement available for the one defective disc – which is likely not forthcoming since I contacted Warner Classics three times and, so far, got no reply.

      Bottom line: You got lucky. Three other box sets I purchased have the same flaw in them. So my guess is they’re all flawed now.

      Bill

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