Day 52: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (Furtwangler)

This morning, I am listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (WAB 108), interpreted by the legendary German conductor and composer Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954).

This time, his orchestra is the Wiener Philharmoniker, also known as the Vienna Philharmonic.

I’m not going to repeat the background on Maestro Furtwangler, although I do suggest you read up on him.

I first encountered Wilhelm Furtwangler on Day 20, Symphony No. 4.

Then again on Day 28, Symphony No. 5.

Then again on Day 36, Symphony 6.

Then again on Day 44, Symphony 7.

The first link above will give you a good idea who the man was and what he was known for regarding his conducting style.

From page 234 of John Ardoin’s book The Furtwangler Record (which I have, by the way; it’s an invaluable resource for Furtwangler fans):

The Eighth Symphony, like the Fifth, has survived in both wartime and postwar performances under Furtwangler. This beautifully proportioned, lengthy work makes the Seventh seem like a bucolic landscape. The Eighth, of course, has a well-defined terrain of its own, but it is one overcast with storms and dominated by rugged mountain peaks. The Symphony begins in shadows (an echo of Wagner’s forest in Siegfried) and ends in blinding sunlight, a forceful, dazzling example of Bruckner’s ability to pile up his main themes to form a final, massive, triumphant panorama of sound.

On to the objective stuff:

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (WAB 108), composed 1884–1892
Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts
Furtwangler used the “1887/90 Haas Edition – Modified by Furtwangler using the 1892 Lienau Edition for guidance,” according to the liner notes.
The Vienna Philharmonic plays
The symphony clocks in at 79:11
This was recorded on October 17 of 1944
Furtwangler 65 was when he conducted it
Bruckner was 68 when he finished composing it
This recording was released on the Music & Arts Programs of America label

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

I. Allegro moderato………………………………………………………………………………..15:31
II. Adagio. Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam…………………………………………..14:19
III. Scherzo. Sehr schnell………………………………………………………………………..25:57
IV. Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht schnell……………………………………………………23:05

Total Time: 79:11

Of the Haas edition Furtwangler used, 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.

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.

However, on examining the microfilm of the original manuscript of 1890 version, the passages allegedly added by Haas from the 1887 version are virtually all there. What Haas actually did was to restore certain passages that Bruckner had crossed out.

There’s a lot more to this Wiki entry than what I excerpted.

I encourage you to read it.

Okay. Now, here’s the subjective stuff…

My Rating:
Recording quality: 4 (not bad for a recording made in 1944)
Overall musicianship: 4
CD liner notes: 4 (thin booklet – in English only – that’s an excerpt from John Ardoin’s book The Furtwangler Record published in 1994)
How does this make me feel: 5

The first movement – from about 5:00 onward (to about 6:30) – is actually kind of creepy.

Well, maybe not creepy. Strangely alluring. The violins and horns combine in such a way that draws me into something that reaches into my soul and gives it a squeeze.

There’s something very different in Furtwangler’s Allegro. I can’t put my finger on it. It just feels different to me.

The Scherzo is, as always, a delight. This one is remarkable considering it’s age. But it’s more than that. just an historic artifact that sets it apart. There’s a spirit to this recording unlike any I’ve heard before.

It’s special.

I just realized something about this performance. It was recorded a mere 48 years after Bruckner died in 1896. Wilhelm Furtwangler was born (in 1886) 10 years before Bruckner died. So Bruckner’s music was fresh in people’s minds. It’s possible some members of Furtwangler’s audience that night in 1944 had even seen Bruckner’s music performed by Bruckner himself – or experienced Bruckner’s symphonies for the first time around the turn of the century.

I’ll cut right to the chase, here.

The Adagio is good.

The Finale is spectacular.

Now, part of the reason I’m so ga-ga over this recording is probably due to the fact that it’s so very old, and I’m romanticizing it.

But, as I noted above, there’s something special about it – and not just because Bruckner’s Eighth is my favorite of his symphonies.

I could listen to this performance several more times, and likely will for years to come.

“Huzzah!”

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