© Aart van der Wal, February 2014
Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs: Das Finale der IX. Sinfonie von Anton Bruckner - Geschichte • Dokumente • Werk • Präsentation des Fragments
Kommission für Musikforschung Wien / Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag, Wien 2012
Dissertation, 335 p.
"See, I have already dedicated symphonies to two majesties, to poor King Ludwig and to our illustrious Emperor, as the highest earthly majesty I recognise, and now I dedicate my last work to the Majesty of all Majesties, to the dear Lord, and hope that He will grant me sufficient time to complete it and mercifully accept my gift. I therefore intend to introduce the Allelujah (probably wanted to say Te Deum) of the second movement again in the Finale with all power, in order that the symphony end with a song of praise to the dear Lord."
Apart from the manuscript of the Finale that Bruckner left to posterity, his words to Heller also reveal that the Ninth was in no way intended and conceived solely from the perspective of a musical concept. On the contrary, Bruckner's unsurpassed semantics were religiously driven, and he commissioned his last work at the very peak of his creative powers to der liebe Gott. He must have known it, as he shaped the symbolism in his ultimate artistic gestures.
God is everywhere in the Ninth, its ample indications demonstrating Bruckner's devotion to and his recognition of God's majesty, in glorious moments of retrospection and farewell, adoration and ecstasy, humbleness and absolution, but also the Last Ordeal, Dies Irae, and the reality of the progressing shadows of death, the course of life coming to its closing chapter.
Do we really need Bruckner's own words to Heller to feel and to comprehend what the composer wanted to express in his last symphony? Not at all. We notice instantly that this work delivers the gigantic forward thrust with its tremendous semantic expansion of transcendental proportions, that the message reaches out to metaphysical borders, and that we do not need extensive program notes and exhaustive analysis to feel it all. This is the kind of music that has the spiritual resources really to uplift us, as in all great music from a great mind, be it, as in the case of the Ninth, in the familiar three-movement version, or - as it is now gradually recognised - as a full four movements symphony, as it should be.
However, we should not forget that Bruckner's music had no fundamental part in Vienna's musical scene, with the mainstream of musicians and the public being indifferent or even hostile to the composer's creative output. Prominent critics like Eduard Hanslick had their share in the long and ongoing battle, taking each and every effort to condemn and to marginalise the modest composer, driving him to breakdowns and stimulating this poor man without adequate self-assertion to revise his works. Under these circumstances it was no less than the act of a hero to take the Ninth to the concert hall and to lead the musician through the hardship of long rehearsals to get the best out of them. This was certainly one of Löwe's great achievements, and despite our criticism we should be grateful for his advocacy of Bruckner's music, stubbornly knocking and heading against a strongly biased environment.
Löwe's concert ended with the Te Deum (finished twelve years before the Ninth), which was performed after the interval as a solitary work. In the program booklet, Löwe underlined that The Deum would be played in the right place and order, in accordance with Bruckner's wish . He did neither mention the changes he had made in the first three movements nor did he show any substantial interest in what Bruckner had left of the Finale.
Many reviews of this performance - and the interval must have played a part in this - did not mention that the choral work was set in C major, instead of in D major, the tonal scheme that should have concluded the D minor symphony in all its splendour. Bruckner, although one of the great advocates of formal tonality schemes, had indeed suggested that the Te Deum would qualify to serve as the final movement for the symphony, failing a better solution. His decision got some support from Max Kalbeck, one of the leading Viennese critics, who persisted that after the closing bars of the Adagio in E major, the following C major did not sound better or worse compared to the usual D minor, and that there was no reason whatsoever to confine to the formal tonal scheme, with ample spiritual and esthetical arguments to left abandoning tonal unity (of the classical scheme) in this particular case. This was written clearly against the intentions of Löwe and Hirschfeld, who both suggested the symphony should better be performed without the Te Deum at all, and that Löwe followed Bruckner's own suggestion only with 'piety for the master's decision'.
Hence the discussion focused on the idea that Bruckner's illness and death deprived him of the opportunity to finish the work, that the Adagio was Bruckner's real farewell to the world, the heartfelt conclusion of his work on earth, and at the same time the quite moving announcement of the transition from suffering to transfiguration. Just from this perspective the soft drum roll that starts the quirky Finale is hopelessly out of tune... The myth was created hundred years ago and is still alive today, heartily joined by most great Bruckner conductors and their compliant audiences.
In that long history of performing the Ninth, the three-movement version is always predominant. Löwe's voice still sounds: although the symphony remained unfinished, it does not need to be finished. Or: the three movements say all that needs to be said, period. Even though nobody ultimately can know how Bruckner, had he been granted time and strength, would have completed the Finale, the Performing Version prepared by Nicola Samale, John A. Phillips, Giuseppe Mazzuca and Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, the fruit of many years of musicological and philological research, gave a broader public the possibility of attaining its sonic impression of this conceptually largely complete, if only fragmentarily transmitted movement .
One finale, many arrangements
All these editions, be it performing versions or not, bear such a variety in approach and interpretation, defensible or not, that it diminishes confidence in their artistic validity; and even more so when public access to the original sources is either restricted or impossible, with critical annotation non-existent. Under the yoke of such wilfully created obscurity the question of who is right and who is wrong has lost its meaning.
Not even professional music critics and performers take serious efforts to read all underlying documentation, if available. They express their views without knowing the facts and based on personal taste, preferences or dislike just caught by the ear. This can hardly be stimulating for any editor spending much time and efforts to explore Bruckner's manuscripts in all their detailing. There is always that basic discrepancy between scholarly craftsmanship and unprofessional critical attitude.
Audience's tastes vary as far as performance versions of unfinished works by another hand are concerned. Despite their quality, some of them have been accepted over time (Mozart/Süssmayr Requiem, Mahler/Cooke Tenth Symphony, Bartók/Serly Viola Concerto, Elgar/Payne Third Symphony), other performance versions are mostly rejected or consigned to a minor role (Schubert/Newbould unfinished symphonies in B minor and D major), Bach/Schulenberg Contrapunctus XIV, Liszt/Maxwell De Profundis, Borodin/Glazunov Third Symphony, Tchaikowsky/Bogatryryev Seventh Symphony). Arguments pro or against such efforts are discussed rather irrationally under the aegis of musical critique and aesthetics. In such debates, philological research is of little concern. .
Conclusive Revised Edition
Transfiguration or truthfulness?
From Scholar to Doctor
Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs defended his dissertation on the Bruckner Ninth Finale in Hamburg in 2009 and presented it officially to the Academy of Sciences in Vienna on 3rd December 2013.
This great odyssey and adventure spread out over many years takes us unquestionably to the almost tenable reality of the Ninth Finale, the ramifications of which definitely will need time to land and to be appreciated. This is not solely a milestone from both the musicological and historical perspective, but also for the music lovers all over the world, listening to one of the most daring pieces of music: the real Finale of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. We might even see the day that Bruckner' Ninth Symphony will be customarily played in its original four-movement version. In my interview with Sir Simon Rattle, in June 2012, he exclaimed: "We (the Berlin Philharmonic, AvdW) will play the 'full' symphony because it is from now on an inseparable part of our musical heritage, of our history. Yes, I am sure that other conductors will still keep the traditional three movement version alive, but it just might happen that our contribution will finally change that. That a new generation stands up to try it and at the end make it part of the standard repertoire, as has happened with that remarkable Mahler Tenth. As if you are given a glimpse into Bruckner's workshop, and this is incredibly valuable. And it can tell you a lot about the other Bruckner symphonies." Let me just add that it can also tell us a lot about deeply serious and respectful musicological work and its rewards for those who love this music, be it on the rostrum, in the audience or just at home.
 Anton Bruckner Gesamtausgabe, IX. Sinfonie d-moll, Finale, Vienna 1994
 Preface to the Conclusive Revised Edition, Munich 2012
  Anton |Bruckner, IX. Symphonie d-Moll Finale (Unvollendet), Study Score 444, Munich 2012
 Das Finale der IX. Sinfonie von Anton Bruckner (Geschichte, Dokumente, Werk, Präsentation des Fragments), Wiener Bruckner-Studien 3, Vienna 2012