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Anton Bruckner   WAB 108

Symphony no. 8 in c

Symphony in C minor. 1887. Time: 76'30.
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"Symphony No. 8 in C minor"
Bruckner final years.jpg
Dedication Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria
Composed 1884 - 1887
1889 - 1890
Premiere Hans Richter, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, 18 December 1892
First published March 1892
Other editions ed. Robert Haas, 1939 ("Original Version")
ed. Leopold Nowak, 1955 (1890 version)
ed. Leopold Nowak, 1972 (1887 version)
First recording Eugen Jochum, Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra, 1949

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 - as with the sobriquets The Tragic (for the Fifth Symphony), The Philosophic (for the Sixth), and The Lyric (for the Seventh) - this was not an appellation Bruckner gave to the work himself.[1]


Composition and publication

Bruckner began work on the Eighth Symphony in July 1884.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2]

In September 1887 Bruckner had the score copied and sent to conductor Hermann Levi. Levi was one of Bruckner's closest collaborators, having given a performance of the Seventh Symphony in Munich that was "the greatest triumph Bruckner had yet experienced".[3] He had also arranged for Bruckner's career to be supported in other ways, including financial assistance from the nobility, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Vienna.[3] However the conductor wrote back to Bruckner that

I find it impossible to perform the Eighth in its current form. I just can't make it my own! As much as the themes are magnificent and direct, their working-out seems to me dubious; indeed, I consider the orchestration quite impossible... Don't lose your courage, take another look at your work, talk it over with your friends, with Schalk, maybe a reworking can achieve something".[4]

By January 1888 Bruckner had come to agree with Levi that the symphony would benefit from further work.[5] He began work on the revision in March 1889 and completed the new version of the symphony in March 1890.[5] Once the revision was completed, the composer wrote to Emperor Franz Josef I for permission to dedicate the symphony to him.[6] The Emperor accepted Bruckner's request, and also offered to help pay for the work's publication.[7] Bruckner had some trouble finding a publisher for the work, but in late 1890 the Haslinger-Schlesinger-Lienau company agreed to undertake the publication. Bruckner's associates Josef Schalk and Max von Oberleithner assisted with the publication process: Schalk prepared the musical text to be sent to the printer while Oberleithner corrected the proofs and also provided financial support.[8] The symphony was eventually published in March 1892: it was the only one of Bruckner's symphonies to be published before its first performance.[9]

Premiere and reception

By the time the 1890 revision was complete Hermann Levi was no longer conducting concerts in Munich: as a result he recommended that his protege Felix Weingartner, Kapellmeister of Mannheim, lead the first performance of the Symphony. The premiere was twice scheduled to occur under the young conductor's direction during 1891, but each time Weingartner substituted another work at the last minute.[10] Eventually the conductor told Bruckner that he was unable to undertake the performance because he was about to take up a new position at the Berlin Opera. However, Weingartner admitted, in a letter to Levi, that the real reason that he was unable to perform the symphony was because the work was too difficult and he did not have enough rehearsal time: in particular the Wagner tuba players in his orchestra did not have enough experience to cope with their parts.[11]

After a possible Munich performance by Levi was canceled because of a feared outbreak of cholera, Bruckner focused his efforts on securing a Vienna premiere for the symphony. At last Hans Richter, subscription conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, agreed to conduct the work. The first performance took place on 18 December 1892. Although some of the more conservative members of the audience left at the end of each movement, many of Bruckner's supporters were also present, including Hugo Wolf and Johann Strauss.[12]

The well known critic Eduard Hanslick left after the slow movement. His review described the symphony as "interesting in detail, but strange as a whole, indeed repellent. The peculiarity of this work consists, to put it briefly, in importing Wagner's dramatic style into the symphony."[12] (Korstvedt points out that this was less negative than Hanslick's reviews of Bruckner's earlier symphonies). There were also many positive reviews from Bruckner's admirers. One anonymous writer described the symphony as "the crown of music in our time".[13] Hugo Wolf wrote to a friend that the symphony was "the work of a giant" that "surpasses the other symphonies of the master in intellectual scope, awesomeness, and greatness".[14]

The symphony was slow to enter the orchestral repertoire. Only two further performances occurred during Bruckner's lifetime.[15] The American premiere did not take place until 1909,[15] while the symphony had to wait until 1929 for its first London performance.[16]


The symphony has four movements. The total duration varies by performance and the edition of the score used, but is typically around 80 minutes.

First movement

The beginning of the symphony. According to theorist Heinrich Schenker this passage is "like the beginning of the world"[14]

The symphony begins in a tonally ambiguous manner with a theme rhythmically reminiscent of the main theme of the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor. A more song-like second subject group uses the Bruckner rhythm. The third subject group, which is strikingly dissonant, forms a smooth transition to the development. In structure, the opening movement is therefore a typically Brucknerian three-subject sonata form, though handled with more panache than in his previous works. The development was substantially refined in 1890. In both versions, this section of the movement is most notable for its massive, augmented three-part statement of the main theme, impressively given on full orchestra in combination with the Bruckner rhythm of the second subject group.

The beginning of the second principal theme of the first movement: the Bruckner rhythm occurs in the melody in the first and third bars

In the recapitulation, the third theme leads to a great climax for the entire orchestra, in which the bare rhythm of the main theme is dominant. This suddenly breaks off, leaving just the trumpets and three of the horns hammering out the rhythm, timpani thundering beneath. When the strings and woodwinds rejoin, it is in a very dejected mood. At this juncture the two versions differ significantly. In the 1887 version, this solemn passage leads to what many consider an unconvincingly premature victory-coda, which sounds the main theme in C major. For the 1890 version, the triumphant ending was cut, and the despondent passage extended by a few bars to form a pianissimo coda in itself (thus becoming the only instance of a first movement ending softly in Bruckner's symphonic oeuvre). This quiet, sombre ending is for low winds and low strings in a thoroughly bleak C minor, and there is no doubt from contemporary letters of Bruckner that it represented death in some way.

It has been suggested by some scholars that the coda was inspired by the climax of the Dutchman's monologue in Wagner's Der fliegende Hollander, with the words, "Ihr Welten endet euren Lauf, ewige Vernichtung, nimm mich auf!".[17]

Second movement

The first appearance of the Deutscher Michel theme in the scherzo

The main part of the Scherzo is fundamentally the same in both versions, though somewhat more repetitive in the first version. The orchestration and dynamics are more refined in the second version, helping to give the movement a rich and original sound. The Trios, however, are quite different: the 1890 version was rewritten as an adumbration of the ensuing Adagio movement, featuring the harps, and the tempo was slowed down. In both versions, this Scherzo is Bruckner's largest, lasting around 14 or 15 minutes in most performances.

Third movement

The main difference between versions is at the climax, for which in the 1887 version Bruckner managed to insert six cymbal clashes. He must have thought that excessive, as he pared it down to two in the 1890 version. The key of this climax was also altered from C major in 1887 to E-flat major in 1890. The coda of this movement is recalled in the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony.

This Adagio differs from those in other symphonies by the composer in that the second thematic group is not presented in a more flowing tempo. The two themes are, first, a recollection of the slow movement of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasie for Pianoforte and an answering descending passage, both over throbbing, richly scored strings; and, secondly, a tonally unstable passage radiant with ecstasy. The structure and scale of the Adagio as it develops these themes is grander than any of Bruckner's previous slow movements.

The Adagio is the most controversial of all the movements in terms of different versions. For example, Robert Haas inserted one quiet, solemn passage in his edition of the 1890 score which restored a cut between two loud passages (before the main climax of the movement), whereas in the Leopold Nowak edition these two loud passages are joined. This difference greatly affects the impression given to the listener for this section of the movement as it heads towards the great E-flat major climax. The 1890 Adagio, in both the edition of Robert Haas and that of Leopold Nowak, remains shorter than the 1887 original.

Fourth movement

Beginning belligerently (by Bruckner's standards), this movement reaches a triumphant conclusion using themes (or at least rhythmic impressions of these) from all four movements. The form of this movement is complex, derived from a three-subject sonata structure but, like the opening movement of Bruckner's Seventh symphony, highly individualised. The scale and complexity of this movement are both on a different level from that in the opening of the Seventh Symphony, however, not least in that this movement must synthesise the entire symphony (as it reworks old ideas and new ones into a coherent whole), and forms what must be a satisfactory conclusion for the whole work.

The opening theme is a powerful chorale, originally given over a march, in which the rhythmic thundering of the timpani recalls certain passages in the opening movement. The second subject, a song-theme, is remarkable in that it recollects not only its counterpart in the first movement but also the Adagio. The third subject is a march-theme, which is a direct reworking of the introduction to the third subject group of the opening movement. In the recapitulation, this third theme is presented as a fugue which leads to the solemn coda and the splendid, bright finish to the symphony.

The development presents these three themes and other elements in ways which recollect earlier parts of the symphony, both episodically and in simultaneously parallel combinations. The thematic treatment is subtle and counterpoint is frequently used in the presentation of themes. It therefore seems natural that such a synthesis concludes by contrapuntally combining all the main themes of the symphony: the coda begins in a solemn C minor in which the opening theme of the Finale reaches a powerful climax. This is answered quietly by the woodwind giving out the same theme, then more optimistically by the full orchestra, from which, in a flurry of trumpets and timpani, the Scherzo theme heralds a remarkably succinct combination of all the themes in C major. For all its grandeur, the ending is remarkably concise, and the perorations are more terse than those of, say, Bruckner's own Symphony No. 5 in B flat major.


Two complete autograph manuscripts of the symphony exist, dating from 1887 and 1890 respectively. In addition to the completed scores, many 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.

1887 version

This was Bruckner's first version of the symphony, but was not published until 1972 in an edition edited by Leopold Nowak.[18] It has some significant differences from the more familiar later versions, including a loud ending to the first movement and a different tonality for the climax of the slow movement. It is also notably longer than the 1890 version, and has a different instrumentation (the most significant consistent difference being that the 1890 version has triple rather than double woodwind throughout the first three movements). The double woodwind of the 1887 version gives a somewhat more austere character to the overall sound of the work.

Some scholars support this version of the symphony. Bryan Gilliam, for example, argues that the later version (from 1890) is shorter and smoother, and is hence a dubious concession to the Brahms-loving bourgeoisie of the time.[19] It was premiered by Hans-Hubert Schönzeler for the BBC in 1973[20], and has been recorded by Dennis Russell Davies, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Eliahu Inbal and Georg Tintner.

1888 adagio

A fair copy of an intermediate version of the Adagio with an estimated date of 1888 exists in the Austrian National Library. It has been recorded by Akira Naito with the Tokyo New City Orchestra. A MIDI version is also available.[21]

1890 version

Some scholars such as Deryck Cooke and Robert Haas have suggested that the 1890 revision was the product of Bruckner's insecurity and pressure from his colleagues such as Josef Schalk: Cooke even referred to it as the "Bruckner-Schalk revision".[22] Against this Leopold Nowak has pointed out that there is no evidence of any handwriting other than Bruckner's own in the 1890 manuscript.[22] According to the testimony of Bruckner's friends and associates the composer was extremely resistant to outside interference.[22]

The scoring of the 1890 version is fuller and more grandiloquent than the 1887 version, with subtler textures and harmonies in the woodwind in particular, allowed for by the increased size of this section of the orchestra. It was published in 1955 in an edition edited by Leopold Nowak.[23]

1892 edition

This was the first publication of the symphony, and was also the version used at the first performance.[24] It contains some relatively minor changes from the 1890 manuscript, the most notable being a six-measure cut and a two-bar repeated passage in the Finale. The alterations were made by Joseph Schalk and Max von Oberleithner, almost certainly without Bruckner's direct involvement, but were probably approved by the composer before publication. Korstvedt writes that while the 1892 edition may not be "pure Bruckner" — whatever that might be — to all appearances Bruckner authorized it, and for that reason it needs to be taken seriously..[25] This edition is available in complete recordings by Wilhelm Furtwängler, Hans Knappertsbusch, Josef Krips, William Steinberg, George Szell, Bruno Walter and Takeo Noguchi. Serge Koussevitzky also used this edition in his severely cut broadcast performance of 1947; this performance, which has been preserved on disc, amounts to a wholly new "edition".

Haas edition

Robert Haas published his edition of the Eighth Symphony in 1939.[26] 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.[27] 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 measures 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 measures 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. This has been described as "exceed[ing] reasonable limits of scholarly responsibility".[28] 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".[29] 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. In particular Leopold Nowak, who succeeded Haas as principal editor of the Bruckner complete works, argued that there is little evidence for the psychological breakdown that Haas claimed Bruckner suffered upon Levi's rejection of the work. Bruckner’s letters at the time suggest that he was frustrated by Levi’s judgment (dismissing Levi as having a “hard time grasping things”) and psychologically healthy. Bruckner’s revisions, according to this view, are the result of his artistic perfectionism. Nowak therefore rejected Haas's approach by sticking closely to Bruckner's autograph scores. Since its publication Nowak's edition of the 1890 version has become more popular than Haas's, although Haas's is still often performed.


The 1887 version requires an instrumentation of three each of the following woodwind: flutes (the third doubling as piccolo), oboes, clarinets, bassoons (the third doubling as contrabassoon) – the triple woodwinds, however, only enter in the Finale (with double woodwind for the earlier movements) – in addition to eight horns, three trumpets, three trombones, a quartet of Wagner tubas, which double as Horns 5-8 in the Finale, and a single contrabass tuba, along with timpani, cymbals, triangle, three harps and strings. The 1890 version deletes the piccolo part, and extends the triple woodwinds on all four movements. In addition, the 1890 score calls for eight horns, four of which double as Wagner tubas at various points in the symphony for all movements. This was, in total, the largest orchestra Bruckner ever used (since the Ninth Symphony, which uses an otherwise identical orchestra, does not require harps and percussion other than timpani).


In an 1891 letter to conductor Felix Weingartner, Bruckner gave extramusical associations to several parts of the symphony:[30]

In the first movement, the trumpet and horn passage based on the rhythm of the [main] theme in the Todesverkündigung [the annunciation of death], which gradually grows stronger, and finally emerges very strongly. At the end: surrender.

Scherzo: Main theme -- named deutscher Michel.[31] In the second part, the fellow wants to sleep, and in his dreamy state cannot find his tune: finally, he plaintively turns back.

Finale: At the time our Emperor received the visit of the Czars at Olmütz;[32] thus, strings: the Cossacks; brass: military music; trumpets: fanfares, as the Majesties meet. In closing, all themes ... thus as deutscher Michel arrives home from his journey, everything is already gloriously brilliant. In the Finale there is also the death march and then (brass) transfiguration.

Bruckner's associates report other comments that the composer is said to have made about the symphony. The coda to the first movement is how it is when one is on his deathbed, and opposite hangs a clock, which, while his life comes to an end, beats on ever steadily: tick, tock, tick, tock[33] while in the slow movement I have gazed too deeply into a maiden's eyes.[34]

In an unsigned programme note at the 1892 first performance Joseph Schalk elaborated Bruckner's program, adding references to Greek mythology (Aeschylus's Prometheus, Zeus or Kronos, etc.) mixed with a few Christian references such as the Archangel Michael.

Differences in performance

Over the recorded lifetime of this symphony, significantly different approaches have been taken, including tempo choices and the choice of score.

Wilhelm Furtwängler, in a live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1944 used a modified Haas edition.

On September 29, 1944, the Preussische Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, recorded the finale of Bruckner's eighth symphony (in experimental stereophonic sound). In his interpretation Karajan kept strict metre whereas "recordings from the 1940s ... typically present this passage [the reprise of the third subject group in the finale] as a grand accelerando-rallentando, with a tempo increase of as much as 20 percent," while Karajan's recording "is a notable exception."[35]

The first commercial recording of the complete symphony was made by Eugen Jochum with the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra in 1949 for Deutsche Grammophon. Jochum later recorded it in studio with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1964 for Deutsche Grammophon, and in 1976 with the Dresden Staatskapelle for EMI using the Nowak 1890 edition both times. Karl Böhm, in a studio recording with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1976 for Deutsche Grammophon used the Nowak 1890 edition, but with one Haas passage in the finale.

In the last two decades of the 20th century, recordings tended to "set a broader basic tempo, ... abstain from dramatic tempo fluctuations — especially increases — and place great store by fullness of tone, precise ensemble, and textural clarity."[36]

Typically, this work lasts about 80 minutes, although there are performances running as long as 103 minutes.[37] Herbert von Karajan and the aforementioned Günter Wand each recorded the Haas hybrid version more than once. After Eliahu Inbal recorded the 1887 version for the first time, other conductors have followed. Takashi Asahina has recorded a disc comparing excerpts from the Haas and Nowak editions.


  1. ^ Scholes, Percy A (1955). The Oxford Companion to Music. London, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 136. OCLC 287395. 
  2. ^ a b c Korstvedt, p. 11
  3. ^ a b Korstvedt, pp. 15-16
  4. ^ Korstvedt, p. 18
  5. ^ a b Korstvedt, p. 19
  6. ^ Korstvedt, p. 20
  7. ^ Korstvedt, p. 21
  8. ^ Korstvedt pp. 88, 22
  9. ^ Korstvedt, pp. 21-22
  10. ^ Korstvedt, p. 23
  11. ^ Korstvedt, p. 24
  12. ^ a b Korstvedt, p. 4
  13. ^ Korstvedt, p. 5
  14. ^ a b Korstvedt, p. 6
  15. ^ a b Korstvedt, p. 26
  16. ^ Horton, Julian (2004). Bruckner's Symphonies: Analysis, Reception and Cultural Politics. Cambridge University Press. p. 32. ISBN 0521823544.,+Reception+and+Cultural+Politics. 
  17. ^ Brown, A. Peter (2003). The second golden age of the Viennese symphony: Brahms, Bruckner, Dvořák, Mahler, and selected contemporaries. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. p. 274. ISBN 0253334888. 
  18. ^ Bruckner, Anton; Leopold Nowak (1994) [1972]. Symphony no. 8/1, C minor, 1887 version. London, New York: Eulenberg. OCLC 32221753. 
  19. ^ Gilliam, Bryan. "The Two Versions of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony." 19th Century Music 16, no. 1 (1992): 59–69.
  20. ^ The Independent
  21. ^ Griegel, David. "Bruckner Symphony Versions". Retrieved 2007-07-18. 
  22. ^ a b c Korstvedt, p. 69
  23. ^ Bruckner, Anton. Symphony No. 8/2, c minor, 1890 version. Edited by Leopold Nowak. (New York: Eulenberg, 1992)
  24. ^ Bruckner, Anton (1892). VIII. Symphonie. Berlin, Vienna: Haslinger-Schlesinger-Lienau. 
  25. ^ Korstvedt p. 91
  26. ^ Bruckner, Anton; Robert Haas (1979) [1939]. Symphony no. 8 in C minor. Melville, NY: Belwin Mills. OCLC 4562394. 
  27. ^ Korstvedt, p. 68
  28. ^ Korstvedt, p. 105
  29. ^ Tintner, Georg. Album notes for Bruckner: Complete Symphonies. Naxos (8.501101).
  30. ^ Korstvedt, p. 51
  31. ^ Karl Riha: Der deutsche Michel. Zur Ausprägung einer nationalen Allegorie im 19. Jahrhundert, in Jürgen Link & Wulf Wülfing (eds.): Nationale Mythen und Symbole in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Strukturen und Funktionen von Konzepten nationaler Identität. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 1991 (Sprache und Geschichte 16), 146-171. ISBN 3-608-91062-X; Deutscher Michel ("German Michael") is "a rather old-fashioned personification of Germany, with a slightly pejorative connotation, referring to the qualities of being guileless and honest". Hillenbrand, Fritz Karl Michael (1995). Underground Humour in Nazi Germany, 1933-1945. Routledge. p. 272. ISBN 0415097851. 
  32. ^ According to Korstvedt p. 52, Bruckner was mistaken about the location of this meeting, which took place between Franz Joseph I of Austria, Tsar Alexander III of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany at Skierniewice in September 1884.
  33. ^ Korstvedt, p. 52
  34. ^ Williamson, John (2004). "Programme symphpony and absolute music". in Williamson, John. The Cambridge Companion to Bruckner. Cambridge University Press. pp. 112. ISBN 0521008786. 
  35. ^ Korstvedt, p. 98 - 99
  36. ^ Kortsvedt, p. 101
  37. ^ Stryker, Mark (31 January 2009). "DSO’s big bite of a Bruckner: After a sprightly scherzo, orchestra finds symphony’s middle a lot to chew". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 3 February 2009.  "Friday's performance [by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian] lasted a fairly typical 80 minutes, though I've heard recordings as long as 103 minutes."


External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Symphony_No._8_(Bruckner)". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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