Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony: An Unfinished Farewell

Feierlich, misterioso…This is the marking Anton Bruckner inscribed above the first movement of Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Indeed, from this opening movement’s first, quietly haunting sounds, we’re drawn immediately into a place of “solemn mystery.” Hushed, shivering tremolo emerges out of silence, followed by a multi octave-deep D in the winds. Quiet, persistent fanfares in the trumpet and timpani intone ghostly echoes of a distant battlefield. Perhaps Bruckner was the …

Read more

The Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

On Friday, we listened to a few excerpts from Wagner’s epic final opera, Parsifal. Today, let’s return to one of Parsifal‘s most powerful and persistently recurring leitmotifs: the majestic, ascending six-note motive known as the “Dresden Amen.” This liturgical chord sequence was written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) for use in Dresden’s court chapel some time in the late 18th century. It spread quickly to both Catholic and Lutheran churches throughout the German state of Saxony …

Read more

Remembering Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, the Polish-American conductor and composer, passed away last week. He was 93. Following his defection from Poland, Skrowaczewski served as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1960 to 1979. He is credited with raising the level of the prestigious ensemble, as well as advocating for the construction of Orchestra Hall. Eugene Ormandy described him as “the last great music director,” adding that “They just don’t make us anymore.” Skrowaczewski talks about his life …

Read more

The Restless Final Coda of Bruckner’s Eighth

Here is the final movement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor, performed in 2000 by the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Günter Wand. The clip below proves that conducting goes far deeper than flashy gestures. The 88-year-old Wand employs the most simple, economical means and Bruckner’s music leaps to life with an awe-inspiring, titanic power. The best Bruckner performances can rise to the level of mystical events, and this …

Read more

Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony: A Cathedral of Sound

Listening to Anton Bruckner’s monumental, gradually unfolding symphonies has been compared to walking around a cathedral and experiencing the same massive, awe-inspiring structure from different vantage points. On June 19, conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra took that literally with a performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 at Kloster Eberbach, a monastery on the Rhein dating back to 1136 (video below). In terms of atmosphere, the Sixth is something of an outlier among Bruckner’s …

Read more

Finding the Bruckner Sound

From the buoyant, carefree musical laughter of Mozart, to the richness and heft of Brahms, to the hazy, dreamlike pointillism of Debussy, the music of each composer comes with its own distinct voice. Great orchestras have the ability to change on a dime and quickly lock into the style and sound appropriate to the music. In this old clip, you can hear Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache shaping the sound of the Berlin Philharmonic …

Read more

Remembering Kurt Masur: Five Great Recordings

Conductor Kurt Masur passed away on December 19, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 88. Masur will be remembered for his 26-year association (beginning in 1970) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a storied ensemble once led by Felix Mendelssohn. Kurt Masur brought powerful political, as well as musical, leadership to Leipzig. In 1981, following the destruction of the previous Gewandhaus in the fire-bombings of the Second World War forty years earlier, he …

Read more