Symphony No. 5 (Bruckner)

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Symphony No. 5
by Anton Bruckner
Anton Bruckner.jpg
Portrait of Anton Bruckner
Key B-flat major
Catalogue WAB 105
  • 1875 (1875)–1876
  • 1877–1881
Dedication Karl von Stremayr
Recorded 1937 (1937)
Movements 4
Date 8 April 1894 (1894-04-08)[1]
Location Graz
Conductor Franz Schalk

The Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major (WAB 105) of Anton Bruckner was written in 1875–1876, with a few minor changes over the next few years. It was first performed in public on two pianos by Joseph Schalk and Franz Zottmann on 20 April 1887 at the Bösendorfersaal in Vienna.[2] The first orchestral performance - in a non-authenticated version ('Schalk-version'), a.o. with a changed orchestration in a Wagnerian fashion and with omitting 122 bars of the finale - was conducted by Franz Schalk in Graz on 8 April 1894 (Bruckner was sick and unable to attend: he never heard this symphony performed by an orchestra).[2] It was dedicated to Karl von Stremayr, minister of education in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The symphony is sometimes referred to as the "Tragic", "Church of Faith", or "Pizzicato" symphony.


The symphony was written at a time of much trouble and disillusionment during the composer's life, a court suit (from which he was exonerated), and a reduction in salary. It is not outwardly a work of storm and stress, but it is a piece of "working out", one of his most contrapuntally intricate works.

It has four movements:

  1. Introduction (Adagio) — Allegro. B-flat major.
  2. Adagio. Sehr langsam. (Very slowly) D minor.
  3. Scherzo. Molto vivace D minor.
  4. Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato. B-flat major.

Movements 1, 2 and 4 begin with pizzicato strings, hence the nickname Pizzicato. The pizzicato figures are symmetrical, in the sense that the outer movements share one figure while the middle movements share a different figure.

The work begins with a majestic slow introduction which, although beginning in B-flat major, traverses through several keys. It eventually leans heavily toward D major without actually tonicizing it. The introduction progresses into a main movement in sonata form. After a climax in A major, the texture is thinned until only a violin tremolo remains. This tremolo, which starts on A, then moves to D, suggesting that D will become a tonal focal point. Instead, the opening theme is in B-flat minor. Like much of Bruckner's music, this movement's exposition contains three main key regions instead of the usual two. The second theme group is in F minor, and comprises a small ternary form, with sections in F minor, D-flat major, and F minor. Bruckner introduces the third theme as an unprepared tonality (D-flat major). In the recapitulation, the themes' tonality progresses from B-flat minor to G minor to E-flat major. The coda begins in B-flat minor, but eventually shifts to the parallel major mode.

The main material of the slow movement and scherzo are very similar, heard of course at different tempos and launching different developments. The Adagio primarily relies upon the alternation of two thematic sections, the first of which contains a metrical superimposition of 6 against 4.

The finale opens in the same way as the first movement, but veers off soon to gradually introduce new material which becomes the source of the themes of the Allegro moderato, another sonata form which contains in its course fugal and chorale sections of elaborate counterpoint. The hybridization of sonata form and fugal elements is a defining hallmark of this movement. The first theme group is treated as a fugue exposition, followed by a non-fugal second group which functions as an episode. The third theme features prominent descending octaves, a gesture seen in the first movement. Closing the exposition is a chorale gesture. This thematic material is subsequently exploited in the development as the basis for a second fugue subject. By bar 270, both fugal subjects are intoned concurrently. The simultaneous presentation of the fugal subject also occurs at the beginning of the recapitulation (bar 374). When the recapitulation's third group begins, the first theme from the first movement is also presented; the first movement material closes the symphony, contributing greatly to its cyclic properties.

The symphony is the only one of Bruckner's nine that begins with a slow introduction. However, all the others except the Symphony No. 1 begin with sections that are like introductions "in-tempo", easing into the main material like the opening of Beethoven's Ninth.


1876 version[edit]

This version is still unpublished.

In 1997, a first attempt of reconstruction of the 1876 version, by including in the Finale music from the "1876 First Concept" (Ed. Carragan), was recorded by Shunsaku Tsutsumi with the Shunyukai Symphony Orchestra.[3]

In 2008, Takanobu Kawasaki was able to assemble the original concepts (1875–1877) of the symphony from manuscripts Mus.Hs.19.477 & Mus.Hs.3162 at the Austrian National Library. These original concepts have been recorded by Akira Naito with the Tokyo New City Orchestra. As commented by John F. Berky, "It is the best available CD to present some of Bruckner's earlier thoughts for this massive symphony."[4] In its original concepts the symphony is scored without a bass tuba and more prominence is given to the string instruments. The tempo of the Adagio introduction of movements 1 and 4, and that of movement 2 are scored Alla breve, i.e., notably faster than in the 1878 version.

1878 version[edit]

This is the version normally performed. It exists in editions by Robert Haas (published 1935) and Leopold Nowak (published 1951) which are almost identical.

1896 first published version (Schalk)[edit]

The first published version (which was also the version heard at the work's premiere) was edited by Franz Schalk. It is unclear exactly how much of the difference between the 1878 and 1896 versions was due to Bruckner and how much to Schalk, but it is generally agreed that most of the changes were unapproved by Bruckner and inauthentic. Schalk generally made Bruckner's music sound more Wagnerian, mainly by means of reorchestration. The most obvious differences occur in the coda of the Finale. In the last few pages, Schalk adds triangle and cymbals, and an offstage brass band. Schalk also made several cuts, mostly in the Finale.

The only recordings of this version are by Hans Knappertsbusch, Leon Botstein and Takeo Noguchi, together with the recording premiere of the scherzo by Dol Dauber (see Discography below). All other recordings are of 1878 version in either the Haas or Nowak edition.


The symphony requires an instrumentation of one pair each flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, with four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and one bass tuba along with timpani and strings. Also note that, in its original form, the symphony was scored without a tuba. This was added in 1878, at the same time that Bruckner added a tuba to the second version of the Symphony No. 4.


The first commercial recording of part of the symphony was made by Dol Dauber with his salon orchestra in 1928 for HMV. It included only the scherzo, in an arrangement of the Schalk edition.

The first commercial recording of the complete symphony was made by Karl Böhm with the Dresden Staatskapelle in 1937. It, and nearly every subsequent recording, has used either the Haas or Nowak editions.

Norman Lebrecht has singled out Georg Tintner's recording with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Naxos Records as #92 in his list of the 100 best recordings of the century, and credits it (along with Tintner's other Bruckner recordings) with changing critics' dismissive attitude towards Naxos. It was Tintner's first Bruckner recording and Lebrecht says "It actually sounds as if Tintner had been waiting all of his life to give this performance."[5]

In addition to several broadcasts issued on CD, Eugen Jochum made four commercial recordings of the symphony: the Haas edition in 1938 with the Hamburg Philharmonic for Telefunken, the Nowak edition in 1958 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon, in 1964 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for Philips, and in 1980 with the Staatskapelle Dresden for EMI.[6] Conductor Kenneth Woods, in his essay on Jochum, quotes Herbert Glass as saying, "The Fifth Symphony drove [Jochum] to distraction and he would regard his every performance of it as an interpretation in progress. In rehearsal, such doubts could sorely test an orchestra's patience, this despite his courtly, respectful treatment of his players."[7] Jochum wrote in detail about the symphony's interpretive challenges, noting that (in contrast to the Seventh Symphony),

the not merely in the last movement but at the very end, in the chorale.... The first, second, and third movements seem almost a... vast preparation..... The preparatory character applies especially to the first movement [whose] introduction... is a large-scale foundation... destined to bear the weight of all four movements.[8]

As evidence, he details the way in which the introduction's thematic materials function in later movements, and says the interpreter "must direct everything towards the Finale and its ending... and continually keep something in reserve for the conclusion."[8] He also details tempo and its relationships and modifications as an element in achieving overall direction and unity, and regarded the quarter notes in the first-movement introduction as "the fundamental tempo."[8] He further discusses the differing significance of the staccato arrowhead marking in Bruckner as illustrated in the Scherzo: "the staccati must be very short, like a tapping. There must be something eerie about the whole. At the second tempo marking ("significantly slower"), a really high-spirited Upper Austrian peasant dance strikes up: here the crotchets marked with an arrow-head should be rather short and playfully marked, each note given a slight accent. In the Trio, too, especially in the piano section, the accents must be brief, light, and effervescent. The arrow-heads indicate actual staccati here: the quavers (eighth notes) on flutes and first violins before Letter A must be very light, dainty, and short. On the other hand, in the cello and double bass descent directly after Letter A, the arrow-heads signify a rounded line, and the notes marked with such must sound with audible vibrato and not be too short."[8] Also, he writes that in the finale's double fugue, "it is not enough to bring out themes as such," because "subsidiary parts would be too loud"; to get the desired contrapuntal clarity, he details dynamic subleties required.[8]

Also noteworthy is Bernard Haitink, who has recorded the symphony commercially three times. In December 1971[9] he recorded the Haas edition with the Concertgebouw Orchestra for Philips.[10] In 1988 he recorded the Haas edition again, this time with the Vienna Philharmonic for Philips.[9] Then, in 2010 he recorded the Nowak edition with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for BR-Klassik; this recording has won particular critical esteem.[11][12]

Of the recordings of the Schalk version, Leon Botstein's studio recording conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, released by Telarc in 1998, is the most recent.


  1. ^ Paul Hawkshaw and Timothy L. Jackson. "Bruckner, Anton", In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, (accessed 4 June 2011).
  2. ^ a b Harrandt, Andrea; Williamson, trans. John (2004), "Bruckner in Vienna", in Williamson, John, The Cambridge Companion to Bruckner, Cambridge Companions to Music, Cambridge University Press, p. 33, ISBN 0-521-00878-6 
  3. ^ "Anton Bruckner". 
  4. ^ "Anton Bruckner - web store". 
  5. ^ Norman Lebrecht, "Masterpieces: 100 Milestones of the Recorded Century" The Life and Death of Classical Music. New York: Anchor Books (2007): 266 – 267
  6. ^ Eugen Jochum – Central Website, Recorded Legacy All known Recordings
  7. ^ Kenneth Woods, "Eugen Jochum- musician’s musician, maestro's maestro, Icon", 17 November 2012, blogpost at View from the Podium
  8. ^ a b c d e Eugen Jochum, trans. Mary Whittall, "The Interpretation of Bruckner's Symphonies," notes to Anton Bruckner: 9 Symphonien, Deutsche Grammophon CD 429 079
  9. ^ a b John F. Berky. "Anton Bruckner Symphony Versions Discography". 
  10. ^ Ottaway, Hugh, "Record Reviews: Bruckner Symphony No. 5. Concertgebouw Orchestra/Haitink" (September 1972). The Musical Times, 113 (1555): pp. 874–875.
  11. ^ Radio 4 (NL), Diskotabel 16 January 2011
  12. ^ Rob Cowan. "review of Bruckner – Symphony No 5, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Bernard Haitink". Gramophone (magazine). 

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