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Benedict and Bruckner

A few weeks ago my wife suggested that I subscribe to a daily email from the Vatican News Service. I was a bit skeptical, figuring it would be mostly routine Vatican stuff: this guy is appointed bishop of that diocese, the president of such-and-such country will have an audience with the pope, etc. And there is a lot of that, but fairly often there's something interesting that I would have missed, such as this. 


VATICAN CITY, 22 OCT 2011 (VIS) - This evening in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, the Bavarian State Opera gave a concert in honour of Benedict XVI. The programme included the Ninth Symphony and the "Te Deum" by Anton Bruckner, played by the Bavarian State Orchestra and the "Audi Jugendchorakademie", conducted respectively by Kent Nagano and Martin Steidler.

  At the end of the performance the Pope rose to thank the musicians. Listening to Bruckner's music, he said, "is like finding oneself in a great cathedral, surrounded by its imposing structures which arouse emotion and lift us to the heights. There is however an element that lies at the foundations of Bruckner's music, both the symphonic and the sacred: the simple, solid, genuine faith he conserved throughout his life".

   "The great conductor Bruno Walter used to say that 'Mahler always sought after God, while Bruckner had found Him'. The symphony we have just heard has a very specific title: 'Dem lieben Gott' (To the Beloved God), almost as if he wished to dedicate and entrust the last and most mature fruit of his art to the One in Whom he had always believed, the One Who had become his only true interlocutor in the last stage of his life", the Holy Father said.

  "Bruckner asked this beloved God to let him enter His mystery, ... to let him praise the Lord in heaven as he had on earth with his music. 'Te Deum laudamus, Te Dominum confitemur'; this great work we have just heard - written at one sitting then reworked over fifteen years as if reconsidering how better to thank and praise God - sums up the faith of this great musician", Pope Benedict concluded. "It is also a reminder for us to open our horizons and think of eternal life, not so as to escape the present, though burdened with problems and difficulties, but to experience it more intensely, bringing a little light, hope and love into the reality in which we live".

I really like that last remark. I don't know Bruckner's music very well and have never heard the 9th. The 2nd and 4th are the only ones I'm familiar with, and they merit the praise.


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Thanks for that, Mac. A nice reflection on Bruckner, and on good art in general. It is good to see that Benedict is drawing top talent to lead the performances. (Kent Nagano, especially.)

I cannot believe that you are an eMusic subscriber and don't have all of the Bruckner symphonies! They are typically only 3 or 4 tracks, and can therefore be had for about a dollar each.

There is a terrific recording of the 9th available on eMusic. Gunter Wand conducts. On the Profil label. I can't access eMusic right now, but I'll try to hunt down the link later. Robert Reilly praises it here.

Yeah, it is embarrassing. But this is only a fraction of the important music I've never heard. Years ago it was a question of money and opportunity, now it's a question of time, leading to the ludicrous situation of having a significant amount of music I've never heard. I actually have at least a couple of other Bruckner symphonies but have never listened to them. Nor can I remember which ones they are. Last week I opened the shrink wrap on a cd that I bought at least four years ago, possibly longer. And it wasn't the only unopened one.

Yes, time is a problem. I can relate. For me the big backlog is in books: hundreds of them, waiting patiently for me to have time to read them.

Nonetheless, if you do want to hear that Bruckner 9, this is the one I was thinking of. It's an amazing symphony, and a great performance.

I am very glad to hear that, because...I already have it. I only know that because when I look at it on eMusic it says "re-purchase" instead of "purchase." I am embarrassed.

But see, this is only so far out of control because eMusic was just absurdly cheap for so long. First it was $10/month with no limit on how much you could download! Granted, the selection was much much poorer, but still, there was plenty of good stuff to be found, and plenty of stuff that just looked like it might be worth checking out, and often was (Inna and the Farlanders!). Then for some years I had 65 tracks/month for $15. I couldn't listen to it that fast, but I never let a download go unused. Now it's only one or two albums a month, but still, four weeks go by pretty quickly.

I just realized, you're in Canada, so still on the tracks-per-month plan? Down here it's currency pricing now, and that symphony is $5.99. I probably got it for less than a dollar, which really is ridiculous.

I'm the same way with books. At my age, and retirement not likely anytime soon, I'm having to face the melancholy possibility that I'll die with a lot of books unread and music unheard.

At my current pace, and if I never buy another book, I estimate that I have enough unread books to last for 20 years. Ridiculous.

Yes, I am on a track-per-month plan. 50, in my case. I can get the Bruckner for just over a dollar. I guess I have it pretty good. I would go crazy if I could have unlimited downloads at a fixed price. The more I bought, the cheaper it would be! I would be uncontrollable.

"The more I bought, the cheaper..." I never thought about it like that! But I don't suppose I would have been any more uncontrollable than I was. For most, maybe all, of that time I was limited by bandwidth--still had dialup at home, and I was limited in how much I could use the network at work. I still managed to pig out pretty well. There were a few people who had their accounts suspended because they downloaded so much--I think the limit was something like 3,000 tracks! They screamed because the service actually promised unlimited downloading--it was called eMusic Unlimited at the time. I still have the now-ratty fleece that was offered as a signup gimmick, and it has the original Unlimited logo.

I don't think I want to do that math on the unread books. I do need to adopt some systematic approach to them, though.

Liking Bruckner -- because of my admiration for the people I know who like Bruckner -- is one of the few intellectual tasks I have set for myself as an adult and accomplished thoroughly. It wasn't even all that hard.

Just listen a few times through to the slow movements of the 7th and 8th symphonies. The slow movements are the easiest places, I think, to catch on to what Bruckner is doing, formally; and they are also quite listenable on first encounter, which helps.

My favorite Bruckner factoid: He taught at the University of Vienna for a number of years and occasionally had a class that met over the noon hour. At the sound of the Angelus bell from a nearby church, he always stopped talking, dropped to his knees and prayed the Angelus, then stood up and resumed his lecture.

I know the 3rd fairly well, and have heard ...can't remember the number, the one they call the Romantic...4?...a couple of times, and like them both.

I really should make it an organized project as you're describing. I've only attempted that 2 or 3 times, and only followed through on it once. I tend to listen to whatever happens to come to mind at the moment, and it usually isn't something that takes a lot of time, like Bruckner or Mahler. Much as I love Mahler, I still haven't heard the 6th and 7th, and the 5th only once or twice.

Bruckner raises interesting questions about the connection between musical forms and ideas. Some would have it that the Wagner-Mahler innovations were objectively corrupting.

"At the sound of the Angelus bell from a nearby church, he always stopped talking, dropped to his knees and prayed the Angelus, then stood up and resumed his lecture."

I read somewhere that he did that during orchestra rehearsals too.

"Bruckner raises interesting questions about the connection between musical forms and ideas. Some would have it that the Wagner-Mahler innovations were objectively corrupting."

I've often wondered about that myself -- it's an intriguing question.

I believe it was in John Senior's book about restoring Christian culture that Mahler was denounced pretty strenuously. And I'm sure there have been others in modern times. There certainly were in Mahler's & Wagner's, but that can be written off as resistance to the unfamiliar etc.

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