The unfinished Bruckner’s Ninth is just perfect for the conclusion of the cycle on “the youth of old age”. It is about the ultimate peak and (very modern) incompleteness of everyman’s life and striving, and it seems as if there had been a “higher” power which prevented the composer from fulfilling his oeuvre, as if to spite him for having dared to utter that he hoped his pen would not be taken away before he finished the symphony he had dedicated “to the beloved God”.
As it turned out a hundred years after his death in 1896, Bruckner had come very close to completion. Musicologists established that only about one sixth of the last movement could not be reconstructed from Bruckner’s own material. The reconstructed four movement version was recorded in 2011 by Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle to raving reviews. Previously conductors were opting either for a three movement version or ending by Bruckner’s Te Deum, written about a decade before the Ninth; the source of the latter choice is in composer’s hint that the symphony could be played, were he not allowed to finish it. This option was chosen by this concert’s conductor Theodor Guschlbauer, while e. g. Claudio Abbado, a great Brucknerian, who made his last recording of the piece a year after Rattle’s four movement version, opted to stick to three movements (in what turned out to have been his last live performance, too).
These three movements are not exactly full-proof Bruckner either. They were retraced to Bruckner’s original only in the 1930s, while previously they had been played with retouches by Ferdinand Löwe, the composer’s student and devoted promotor, who nevertheless did not shy from “improving” Bruckner’s scores in order to make them supposedly better appreciated by current fashions and academic purism. The original became fully established only after Herbert von Karajan and Bruno Walter recorded it in early 1950s.
Our time is fascinated by Bruckner’s non-conformism and “strangeness” that shaped him since his early days as a teacher in rural Austria, then master organist at the majestic Augustine monastery in St. Florian near Linz, finally professor at the Vienna conservatory, praised as an outstanding composer – but remaining very particular both in his way of life and his music making, ahead of his time in his own conservative way.
Deep religiousness and personal humility set him far apart from a cliché romantic genius. It can be said that music did not flow freely from him, but was being laid patiently in layer upon countless layer, complementing one another in a totally individual style, but resulted in magnificent and surprisingly modern tone cathedrals, an aural bridge between mankind and its Creator, both celebrating Him and expressing complete compliance to His incomprehensible design. It is quite directly condensed in the indication of the Ninth’s first movement: “Feierlich. Misterioso.